Leeds may have been the centre of a Roman settlement, although there is no definite evidence for this. It is first mentioned in Anglo-Saxon times when it was called Loidis by the Venerable Bede of Jarrow. It was a Welsh speaking ancient British area that held out for a time against the Anglo-Saxons and it is thought to have been a subdivision of Elmet, another Welsh speaking area that was later a part of the Kingdom of Northumbria. The nearby settlements of Ledston and Ledsham were also part of Loidis and still recall its name.

Loidis was possibly the name of a tribe and could mean 'people of the flowing river' - an early reference to the River Aire on which Leeds is situated. In medieval times Loidis became known as Leedis and the present name of the city derives from this. Sometimes residents of present day Leeds are described as Leeds Loiners and this is sometimes thought to be a derivative of Leeds' ancient name although there is no evidence for this.

An eleventh century manuscript claimed that in the tenth century, Loidis lay on the boundary between the Viking kingdom of Jorvik and the Welsh speaking Kingdom of Strathclyde (which included Lancashire, Cumbria and south western Scotland). A saint called Cadroe is said to have visited both Strathclyde and Jorvik in the tenth century receiving the hospitality of the Kings of these two regions. The two kings are said to have met at Loidis during Cadroe's passage from one kingdom to the other.

Other places in Yorkshire with Ancient British/Welsh connections connections are Pen-y-Ghent (a Welsh name if ever there was one), Craven, Hatfield, Aldborough and Stanwick near Scotch Corner. Ancient British forts also existed in the neighbourhood of Huddersfield and Sheffield.


A church may have existed at Leeds in Anglo-Saxon times but if so it was replaced by the Normans. The Norman parish church dedicated to St Peter was detroyed by fire in the fourteenth century and replaced by a new medieval church. This second medieval church was replaced by the nineteenth century church of St Peter which stands today in Kirkgate. Kirkgate means street of the church but the oldest church in Leeds today is St Johns in Briggate which dates from 1634.

In 1086 Leeds was a small village belonging to the Norman baron Ilbert de Lacy of Pontefract Castle. Kirkstall Abbey was founded the following century in 1152 by Henry Lacy in wooded land by the River Aire three miles north west of Leeds village. Kirkstall Abbey was a Cistercian foundation and like Rievaulx, Jervaulx and Fountains became the major land owner in the area developing industries like iron forging, but more importantly wool making. Kirkstall Abbey owned around five thousand sheep.

Leeds was destined to become one of the most famous wool making centres in the country and the cottage craft businesses of weaving and spinning developed steadily during the Middle Ages. One of the earliest references to cloth making here was in 1275 but earlier still in 1201 a character called Simon the Dyer is mentioned, accused of selling adulterated wine. By 1560 Leeds was showing the first signs of major growth and the streets of Kirkgate and Briggate were already in existence, along with a lane that later became Headrow. By 1600 the population of Leeds was 4,000 and by 1661 its first Mayor was appointed.


The busy street of Briggate dates back to Medieval times. Photo: David Simpson.


Leeds and places in the surrounding countryside to the west specialisised in the making of 'Northern Dozens' or 'Yorkshire Broadcloths' - cheap good quality cloths which spurred on the growth of Leeds in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. This was a cottage industry - the cloth produced by clothiers in cottages or attached workshops in Leeds and surrounding villages. A strategically located town with a good market was needed for this trade, to supply the raw materials, to supply a market for the product, to organise the sale and export of the product and to supply a food market for the workers.

For a time Halifax and Wakefield may have seemed likely candidates to fill this role but Leeds had overtook them in size and importance by the 1660s. Leeds' situation was perfectly situated at an important bridging point on the River Aire with links to the sea via the River Humber to the east and links to the wool and cloth producing districts of moorland Calderdale and Airedale to the west . It was also situated on the edge of the the rich agricultural Vale of York from which supplies of food could be brought in for the cloth workers to buy.

In 1724 Danield Defoe visited Leeds and described the town's cloth market as 'a prodigy of its kind unequalled in the world'. In 1730 Leeds was described as one of the 'largest and most flourishing towns in the country'. Its expansion continued into the Victorian age.


In the eighteenth century Leeds grew rapidly with a population of 6,000 rising to 16,300 between 1700 and 1771. Different cloths were brought into Leeds by the city's merchants including narrow woollen cloths like Kerseys from the Bradford and Halifax area to the west, coloured broad cloths from the surrounds of Leeds and undyed white broad cloths from the area between Wakefield and Bradford to the south. Later worsteds were brought in from Halifax and Bradford and fancy cloths from Huddersfield. Most of the cloth was traded in grand cloth halls and the cloths were exported to Holland and Germany.

The real boom period for Leeds was brought about by the growth of the great cloth mills in the nineteenth century. It was the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of machinery which made mass production possible and spurred on the growth of the mills. The first mills were the Park Mills of Bean Ing in western Leeds developed by Benjamin Gott, who was the owner of a cloth merchant firm called Wormald, Fountaine and Gott.

Leeds Town Hall

Old postcard showing Leeds Town Hall.

Between 1790 and 1800 Gott developed the Bean Ing mills for the production of superfine cloth - they were the first factory in Leeds. The output of Gott's mill was greater than anything acheived before and he was soon supplying the British and the Swedish army, so great was his output. The Armley Mills established by Gott at Armley, Leeds in 1806 are now the site of an industrial museum. Gott's statue stands in Armley Church.

