From The Grave To The Page

Would you read this book? I hope so.

In 2016 in Leeds, archaeological excavations at the site of what is now the luxury shopping centre of Victoria Gate uncovered 28 bodies in was once burial ground of the Ebenezer Chapel. Until 1797 it had been a place of worship for Baptists, then it was taken over the Methodists. The graveyard had been closed in 1848, and the building itself demolished in 1936.

Ebenezer Chapel

That’s the background. But with the digging, the horror was about to begin. It’s what provided the inspiration for The Blood Covenant, the new Simon Westow book that’s due in December. History was unearthed and walked on to the page.

12 of those bodies were children and examination showed that nine of them had experienced diseases like rickets and anaemia. But there’s far more than that. They’d spent most of their short lives starving. Quite literally starving, in a rich, industrial city.

Dr Jane Richardson of the Archaelogical Services WYAS, told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “What makes these stand out is not the fact that remains were found, but the malnutrition they show us. It was the most grim part of Leeds at the time, and malnutrition was so prevalent. You can only imagine what these children must have gone through.”

The lived in absolute poverty, according to academic Malin Holst: “We’ve analysed quite a few populations that were very poor, like in Rotherham, but these really stick out,” she said. “They lived in these hovels in the backyards of back-to-back housing, and you could only get to them through tunnels – which were so small even a coffin could [not] fit through. If you can imagine trying to get sewerage or rubbish out, or even just trying to see sunlight – impossible. Children as young as six would’ve been working 12 hours a day in factories, it was just horrible.”

Think about that. They were working, earning money. Everyone in the family would be labouring, bringing home a wage yet they had no choice but to live like that. One of the bodies belonged to a child aged between eight or ten. The growth was so stunted it looked to be three or four.

In 1834, after the cholera epidemic, Dr Robert Baker reported on various areas of Leeds to the Board of Health, pinpointing the worst places in Leeds. Of the area around the chapel, he wrote: “I have been in one of these damp cellars, without the slightest drainage, every drop of wet and every morsel of dirt and filth having to be carried up into the street; two corded frames for beds, overlaid with sacks for five persons; scarcely anything in the room else to sit on but a stool, or a few bricks; the floor in many places absolutely wet; a pig in the corner also; and in a street where filth of all kinds had accumulated for years.”

Never mind horror fiction. The facts are far worse. There were real children who lived short, terrible lives and died like that, breathing in the soot, barely seeing the sun.

The skeletons were examined on the TV programme The Bone Detectives. You can watch it here.

Reading about it, seeing the bones. That was the moment The Blood Covenant took shape. All too often, those children were abused by overseers in the mills and factories. That’s simply a documented fact.

Simon Westow had been a victim himself during his years in the workhouse and the factory.  It had stayed with him, scarred him mentally and physically. When Dr Hey handed him notes he’d made about the bodies of two factory children from Ebenezer Street, it drew out his old ghosts.

‘He made a copy of what he’d written when he saw the children’s bodies. The older boy was ten. He’d lost two fingers on his left hand when he was younger. He was covered in bruises, it looked like he’d been beaten with a stick or a strap. It was much the same with the younger one. He was just eight.’

            ‘Who did it?’ his wife asked. Her fists were bunched, fingernails digging into her palms.

            ‘A mill overseer,’ he replied.

            ‘Which mill?’

            Simon shook his head. ‘He didn’t put that in there.’

Simon is going to give those children some justice. But it going to prove harder, and far deadlier, than he’d or his assistant Jane imagined.

The cheapest place to pre-order The Blood Covenant is here and UK postage is free. It’s published at the end of December.

Well, will you read this book?

One I Made Earlier, But You Haven’t Seen Yet

Time seems to be zipping by. I suppose it always does, but the second half of 2021 seems to be flying by. Brass Lives came out in June, and it’s already time to look ahead. It’s actually not that long since I write this – well, not to me, at least. The fourth Simon Westow novel, The Blood Covenant.

