Archive | History

The Origins & Effects of Asbestos in Leeds


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


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


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Leeds at War; a Tale of a City of Culture


It is somewhat fitting that on Remembrance Day this year, the City Varieties Music Hall will welcome a production that commemorates both Armistice and the theatre’s own starring role during World War 1.

Those Were The Days takes to the stage on Saturday 11th November  – exactly 99 years after the hostilities of WW1 ended. It looks at both the dark days of the war along with the joys of live performance and Yorkshire spirit. Performed by actors ranging from ages six to 60, the production brings together history, entertainment and theatrical style with humour, emotion and a large dollop of Leeds.

“Those Were The Days celebrates this city; its people, its culture and, importantly, its theatres”, said Leeds writer and director Liz Coggins. “In the late 1800s and early 20th century, there were six theatres in Leeds and a music hall on practically every corner; the Music Halls were at the heart of the culture of the working classes; people would gather and sing, drink and laugh together and forget their troubles; when war broke out this didn’t stop – in fact it became even more important.”


The City Varieties was one such music hall. It began life in 1865 as a room above a pub and went on to entertain the people of Leeds through two world wars before becoming world famous for hosting the BBC programme The Good Old Days which ran every weekend for 30 years from 1953. As other such venues closed, the City Varieties continued and today is the longest running music hall in the country.

In what promises to be a pure celebration of music hall entertainment, the show on 11th November will introduce audiences to  the stars of the time;  Marie LloydVesta TilleyFlorrie FordCharlie Chaplin and Leeds lass Vesta Victoria each make an appearance, buoyed up by the songs and comedy sketches of the era. A live band supports the cast and songs include the famous Marrow Song, Yes! We Have No Bananas, It’s A Long Way To Tipperary and many more.

The Leeds characters that introduce the production and take the audience on its journey may well be fictitious, but their tales are based on real life stories; the story of the famous 15th Service Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment – better known as The Leeds Pals – is honoured, based on the accounts of a Leeds Pal called Harry – Liz’s own Grandfather.

The younger cast members are students at On Stage Academy. They work with Liz and her team to learn every aspect of theatre and stagecraft.

It is such a delight to see young people performing pieces from 100 years ago”, says Liz. “Children are never too young to experience live professional theatre in its many genres. The history of this profession is as important as the craft itself.  To this end I would encourage families to come together for an old-fashioned, much-loved evening at the theatre.”

Those Were The Days is at City Varieties Music Hall on Saturday November 11th at 7pm

Tickets are on sale now priced at £19.60

Book online at or call Box Office on 0113 243 0808

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Discover the Story of Yorkshire’s Queens of Industry



A new exhibition opening 2 November at Armley Mills Industrial Museum celebrates the women who were standard bearers for a golden age in Yorkshire’s industrial heritage, and were once crowned the queens of their industries.

Industry queens rose to prominence in the 20th Century, with the first Railway Queens elected in the mid-1920s and the last Coal Queen being crowned in the early 1980s. Inspired by the idea of traditional May Queens in villages and towns, these queens flew the flag for their industry, county or even country in what often proved to be a life-changing opportunity for the chosen few.

Frances Lockett, the first Cotton Queen, met aging former Prime Minister Lloyd George in 1930. And Railway Queen, Audrey Mossom, visited Russia, where she met Joseph Stalin.


Doreen Fletcher (nee Kerfoot, above) who became Yorkshire’s Wool Queen in 1948, was selected to play the lead in ‘The Three Piece Suit’ a film aimed at inspiring young female workers to join the wool industry. She went on to enjoy a successful modelling, acting and singing career, becoming something of a forces’ sweetheart. Now approaching her 90th birthday, Doreen still lives in Yorkshire and organisers are hoping she can attend the exhibition opening later this year.

“Being named a Queen of Industry was an incredible opportunity, and those lucky enough to be given the title became celebrities in their own right”, said John McGoldrick, Leeds Museums and Galleries curator of industrial history.

“It was a chance for women to play a leading role in industries which had traditionally been male-dominated, providing inspiration for other young women. As well as paying tribute to those women, we aim to spark a discussion about how women today experience working in industry.”

As well as historic photos and films, the exhibition will feature rarely seen objects from Leeds Museums and Galleries’ collection and loans from major UK museums and private collectors.



