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History Of Leeds

The history of the city of Leeds really begins in 1207. Before that, it was a tiny hamlet with little historical evidence to suggest that there was life there for more than a few hundred years prior to this. It is believed to have been named after ‘Loidis’ which was the name of a forest covering the kingdom of Elmet between the fifth and seventh centuries. Leeds was included in the 1086 Domesday book but only had a population of around 200.

1207 was when Maurice De Gant founded a town at Leeds. It was a period of expansion in British history and Leeds benefited from this. It didn’t take Leeds long to thrive with blacksmiths, bakers and carpenters in the town. It was also another British town which had wool as its main industry. However, Leeds remained as a small and unimportant town with a population of around 300 estimated in the Poll Tax of 1379.

Middle Ages

As Leeds bore no strategic or military advantage, the town remained small throughout the Middle Ages. The woollen cloth industry of the 16th century finally caused the town to grow in stature and population. By the 1650s, Leeds was one of Yorkshire’s largest towns with a population of 6,000. In 1626, Leeds was deemed important enough to have a mayor. One of the most important religious buildings in the town, St. John’s Church, was built in 1634.

Like most towns in the Civil War, Leeds changed hands and was bitterly fought over. The Royalists took the town which was filled with supporters of King Charles I. However, the leader of the army which held Leeds, Sir William Savile, was no match for Sir Thomas Fairfax with an army that was at least 50% bigger than Savile’s. In January 1643, Fairfax took the town for the Parliamentary forces and although they abandoned it later that year, they reclaimed it in 1644. The captured King Charles I spent a night in Leeds in 1646.

18th-19th Century

Although Leeds was described as a large and wealthy town in the 18th century, it had no parliamentary representation. In fact, Leeds had no Members of Parliament from 1660 until the 1832 Reform Act. The town was given a municipal charter in 1661. In the 19th century, Leeds was one of the most important producers of wool in Britain, producing 30% of Britain’s wool in the 1770s in an industry worth £1.5 million.

The Industrial Revolution was to cause a profound increase in the town’s population. In 1800, Leeds contained 30,000 people. By 1840, it had a population of 150,000. The Leeds and Liverpool Canal was opened in 1816 with the Leeds and Selby Railway opened in 1834. It was one of Britain’s first railway lines and it linked Leeds with a host of other cities over the next few decades. Leeds gained city status in 1893 with electric trams built in the city the following year.

Modern Leeds

Leeds continued to grow during the 20th century with Leeds University built in 1904 and council houses created in the 1920s. Although Leeds was not affected as badly by bombing as other cities during the two World Wars, it did have its fair share of incidents. During World War I, an explosion in the Barnbow munitions factory killed 35 workers and mutilated hundreds more. The Leeds Pal regiment had the misfortune to fight in the Battle of the Somme, one of history’s bloodiest ever battles. Predictably, the regiment suffered appalling losses. Although certain areas of Leeds suffered air raids during World War II, relatively little damage was caused.

The emphasis on manufacturing in Leeds dwindled from the middle of the 20th century onward. The city became more involved in the service industry with banks, hotels and bars opening en masse from the 1970s. Tourism became a greater part of the city with buildings such as the Royal Armouries Museum and the Thackray Medical Museum opening in the 1990s. Since then, the Millennium Square was opened in 2000 with the City Museum opening eight years later. Leeds is estimated to have a population of over 700,000 people. Today, Leeds is a city filled with culture and employment opportunities and it’s hoped that it will sustain a period of economic growth.


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