This is the book I started to write before the first lockdown knocked the world off-kilter, and there was no place for anger for a while; only sorrow and compassion, with a very large dose of fear. That resulted in me writing a very different books, which will appear next year.

Then the details about the mismanagement of Covid started to appear, the number of lives that might have been saved, the friends who benefited from a lack of oversight of all manner of things. The anger roared back. I picked up this book again. It’s not the same piece I started. The fury is stronger. It’s a very personal book, for Simon (it takes him back to the abuse he faced in his young days), for Jane, and for me. No regrets about that.

The Blood Covenant is published in hardback in the UK just after Christmas and you can pre-order it now. The ebook will appear worldwide on Febraury 1, 2022, abnd the hardback in other parts of the world in March. The best price I’ve seen is here.

Yes, it’s filled with anger – reading it again, it burns off the page. But there is still some tenderness in there, and some justice. It’s brutal at times, but no apology for that. Here’s what it’s about:

Leeds. November, 1823. When a doctor from the infirmary tells thief-taker Simon Westow about the brutal deaths of two young boys at the hands of a mill overseer, Simon’s painful memories of his childhood reawaken. Unable to sleep, he goes for a walk – and stumbles upon the body of a young man being pulled from the river.

Simon and his assistant, Jane, are drawn into investigating the deaths, seeking a measure of justice for the powerless dead. But the pursuit of the truth takes them on a dangerous and deadly path. Can they overcome a powerful enemy who knows he stands above the law in Leeds – and the shadowy figure that stands behind him?

I think this is one of the very best things I’ve written. The heat is there in every word. It’s not genteel. It’s hardcore. It’s Leeds. I may be wrong, but I don’t believe I am. I hope you’ll give it a read and find out.

Eliza Dickinson: A Forgotten Woman Of Leeds

In 1894, something momentous happened. A change in the laws allowed all rate payers to vote in local elections. The rates were the equivalent of today’s council tax; everybody paid them. So, working-class, middle-class, male and – above all -female had a local voice, even it if would take more than twenty years before some women received the franchise nationally.

The change opened the way for more women to stand for election to some offices too. Rural and parish district councils, and also as poor law guardians, the people who were responsible for outdoor and indoor relief, that is, benefits, as we might call them, and admission to the workhouse and overseeing conditions there.

A few middle-class women had been elected as guardians (by men). To qualify, they needed to own property worth £15, but it was primarily a job for men. With the change, however, working-class women did run for the office, truly breaking boundaries.

The Leeds Mercury reported from the Conference of Women Workers stating that “A paper was read on “Women in Local Government”. “Owing to the removal of the marriage and rate-paying disqualifications, many women of leisure could now become Guardians, and bring to their work that practical knowledge of the care of the poor which almost every woman with heart and head possessed.

While women Guardians were in favour of severe discipline for able-bodied paupers, they would remove the stigma of pauperism from the innocent children by boarding them out. Workhouse children had not even a piece of string they could call their own. Women Guardians should advocate the employment of paid women inspectors for children and lunatics, and they would be able to look into matters quite beyond the province of men.

Women as Guardians had special qualifications. They brought practical experience to the work. Many of the Guardians were tradesmen and tried to promote the interests of a clique, while women sat supremely apart and judged the case on its own merits.

On a Board composed exclusively of men, they had spent an hour discussing the matter of buttons versus hooks-&-eyes, which the dressmaker eventually decided for herself.”

 In my novel The Tin God, I have Annabelle Harper, a working-class woman from Sheepscar in Leeds, running to become a guardian. That’s fiction, but a woman named Eliza Ann Dickinson became a real pioneer. She was one of three working-class women seeking election.  Mrs Woodcock, who lived on Beeston Road, not far from Hunslet workhouse, was elected, too. However, a female candidate from the Labour/Independent Labour Party was defeated in the Holbeck South Ward.

Eliza Ann Beardsall was born in Headingley on February 14, 1851.

Her father was a forgeman, and it seems the family moved to Hunslet.

