Holbeck and its Fancy Factories
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Just outside Leeds city centre lies the area of Holbeck. Named after the stream that runs through it, Holbeck was once a very industrialised area. The area was once an important centre for the flax spinning industry. It was here that John Marshall with the help of engineer Matthew Murray mechanised the industry in much the same way as Richard Archwright had earlier done to the cotton spinning industry along the Derwent Valley of Derbyshire. The area also became an important centre for the manufacture of machinery. This began with the mill machinery such as had been used in flax spinning. Stationary steam engines were built, and later the first successful railway locomotives. One company specialised in producing something as simple as needles for the textile industry, yet with so many mills producing textiles this was a big business. It is no exhageration to say that the Holbeck area played an important part in the industrial revolution and the innovation that was happening amongst the firms here can still be appreciated by looking at the buildings that survive.
All | Dark Arches | Victoria | Canal | Tower | Round Foundry | Marshall | Temple | Midland | Viaduct | Low | Shed | Village
Seen in a painting of 1844 (this is part of a large veiw of Leeds displayed in the Abbey House Museum at Leeds) the Holbeck area looks nothing special, a typical 'dark satanic mills' sort of scene, close up however there were some very interesting buildings.
The first half of the 19th Century saw a massive increase in the population as well as the number of businesses opperating. To attract business it was essential to attract attention, there was much greater use of advertising and here we see the buildings themselves used as adverts. In the centre of the picture is a round brick building, this was part of a steam engine works and was said to be reminicent of an engine cylinder itself. Other interesting examples were a flax mill built to look like an Egyptian temple and a works with chymneys disquised as Italianate towers. Some of these buildings survive to this day
There was a village here going back to medieval times, however during the industrial revolution Holbeck became a densely populated area. Hundreds of back to back houses were constructed in the late 1800s, many of them still surviving, though seemingly under constant threat of redevelopment. Schemes in the past have seen back to back houses replaced with more modern council housing and with a number of tower blocks.
Along with cheap housing for the local workers and their families a number of amenities such as a park, pubs, schools and a library were provided
Across the railway bridge on the corner of Nineveh Road and Marshall Street stands the ornate brick building of Holbeck Public Library. Built in 1901 to a design of William Bakewell, this building also makes use of the Burmantoft glazed terracotta tiling. (Picture)
The Commercial Pub
On the corner of Marshall Street and Sweet Street West, it was in this pub that the train drivers' ASLEF trade union was founded. A blue plaque was fitted to the building to note the pub's historical significance, with the pub now disused though the plaque has been moved to the Middleton Railway for safe keeping and is on display there.
St Matthew’s Church and Matthew Murray’s tomb
Going up Stocks Hill and St Matthew’s street a cast iron obelisk can be seen, this is the monument of the Murray family tomb. The cast iron obelisk was produced by workers from his works as a tribute to their manager.
St Matthew’s church is now a community centre. It was built between 1829 and 1832 to a design by R.D.Chantrell, architect of Leeds Parish Church, the spire was added in 1860.
Prospect United Methodist Free Chapel
Now Holbeck Mills Carpet Warehouse this brick building features a grand Renaissance style façade. Despite its change of use the interior of the former chapel is well preserved.
A History of the Middleton Railway Leeds, ISBN 0-9516205-5-X, Available from the Middleton Railway Shop
John Blenkinsop of Middleton, John Bushell, Old Middleton Railway publication.
The Leeds & Liverpool Canal, ISBN 1-85936-013-0
Old Ordinance Survey Maps, Holbeck & New Wortley 1906, ISBN0-85054-111-5, Available in most local books shops.
Victorian Society Walks No6, Leeds – 3 suburban walks, from 1987, copies can be found in the Leeds Civic Society shop.
Further Reading on the Internet
History section of the Holbeck Urban Village Site.
This article was produced by Kris Ward, any feedback or contributions about the Leeds engine making industry would be greatly appreciated.
Page last modified: 08 January 2022
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