In transcribing the following paragraphs from the Internet Archive online version of the Gazetteer’s entry on Leeds, I have expanded the abbreviations for easier reading and added paragraphing, subtitles, and links to relevant material on this site, including Victorian images and modern photographs. The map and illustration are in the original. The Gazetteer has 1856 on the title-page for this volume, but the statements in this essay date it to 1851, and this entry has particular interest because it presents Leeds at mid-point in the century, when the city had already grown but had yet to reach its size later in Victoria’s reign. Many of the town’s most characteristic buildings and monuments were constructed a decade or two after this article was written. — George P. Landow]

Click on map to enlarge it.

LEEDS, a municipal and parliamentary borough of England in the county of York (W. Riding), and 22 miles South-southwest of York, on both sides of the Aire, which traverses the town in a direction nearly from West to East, and is here crossed by six bridges, two of them of stone, one of a single arch of cast iron, and two suspension on what has been called the bow and string principle, first introduced by a Leeds engineer. The part of the town on the right or South bank consists chiefly of the populous suburbs of Hunsley and Holbeck; the much more important part on the North bank forms the town proper, and occupies the summit and sides of a hill sloping East, West, and North. The length of the town along the Aire is about 1½ miles, and extends nearly 1 mile behind it.

In the older quarters, the streets are generally narrow and crooked. The only exception is the Briggate, which is at once spacious and handsome, gradually ascending from the old bridge in a direct line of about 600 yards, and forming the main thoroughfare. In the more modern quarters, particularly on the West slope, are several good streets and squares; but, on the whole, the appearance of Leeds is by no means prepossessing.

Its atmosphere, owing to the number of factories, is always hazy with smoke; and at least in the narrower streets, the cleansing process is very imperfect. In both these respects, however, important improvements have recently taken place. The houses are in general neatly and substantially built of brick, and roofed with gray slate; and many elegant mansions, possessed of all modern embellishments, have recently risen up. These are situated for the most part in Park Place, Park, Hanover, and Woodhouse squares, in all of which the unoccupied ground is well laid-out in pastures and shrubberies. In regard to paving, lighting, and the supply of water, Leeds is already in a tolerably satisfactory state; and a system of sewerage has been com menced on a scale which, when completed, will leave it unsurpassed by any provincial town in the kingdom.


The ecclesiastical edifices within the townships of Leeds, Holbeck, and Hunslet, include 24 Established churches and chapels, nine belonging to Wesleyan, and 13 to Methodists of other denominations, five Independent, five Baptist, two Roman Catholic, two Unitarian a Friends meeting-house, &c. Among the parish churches, the greater part of which are modern, the most deserving of notice are St. Peter’s, a decorated cruciform structure; St. John’s, in the later English style, with an embattled tower, Holy Trinity, a Doric structure, with a tower, one stage of which is Corinthian and the other Ionic; St. Paul’s, entered by a handsome Ionic portico; Christ Church, in the decorated English style; St. Mary’s, in a similar style; and St. Saviour’s, completed in 1845, at an expense of 20,000. Two of the Wesleyan chapels are conspicuous both for their elegance and dimensions, each containing 3000 sittings. The new Independent chapel, East Parade, is a handsome Grecian, and Mill-Hill Unitarian chapel (opened 1848), a fine Gothic building; and one belonging to the Roman Catholics has a spire 150 ft. high.

Town Hall and Commercial Buildings, Leeds. Drawn and engraved by J. L. Williams. Click on image to enlarge it.

The other public edifices of Leeds are neither numerous nor very remarkable. The more conspicuous are the Commercial buildings, a large and massive Grecian structure, so situated as to have three fronts, one of which, containing the main entrance, has an imposing appearance, and so arranged as to combine a news-room, concert-rooms, and various public offices; the Stock Exchange, of the composite order, recently completed, and justly regarded as the most ornamental structure of which the town can boast; the Court-House, a plain building, with a neat Corinthian portico, and a fine bronze statue of the late Sir Robert Peel placed in front of it; the industrial school, and the new House of Recovery, beautiful Elizabethan structures, with highly decorated fronts and octagonal turrets; the borough jail, a recent erection on improved principles, at an expense of £43,000; the philosophical hall, a handsome building, partly occupied as a museum; and the central market, a spacious covered building, with a Grecian front, spacious shops, and avenues of stalls. A townhall suited to this important borough is (1852), about to be erected by the corporation, for which a spacious site has been purchased.