Young Eliza with her mother and brother

In September 1873, at St. Jude’s church in Hunslet, she married James Dickinson, a miner.

The couple had four children, one of whom died. At some point, she worked at Temple Newsam house.

What prompted a miner’s wife to stand to become a poor law guardian? Her descendants don’t seem to know, but she was inolved in a miners’ strike, and very likely her husband was one of the miners, so she’d have experienced how families suffered.. However, the letter urging her to stand in 1894, and the election poster (with her name misspelled) are wonderful.

Letter urging Mrs Dicksinson to run

She won a position on the Hunslet board of guardians, and is pictured here with the other board members, notably all men. Mrs Dickinson was re-elected three years later, and for a third time in 1901.

In 1911, the daughter, Amelia Jane, and granddaughter were living with the couple.

James Dickinson died in a mining disaster in 1919, still working at the age of 68. The note mentions that Eliza had been a guardian for many years.

By 1922 she was on the electoral register, living on Coggle Street in the Rothwell Haigh ward. She died in 1930.

Outside her own family, hardly anyone knows about her. Yet Eliza Ann Dickinson was a remarkable woman, someone who represented ordinary people on the board of guardians. She would have understood poverty, unemployment, injuries from working; they’d all have been evident in her neighbours. That’s apparent from this 1901 census.

The board was, as the 1894 letter states, dominated by “moneybags.” Someone like Eliza Ann Dickinson was needed to assess relief and look after the workhouse. She deserves far more than to be forgotten.

I’m grateful to historian Vine Pemberton Joss for making me aware of Mrs. Dickinson, and to Denise Morgan and her family for giving me information and supplying all the documents and photographs.

Leeds Folk Songs And Ballads

Every so often, I come back to folk songs and folklore. And here were are again. Some of these have appeared in the blog before, but not all. For me, the folk songs and folklore are the bedrock of stories, a way to the heart of a community, a people. A chance to understand a place and the people who live there.

Well, sometimes…

It’s a curious thing, but root around as much as you like, you won’t find a whole lot of folklore, be it, tales, songs, or music that’s strongly connected to Leeds. Lancashire, especially the greater Manchester area, has plenty of industrial folk songs, and there are some from West Yorkshire. But Leeds…you’re on a hiding to nothing.

Before 1800, Leeds was a small town, around 7,000 people in 1700 and 30,000 a century later; neither rural nor metropolis. But with the factories came the people, and over the next hundred years the population rose tenfold. However, they created little in the way of songs about the place that became home.

There are a number of broadside ballads, written and sold generally for specific events, and the distinction between them and ‘proper’ folk song has been endless debated. For the sake of argument, we’ll lump them all in.

Folk tales will be another time.

There are two tunes with Leeds roots, “Leeds Polka” and the “Kirkgate Hornpipe” (which occurs in a pair of variations). Frank Kidson, Leeds’ own Victorian song collector, claims it was known here as early as 1820. Here they are.

He also notes “The Holbeck Moor Cock Fight,” which turns up in his book Traditional Tunes. Yet even with a number of local informers, he came up with little that was specifically Leeds.

Songs starts at 03:35

This light-hearted piece from Holroyd’s Collection of Yorkshire Ballads is about as specific as it’s possible to be – set around Temple Newsam.

A deep dig and a couple of conversations do reveal some more. Some Victorian songs mention Leeds in passing, like John White, which is largely the true tale of a soldier and his flogging – sadly a common occurrence then.

Similarly, Mr Simkins Lived At Leeds. The first line is the only mention of the place.

There are some more recent gens, though. In the 1960s, academic and folk musician Bob Pegg was able to collect songs around Leeds and came up with a wonderful pair. The first comes from a woman named Mrs Dawson. Interestingly, there’s no castigation of an pregnant, unmarried girl, which is not uncommon across the North.

The other is a very local version of the grand old ballad The Cruel Mother.

