Dr Jessica Van Horssen, Senior Lecturer in North American History at Leeds Beckett, will host an informative session a the origins and effects of asbestos in Leeds on Wednesday 6th December, 12.30 -1.30pm at Leeds Town Hall.



Dr Van Horssen will share her research into the origins of asbestos in Canada and how it made its way to Leeds. “I have been researching Canadian asbestos for over a decade but, since moving to Leeds, I have tried to find out where it all went, and the harm it’s caused here.

“I will be focusing on the transnational path of asbestos, from the mines of Canada to Leeds. Turner & Newall were the big asbestos company in the north of England and they owned a mine in Canada. Asbestos is a fireproof mineral, so was added to things like wool and cotton during their milling to make garments (and more) fireproof.

“The first known death due to asbestos-related disease was in 1909 – a factory worker in the Manchester area. The first time someone died of asbestos-related disease in Leeds was in 1928, when two employees at the Roberts factory in Armley (owned by Turner & Newall) died at roughly the same time. From there, cases continued to grow, but the mineral was so essential to modern life and warfare that the industry didn’t slow down due to health risks.”

Dr Van Horrsen will draw on her research which was published as a book, A Town Called Asbestos, in 2016, and a 46-page graphic novel, illustrated by Radha-Prema McAllister.

A Town Called Asbestos looks at how the people of Asbestos, in Quebec, Canada, worked and lived alongside the opencast Jeffrey Mine, once the largest white asbestos (chrysotile) mine in the world.

Dependent on this deadly industry for their community’s survival, the town’s residents developed a unique, place-based understanding of their local environment; the risks they faced living next to the giant opencast asbestos mine; and their place within the global resource trade. The book unearths the local-global tensions that defined Asbestos’s proud and painful history and reveals the challenges similar communities have faced – and continue to face – today.

Dr Van Horrsen said: “I will start by setting the stage in Canada and discussing the different types of exposure asbestos miners had to the mineral before showing how it travelled across the ocean to Leeds, and the different types of exposure that occurred here. This took place in the factories around the cities, but also in Armley, resulting in the Armley Asbestos Disaster beginning at the end of 19th century.”

The event is part of Leeds Cultural Conversations – a series of free lunchtime talks organised by the Centre for Culture and the Arts at Leeds Beckett University. To book a place, please visit http://bit.ly/AsbestosinLeeds


Upcoming talks include:


‘Dystopia, apocalypse and contemporary women’s writing’, by Professor Susan Watkins on Wednesday 7 February at Leeds Town Hall;


‘Forgotten Heroine? Recovering Emily Hobhouse 1899-1926’, by Dr Helen Dampier on Wednesday 7 March at Leeds Town Hall;


‘Parklife: When Roundhay went Pop’, by Dr Peter Mills, on Wednesday 4 April at Leeds Central Library;


‘Civic pride in Victorian Leeds: the Heaton family and their legacy’, by Dr Simon Morgan, on Wednesday 9 May at Leeds Town Hall.


All talks run from 12.30-1.30pm and more information can be found at http://www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/lcc/


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