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Public Talk Explores Important Roles Played by Africans in the Abolition of Slavery

Dr Rob Burroughs

A Leeds Beckett University academic will explore Black history and the anti-slavery movement in the 19th century at a free event taking place on Wednesday 4 October from 12.30-1.30pm at Leeds Central Library. Dr Rob Burroughs will discuss the roles played by Africans in exposing atrocities in King Leopold’s Congo at the end of the 19th century.

This conversation explores black contributions to humanitarian history, and the ways in which these efforts have sometimes been obscured by attention to the heroics of white anti-slavery activists.

“It is increasingly well-known among historians and students that Africans and people of African descent played an important role in the abolition of slavery and slave-trading in the 19th century: not only by rebelling against it but also by participating in humanitarian campaigns against it,” said Dr Burroughs. “However, popular re-tellings of the history of slavery — for example the recent British films ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Belle’ — continue to emphasise the heroics of white patrons and leaders of the anti-slavery movement. Enslaved Africans sometimes feature in these kinds of texts as passive, often silenced, recipients of white charity, or as ghost-like figures encouraging guilty white slave owners to atone for their past sins.

“If Black History Month is about recovering the stories of marginalised historical figures in the making of regional and national histories and heritage, then it is important to take a closer look into the history of slavery and the anti-slavery movement, and to recover from its margins the roles of enslaved and formerly enslaved, individuals and groups in ending systems of forced labour.”

In this talk, Dr Burroughs will examine problems in popular representations of slavery, tracing these back to the early 19th century, before turning to some little-known examples of African agency in the fight against forced labour.
The event, which takes place during Black History Month, 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


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Leeds Museum Receives Old Roscoe Model


Leeds City Museum recently received an amazing model of The Roscoe public house in Sheepscar. Created by Andy Gibney and donated to the Museum, the model will be on display in the community corridor.

The legendary public house opened in 1857 and closed 1982. Although the building has been long since demolished to make way for the Sheepscar interchange project, it lives on in the memory of the many of its regulars. It was a popular meeting place for the sizeable Irish community in nearby Harehills, Scott Hall, Chapeltown, Hyde Park and Woodhouse – many of whom socialised in the Sheepscar area, particularly in the 1960s and 70s.

Noel Squire, the last landlord of The Roscoe who subsequently went on to open the nearby New Roscoe, commissioned this model from his good friend and craftsman Andy Gibney, a native of Dalkey, just south of Dublin, but who has lived in Leeds since the early seventies.

One of the regulars, Barrie Pepper, wrote the book, ‘Farewell and Hail’ (1991) detailing the history of both the original and New Roscoe.

This project is presented as part of the continuing collaboration between Leeds City Museums & Galleries and the Irish Arts Foundation.

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The Half-Shilling Curate: A Personal Account of War and Faith in 1914-1918




Sarah Reay’s ‘The Half-Shilling Curate’ (as he was affectionately known by his family), tells the personal story of an army chaplain, the Reverend Herbert Butler Cowl, from Christmas Eve 1914 to the end of hostilities in 1919. Based on his letters and writings, it illustrates the value of his faith during the war – the balance between being a chaplain and carrying out his duties as a British Army captain.

At the outbreak of war he volunteered to become a Wesleyan Army Chaplain and started documenting his journey with the Durham Light Infantry, from life in the Army Home Camp in Aldershot, to France and the Western Front near Armentières, where he was severely wounded.

On his journey back to England aboard the hospital ship Anglia, the ship hit a German mine in the Channel. As a result of his actions that day, he became one of the first Wesleyan Army Chaplains to receive the Military Cross for exemplary gallantry.

Although never fit enough to return to overseas duties, he worked as an army chaplain in army garrisons and home camps in England. The book gives an insight into day-to-day life and the strains of service as an army chaplain at Colchester and Portsmouth.

Twenty years later he found himself at the centre of another battle – the Second World War – and he was in London throughout the Blitz.

Herbert’s story concludes with the intimate observations of a spiritual man driven to follow his faith during war.


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Revolutionary Russia revealed in Leeds


A new exhibition at the University of Leeds reveals the dramatic events of the Russian Revolution from a new, British, perspective.

Caught in the Russian Revolution: the British Community in Petrograd, 1917-1918 is the latest exhibition at the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery, University of Leeds.

The exhibition, opening on 1 March, marks the centenary of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which changed the course of world history.