There was a lady lived in Leeds

Bloomin’ bloomin’ laddie-O

There was a lady lived in Leeds

Down by the greenwood side-o

She had a baby in her arms

She had a pen knife in her hand

She stuck it in his poor little heart

Then two big bobbies come a-knocking at the door

Are you the woman what killed the child?

Yes, I’m the woman what killed the child

So they took her to Armley Jail

They put a rope around her neck

And they hung her till she was dead!

“…she was dead” delivered in a strangulated voice

All verses follow the same pattern as the first, a single line repeated, with the lines of the refrain interleaved.

Bob also added to the canon with two very Leeds songs of his own, “The Chapeltown Hawk,” which even mentions the old, notorious Hayfield Hotel, which is now demolished. There’s still a generation of two that remember it.

That was the B-side of a 1978 single. The A-side, “The Werewolf Of Old Chapeltown” came out during the time of the Yorkshire Ripper and saw him pulled in for questioning. It was topical, which was also something to be found in many broadside ballads.

Ah yes, the broadside ballads. There are plenty more of those that mention Leeds, ranging from the frivolous to the political, to warnings or commemorations of events. Ballads had been printed and sold cheaply since Elizabethan times, although it was only with an increase in population that Leeds became a worthwhile subject. Ballads, especially ones with national appeal, were the pop songs of the times. Tragedies were always popular, as well as those where someone showed a good, trusting heart.

One common trope was the country bumpkin in the big town, and for Leeds, a ballad called “The Wensleydale Lad” is one of the best known. Is it ballad or song? I’m going to call it a ballad. Humorous, and in dialect, but the meaning is obvious.

One with a real Leeds association is “Mary, Maid Of The Inn,” even if most versions never mention the place. The ballad is derived from a poem of 1796 by Robert Southey, although its origins appear to be more distant, in a local folk tale that takes place in Kirkstall.

Mary supposedly works at an inn close to a ruined abbey. According to local historian Alan Jones, there were two contenders, one of which was the Hark to Rover, on Morris Lane, a stone’s throw from the abbey and supposedly built with sones from the abbey. If the name is familiar, the Victorian interior has been recreated in Abbey House museum. The other contender is the old, long-gone, Star and Garter, once a Kirkstall fixture.

There are a couple of versions of the tale, as there are with all good folk tales. Mike Harwood has done an excellent job of hunting down leads and assembling them into a paper well worth reading here.

Many of the darker ballads have a backstory, often from reality, like this tale of the Dark Arches.

Discovering the history it them far more resonance. Another time we’ll look at Leeds folk tales. Spoiler-there aren’t even as many as Leeds folk songs.

Many thanks to Bob Pegg for being so wonderfully helpful on this,

Forgotten Women Of Leeds: Ann Carr

The North of England was home to many religious dissenters and sects, those who worshipped outside the established religions. Preachers toured, held revivals, spoke to whoever might listen and tried to covert others. Most of those doing the talking were men.

Ann Carr was very much an exception. In Leeds, as well as preach, she did a great deal to help the poor, to educate their children, and take them in. She lived and died among them. Her deeds matched her words.

She didn’t do it for fame or glory. She did it as a part of her religion, her belief. Charity truly did begin at home. Yet who in Leeds has heard of Ann Carr? She deserves better than that.

The Shaping of Faith

Ann Carr was born in Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, the youngest of 12 children. Her father, Thomas, was a builder. Her mother, Rebecca, died when Ann was five, and she was raised by an aunt who became the family’s housekeeper.

When she was 18, the men she intended died suddenly, and Ann experienced what we’d call a breakdown for the three months. Finally, she attended a pray meeting, where ‘an aged Christian female came to her and said, “Ann, my dear, believe.”’

She did, and her life was changed. She became a Wesleyan Methodist, moving to the spontaneity of Primitive Methodism as she began travelling to preach to miners in Nottinghamshire. From there, she and two other female preachers, Sarah Eland and Martha Williams, were sent to Hull, where they opened the first Primitive Methodist chapel, and then on to Leeds in 1821, supposedly to support the work of preacher William Clowes. Ann had found the place that would be her home for the rest of her life.