More mills followed those of Benjamin Gott, opened by other enrepreneurs and each employing huge numbers of people. Orders for Leeds-made cloth came from all over the world, notably from America and the Orient.

The proximity of cheap coal in the neighbourhood of Leeds was a further boon to the industrial growth in this West Riding town and potteries, brick works and sugar refining were among the other industries to develop here. In 1816 Leeds was linked to the great Lancashire port of Liverpool by the completion of the Leeds and Liverpool canal, making shipment to the Americas ever the more easy. By 1841 the population of Leeds was eighty-eight thousand.


Much of today's Leeds is of Victorian origin with many impressive and imposing buidlings of the nineteenth century. Many of these buildings were designed by an architect from Hull called Cuthbert Broderick. His buildings include the imposing Leeds Town Hall (1858), the Leeds Mechanic's Institute, the Civic Theatre and the famous domed Corn Exchange of 1861. The dome in the corn exchange allowed sunlight in so that merchants could clearly see the quality of the grain they were buying.


Leeds is well known for its shopping arcades off the main shopping streets of Headrow and Briggate. These date mainly from the late Victorian period and include Thornton's Arcade and the County Arcade.

Thornton's arcade was the first of the arcades and was opened in 1877 by Charles Thornton, a Music Hall owner. The arcade is best known for its clock which features animated characters from Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe. Robin Hood and Gurth the Swineherd strike the quarter hours, Friar Tuck and Richard the Lionheart strike the hours.

Leeds is famous for its shops and it is interesting to note that Michael Marks of Marks & Spencer fame was a Lithuanian Jew who began trading in Leeds in 1884 with a penny bazzar store at which everything cost a penny. He later moved to Wigan where he teamed up with Tom Spencer of Skipton to form what was to become one of the most famous British retailing companies of all time.

Pictured right is the Stylish County Arcade, off Briggate in Leeds. Photo : David Simpson.


The biggest employers in Leeds City centre are the City Council , the Health Authority and Leeds University the last of these founded in 1904 from Leeds College. Other employers have included Joshua Tetley's brewery (founded in 1822 but its closure announced in 1998) and a number of important Yorkshire institutions like The Yorkshire Post Newspaper, The Yorkshire Bank, Yorkshire Electricity and Yorkshire Television. These names demonstrate that Leeds can make a very strong claim to be the modern capital of Yorkshire - although York undoubtedly makes the stronger claim on historical grounds.

More recently Leeds has become the home of the Royal Armouries, an important national museum housing the nation's collection of armoury and historic weaponry. The Henry Moore Institute and Gallery devoted to sculpture is also in Leeds. The sculptor Henry Moore (1898-1986) was born in the Leeds area.


City Square, Leeds. Photo: David Simpson.


Other features of the Leeds area include The Middleton Colliery Railway, one of the oldest railways in the world. Middleton Colliery Railway runs for just over three miles between Leeds and Middleton Colliery to the south of Leeds. The first line was contructed in 1758 and was utilised by horse drawn trucks in the same way as 'The Newcastle Roads' of North-East England.

In 1812 the manager of the colliery, John Blenkinsopp employed an engineer called Matthew Murray of Stockton-on-Tees to build a steam loccomotive to work on the colliery. Murray's steam locomotive was the first to be commercially successful and it paved the way for other colliery locomotives like George Stephenson's Hetton Colliery locomotive of 1822 and the world's first passenger railway - the Stockton and Darlington Railway of 1825.

Morley, nearby was the birthplace of Sir Titus Salt who built Saltaire village and Salt's Mill near Bradford . It was also the birthplace of Herbert Henry Asquith (1852-1928), the Liberal Prime Minister of Great Britain 1908-1916.


Four notable historic houses that can be found in the Leeds area are Harewood House, Temple Newsam, Bramham Park and Lotherton Hall.

Temple Newsam in eastern Leeds was built in 1521 by Thomas, Lord Darcy but was swallowed up by the expanding suburbs of Leeds in more recent centuries. Lord Darnley, who later married Mary Queen of Scots was born in this house. Darnley was murdered in 1566 the year after he had murdered David Rizzio, Mary's lover. The parkland surrounding Temple Newsam was laid out by Capability Brown in the eighteenth century.

Lotherton Hall is situated to the east of Leeds on the road towards Towton and Sherburn in Elmet. It was given to the town of Leeds by Sir Alvary Gascoigne and Lady Gascoigne in 1968 and is a building of Edwardian origin.

Harewood House, the most famous of the great houses of the area lies within the boundaries of Leeds. It is situated to the north of the city less than a mile from the River Wharfe and close to the A61 road that heads north towards Harrogate. The house was built by John Carr between 1759 and 1771 for Edwin Lascelles, the 1st Earl of Harewood and the interior was decorated by Robert Adam. Its grounds were laid out by Capability Brown

Bramham Park mansion to the north east of Leeds is located close to Wertherby and Tadcaster and was built in 1698 for Lord Bingley, the Lord Chamberlain to Queen Anne. Its gardens have a similar layout to the gardens of the Palace of Versailles.

Other notable places around Leeds include the town of Otley which is part of the Leeds council area but lies at the entrance to Wharfedale (see Wharfedale section).

Pudsey in south west Leeds is a former mill town where we find the settlement of Fulneck. This place was established by Moravian religous refugees from Germany in 1742. There is a museum all about the settlement there. Fulneck was originally the name of a town in Germany.

Search the site




Marriott Deals








Great BBC Dramas at BBC Shop