Offering a unique perspective on this violent episode, the exhibition focuses on the British community in St Petersburg, renamed Petrograd at the start of the First World War.

The community was well established from the 18th century. Several generations of families helped to develop the city’s infrastructure and commerce. The Revolution in February 1917 disrupted all their lives and the Bolshevik seizure of power in October destroyed any hope for their future in Russia.

This exhibition draws on the Leeds Russian Archive, which includes eyewitness accounts in the form of diaries, letters, and photographs to explore a pivotal moment in world history. The exhibition celebrates 35 years of the Leeds Russian Archive at Special Collections in Leeds University Library. The LRA has been designated as nationally and internationally important by Arts Council England.


Stories and objects on display include:

  • Patent of hereditary Russian nobility granted to George Baird by Alexander II, 1872

George Baird belonged to a Scottish civil-engineering and ship-building dynasty. The patent of nobility was granted by Emperor Alexander II in recognition of George, and his family’s, contribution to the development of St Petersburg and Russian shipping from the late 18th century. This unique artefact is an intricate handmade object which comes with the huge seal of Alexander II, and represents the integration of British families, like the Bairds, into Russian life prior to the Revolution.

  • Reverend Lombard’s prison mug, letters and drawings, 1918

Reverend Bousfield Swan Lombard was Chaplain of the British Embassy and English Church in Petrograd from 1908 to 1918, and a central figure in the British community in Russia. During the October Revolution, shortly after drinking tea together in the British Embassy, Reverend Lombard witnessed the murder of his friend Captain Francis Cromie, naval attaché and Royal Navy submarine commander. Reverend Lombard, alongside many of the remaining British community, was subsequently imprisoned. Lombard’s prison mug, letters he received and drawings he made whilst incarcerated, act as vivid reminders of the brutal end to the British Community in Russia.


To accompany ‘Caught in the Revolution’ The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds, will be displaying a selection of objects, textiles and jewellery from the Leeds Russian Archive curated by Richard Davies. On display 11 February – 10 June 2017.


Public events

A varied programme of public events will be held to accompany the exhibition. Highlights include:

  • 1 March, 18:00 – 20:00 Opening Reception – Celebrate the opening of the new exhibition. Free and open to all. If you would like to attend please register here:
  • 23 March, 13:00 – 14:00 Free Lunchtime Talk: Curator and archivist Richard Davies explores the British expatriate experience during the Russian Revolution.
  • 26 April, 13:00 – 14:00 Free Lunchtime Talk: Vera Pavlova, a visiting research fellow at The University of Leeds, examines Russian theatre around the time of the Russian Revolution.
  • 25 May, 17:30 -18:30 Chris Sheppard Lecture: Helen Rappaport, alumna of the University of Leeds, will give a lecture on the subject of her latest book: ‘Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917’.
  • 21 June, 13:00 – 14:00 Free Lunchtime Talk: David Jackson, Professor of Russian & Scandinavian Art Histories at The University of Leeds explores Russian Art during the Russian Revolution.

Full details of the events programme can be found at

Photography by Ken Kajoranta

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Royal Armouries Celebrates Success of Warrior Treasures Exhibition


The Royal Armouries is celebrating the success of an acclaimed special exhibition showcasing around 100 spectacular items from the remarkable Staffordshire Hoard collection which is due to close on 2 October. Since the exhibition opened in early May it has received over 50,000 visitors to view the remarkable items which have been on display for the first time to UK visitors outside the West Midlands, where the hoard was discovered in 2009. The hoard is the largest gold Anglo-Saxon hoard ever found and some of the objects have never been on show before.

The Warrior Treasures exhibition focuses on fittings from weapons which make up the majority of the collection. It tells the story of their discovery, providing a fascinating glimpse into the warrior culture of a period in Anglo-Saxon history. These fittings were stripped from swords and seaxes (single-edged knives), and are thought to represent the equipment of defeated armies from unknown battles during the first half of the seventh century. The fittings are intricately decorated with gold, silver and semiprecious gems, and represent the finest quality Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship.

The Staffordshire Hoard is considered to be one of the most outstanding Anglo-Saxon finds since the excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship-burial in Suffolk in 1939. The hoard was discovered in July 2009 and is made up of around 4,000 fragments weighing over 6 kg. The secrets of the hoard are still being uncovered through painstaking research, but most of the collection consists of fittings from weaponry.