Educational and Charitable Institutions

The principal educational establishment in which classical instruction is given, is the free grammar-school, originally founded in 1552, and subsequently enriched by bequests, so as to have an income of about 2000, and the privileges of an exhibition at Oxford, and four scholarships at Cambridge; the average attendance is about 170. For a humbler education, a first place belongs to the industrial school, already mentioned; the buildings and grounds of which cover 6 acres, and provide accommodation for 400 children; teachers apartments, dining-hall, dormitories, and all other requisites on the most complete scale. There are also a mechanics institute school, a model infant school, and numerous other schools in connection with the establishment, or the various bodies of Dissenters. Among literary and scientific institutions, are the literary and philosophical society, and the mechanics institute, the latter one of the most flourishing of its kind in the kingdom; and there are several good libraries, especially the Leeds library, originally founded by Dr. Priestley in 176S, and the new subscription library, of much more recent origin.

The leading charitable establishments are the infirmary, in the benefit of which in-door or out-door patients, to the number of above 3000, annually participate; the house of recovery, intended for fever and other infectious diseases; the dispensary; the eye and ear infirmary; several hospitals and alms-houses; and a variety of philanthropic associations, as the Tradesman s Benevolent Society, the Strangers Friend Society, the Church Visiting Society, &c. There are three public cemeteries; that on Woodhouse Moor was opened in 1835, the other two more recently.


Few towns are more favourably situated, both for manufactures and trade. It stands near the centre of one of the most important coal-fields of England, is accessible from the sea by the river Aire, by vessels of 120 tons; communicates by canals both with the Mersey at Liverpool, and the Humber at Goole, and many manufacturing towns; and has recently become the centre of a network of railways, leaving it almost nothing to desire in respect to facility of transport. These great advantages have been turned to good account, and the prosperity of the town, already rapid almost beyond example, continues to increase.

In woollens, one of the great staple manufactures of the kingdom, it takes a decided lead. For a long time, only the coarser kinds of woollens were manufactured, and the greater part of the weaving was performed by domestic looms. A great number of these are still employed, but the valuable improvements in machinery and other processes, in the in vention and perfecting of which Mr. William Hirst, a native of the place, greatly distin guished himself, have led to the general introduction of the factory system; which, under whatever defects it may otherwise labour, has certainly tended both to an immense increase of the quantity, and improvement in the quality of the goods. Cloths which, for fineness and colour, cannot be surpassed, are now regularly produced; and, in many instances, from the first step in the process to its completion, by the agency of steam. The most important woollens made here are superfine broad-cloths, coarse narrows, pelisse cloth, shawls, Scotch camlets, blankets, &c. The greater part of the cloth made, at least by the domestic manufacturers, is disposed of in the cloth halls. These are two immense and most ungainly brick buildings, in each of which two weekly markets are held, and the goods ready for sale are brought forward and arranged for inspection in avenues of stalls. The one, called the White Cloth Hall, is for undyed goods; the other for dyed goods, on which all the processes of manufacture have been performed except shearing or finish. Flax spinning and weaving are likewise extensively carried on, and employ almost as many hands as the woollen manufactures, as will be seen from the following Table, obligingly supplied by the Government Local Inspector of Factories:

The manufacture of locomotives employs about 2000 hands; there are three tool-making establishments, and machine-making is extensively carried on. Other manufactures, of a greater or less extent, are cotton and silk goods, leather, Spanish morocco leather, glass, earthenware, mustard, chicory, and tobacco. There are also several extensive oil-mills in the town and neighbourhood. Ordinary markets are held every Tuesday and Saturday; cattle markets every fortnight; leather fairs eight times a-year; and general fairs in July and November.

The City’s Origins, History, and Famous Citizens

Leeds received its first charter of incorporation in the 2d of Charles I.; and a second, the former having been forfeited, in the 13th of Charles II. The parliamentary borough is coextensive with the parish, and 30 miles in circuit. It returns two members to Parliament. Registered electors (1851), 6300. The vicinity of the town is crowded with villages, most of the inhabitants of which are employed in manufacturing for the Leeds market; and adorned with many hand some villas, but the only object possessed of much interest is the fine ruin of Kirkstall Abbey, about 2 miles distant. The most eminent natives of Leeds or its vicinity, are Smeaton, the engineer of Eddystone lighthouse; Dr. Priestley, Dr. Richard Hentley, and the two Milners, Joseph and Isaac, both distinguished as theologians, and the former author of a well known church history.

The population of the different townships which make up the parish or parliamentary borough of Leeds, and of which the town proper is considered as a single township, is exhibited in the following Table:

([Information for this entry provided by a] Local Correspondent.) [III, 155-57]


Blackie, Walker Graham. The Imperial Gazetteer: A General Dictionary of Geography, Physical, Political, Statistical and Descriptive. 4 vol South London: Blackie & Son, 1856. Internet Archive online version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web.9 November 2018.

Last modified 15 November 2018