In Leeds

The women made their home at Spitalfields, on the Bank (Richmond Hill as it is today), one of the poorest areas in Leeds. By 1822, however, chafing at the discipline imposed on them by the leadership of the church, Ann broke away and founded the Female Revivalist Society – the first religious revival society led by women.

Their home wasn’t big enough for their meetings, so Ann rented a much larger room in George’s Court, off George Street – ironically, where the upscale Victoria Gate shopping centre now stands. She (along with Martha Williams) lived there, they and began their social work among local people. It was a time when industrialisation was taking hold and people who’d been displaced by the Enclosure Acts in the countryside were pouring into town to seek work in the new manufactories. Leeds has no shortage of the desperate and destitute, and the Female Revivalist Society helped them.

By 1825, they’d moved to the Leylands, to Regent Street, where Ann had purchased land. On March 7 the first stone of Chapel House was laid. Ann would have that as her home and base for the remainder of her life. She, and her movement, were popular among the working-classes. She didn’t condescend to them. She was a part of them. In 1826, she expanded south of the river, with a chapel in Brewery Field. Holbeck, and a year later she opened a schoolroom on Jack Lane in Hunslet, as well as societies in Morley and Stanningley.

All of this took money. Neither Carr nor Williams came from wealthy family. They had to raise funds to keep going.

“Little did she imagine the fearful responsibility she was incurring and the trying difficulties in which she was involving herself,” Williams wrote in her Memoir of Ann Carr. “The tendency of these engagements was to secularize her mind, to paralyse her exertions, and to impair her usefulness. Much precious time…was…spent in going house to house , to solicit donations and subscriptions on behalf of these buildings, for the whole of which she alone was responsible.”

A total of £3339 was spent on buildings in Leeds, and preparing the deeds. Not long before Ann died, she still owed £2105 – almost £250,000 in today’s terms.

As well as trying to look after the poor, once she’d settled in Leeds, Ann brought her elderly father from Market Rasen to lived with her. Try as she might, though, she couldn’t covert him. Yet, in a scene that could almost be maudlin, he finally relented on his death bed.

Even with pressing money worries, Ann still managed plenty of preaching. She travelled outside Leeds quite often, and trained her horse to stop whenever it saw a group of men working, so she could preach and try to convert them.

Ann herself was described as “robust-looking, bold, courageous, and energetic, her preaching being characterized by zeal, correctness, and sincerity rather than by eloquence and culture.”

During the 1830s, with the rise of the Temperance Movement, saw Ann going further – back to work in Hull and as far as London. But she always returned to Leeds, helping the poor, educating children, and housing kids, prostitutes, those who didn’t have a home, at Chapel House.

When cholera raged in Leeds in 1832, according to the Memoir, “she refused no application, however desperate the case or unseasonable the hour. Often, in the stillness of midnight, the knock at her door has disturbed her sleep; when she has instantly arose, as quickly as possible dressed herself, flew to the house of contagion or death, pleased for the sufferer in all the agony of prayer, and urged him to apply to the skill and tenderness of the great Physician.”

In 1838, she and Martha Williams published a book of hymns. Whether it helped them raise much money to cover their debts isn’t known.

By 1839, Ann’s own strength was beginning to flag. A change of air was advised, and she left to spend time by the sea in Cleethorpes, then on to Market Rasen. The following year, her finances must have been precarious, as other denominations held a bazaar at Belgrave Chapel to raise funds for the Leylands Chapel.

That autumn, with a change of air again advised, she spent four weeks in Nottingham, but it didn’t help. At this stage, nothing could. There was no treatment for the cancer in Ann Carr’s body. She died at Chapel House on January 18, 1841 and was buried at Woodhouse cemetery on January 21. According to Martha Williams, “thousands assembled” to watch the funeral procession pass.

Photo by Morticia

The Leeds Mercury gave her a reverent obituary, and the Leeds times wrote that “she was a person of the most benevolent habits and philanthropic disposition.”