Although fragmented, damaged and distorted, the hoard’s objects represent the possessions of an elite warrior class. Why it was buried, perhaps before c.675 AD is not certain. Significantly it was discovered close to a major routeway (Roman Watling Street), in what was the emerging Kingdom of Mercia. Warfare between England’s many competing regional kingdoms was frequent. The Staffordshire Hoard bears witness to this turbulent time in our history.


Also featured within the exhibition is the Wollaston Warrior group which is in the care of the Royal Armouries museum at Leeds. The items are Anglo-Saxon burial goods from the grave of an elite warrior probably from the late seventh century. The contents of the grave included an exceptionally rare helmet and a sword –denoting the high status of their owner.


The success of the Saxon themed school workshops has meant that the Royal Armouries will continue to offer them as a permanent feature of their education programme.

Entry to the exhibition is FREE and further details of the exhibition and our education programme can be found at the Royal Armouries website at


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Leeds Black History Walk – An Eye Opener to African History


 2016-06-04 12.58.45

Heritage Corner’s Leeds Black History Walk, created by actor/writer Joe Williams, shares the rich narratives of African humanity in local and world history. This fascinating two hour stroll, starting on the Parkinson Steps at Leeds University, introduces you to Nubian pharaohs, queens, kings and a special Ethiopian prince with connections to Queen Victoria. You’ll discover numerous African contributions to Yorkshire and the world and be constantly surprised at how so much of this rich history somehow got lost or ignored. We are familiar with the Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilisation…but what about the extraordinary Nubian civilisation which predates all of them?

Not only did Joe whisk us back thousands of years, he also linked Black History to the present day through taking on the persona of various personalities and linking to many well-known events and people in Leeds – many associated with the university.


The walk was inspired by the dedication of Arthur France MBE (who founded Leeds Carnival), Dr Carl Hylton and Paul Auber to the Leeds Bi-Centenary Transformation Project – to present positive perspectives of African history. As a founding member of the Diasporian Stories Research Group in 1995, Joe soaked up information from fellow founders Audrey Dewjee and Allison Edwards on Africans in Britain, and further research revealed how Roman emperors built temples dedicated to African gods– hence 2,000 year old mummified African priests having been discovered in Yorkshire.


The walk ends with a visit to the grave of Pablo Fanque, celebrated Briton of African origin.  Born William Darby in Norwich, 1810, he was already a famous performer when he formed his own circus in Wakefield in 1841. He performed in Leeds on many occasions. His popular circus toured nationally until his death in 1871. John Lennon drew inspiration from one of Pablo’s posters for the song ‘For the Benefit of Mr. Kite’ on the Beatles’ ‘Sergeant Pepper’ album.


Heritage Corner encourages discourse through creative projects, working with creative practitioners like dancer David Hamilton, visual artist Carol Sorhaindo, poet Khadijah Ibrahiim and actress Leah Francis. The Leeds Black History Walk is at 11am on the first Saturday of each month until 1st October.

Be sure to book your place for the Heritage Open Days walk on Saturday 10 September:     


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Unearthing Leeds’ Urban History

Urban History

A practical introduction to researching urban history will take place at the Leeds Library on Saturday 18 June, led by Leeds Beckett University historian, Dr Shane Ewen.

The event, running from 9.15am to 4pm and starting at the Leeds Library on Commercial Street, is an opportunity for participants to learn some of the main methods and sources available to research their own urban histories. Tickets, which include lunch and refreshments, are £5 and can be booked at

“Urban history is all about researching the history of places in their wider regional, national and even international context”, explained Dr Ewen . “It is interested in the history of towns and cities, as well as the streets, public spaces, districts, neighbourhoods, buildings and the people who live and work there. Urban historians use a range of sources in their research – maps, plans, directories, newspapers, photographs, film, and the buildings and spaces around us in the contemporary city.”

The day will be made up of talks and practical workshops, using the Leeds Collection compiled by the Thoresby Society and held at the Leeds Library. The group will take part in a mapping activity, creating their own trails around the centre of Leeds based around themes such as work/industry, politics, housing and leisure.

In the afternoon, there will be a walking tour of central Leeds, taking in some of the city’s known, and lesser-known, landmarks.

The Researching Urban History day is open to everyone with an interest in doing their own urban histories of Leeds, or other towns and cities, and no prior experience is necessary.

For more information about the day, please contact

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