Martha Williams was named as her executrix, and working with trustees attempted to pay the amounts owing on the properties. However, Ann had left instructions to sell some of the buildings if necessary, “so that the Leylands Chapel should be carried on, and perpetuated for the purpose for which it was erected.”

Sadly, without Ann, the money didn’t come in, and the followers drifted away. Within a few years all she’d built was history. The chapel became the Temperance Union and then St Bridget’s Roman Catholic church. It’s no longer standing.

However, apart from heading possibly the first female-run religious movement, Ann Carr also helped some of the poorest in Leeds with their everyday lives – and deaths. She did the very practical things of helping to feed them, house them, educate them. It was a duty to her, but more than that, part of her vocation as a preacher. She made a difference here.

You can read and download the Martha Williams Memoir free (and legally) here.

My thanks to Morticia for her enthusiasm for Ann Carr.

Jst a final note. My new book, Brass Lives, is out in harback in the UK. It’s available everywhere on ebook from August 1, and hardback in the US from early September. I’d love it if you bought a copy.

To Touch Old Leeds

They say there are places where the fabric of time stretches so thin that you can reach though, maybe even walk through, into another age. There are times I feel that in Leeds, when I feel I can push the veil aside and touch other times.

Maybe it because something happened there, that something lives on, some faint echo; I don’t have the answer to that. Yet it seems very real.

Stand by the patch of green by St Mary’s Street off Mabgate. Its look like nothing now, trapped in a construction site. To the south there’s New York Road, all the bustle of roar of the modern world. But if you stand there, you can hear the mourning. It’s where Leeds buried many the victims of the 1832 cholera outbreak, in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church. Over 700 people died in the town, so many of them poor, drinking tainted water, living crowded together (340 people in 27 rooms in Boot and Shoe Yard alone).

The dead were buried quickly. There was little choice about that. few headstones or markers remain. No graves for families to visit. But there, on the edge of Quarry Hill, has always been a place for isolation.

When Leeds has its outbreak of plague in 1645, this was where they built the cabins to house the victims, to try and keep them away from the healthy. Quite possibly some are buried her.  Well over a thousand perished.

Stand, and if there’s a break in the nearby traffic, listen. The voices are muffled, and distant. Maybe more of a feeling than anything distinct. But touch the air in that place and you cut through the centuries.

Not far away, around the Parish Church, the Minster as it’s styled now, there’s the deep sense of history. More than anywhere, inside the building, the Leeds Cross, cobbled together from five ancient crosses that stood outside a much earlier version of the building, in a time before the Norman Conquest, when Leeds has one ragged street – Kirkgate – fewer than 200 people lived here and Leeds was still Leodis.

Reach out, touch the stone. Feel the cuts, how time and weather has worn them away. Back then, the village stood on the boundary of kingdoms. Tiny, but important. These crosses were memorials, perhaps. Certainly a mix of Christian and pagan symbols, from a time when people still hedged their bets about gods. One that’s survived comes from the story of Wayland the Smith, one of the oldest and most powerful English tales (and pre-Christian). Put out your hand, rub it, and you can feel the man who stood there with his hammer and chisel, who worked the stone. You’re there with him, catapulted through the centuries. It’s a feeling to leave you silent.

One more, and not far to walk for this. Just along the Calls. It’s a street of apartments, offices and clubs fashioned from warehouses now. But once it would have been a track leading from the ford over the river towards the church. Not a street, nothing at all, really, worn down by feet and maybe the wheels of carts. It would have existed before Briggate.

Later, the river and canal became the highway for good, bareges loading and unloading, warehouses being built on the river’s edge. There were also sets of stairs down to the water, and the tale of a woman called Jenny White who walked into the Aire to drown herself when she discovered her man (lover? Husband?) was unfaithful.

In 1835, Heaton, in his description of the area, notes “a long flight of steps, dark and ugly, between the houses (the last being into the water, long known by the name of Jenny White’s hole.” From that, it might well have happened before Leeds became a town filled the factories.

Where on the Calls? There plenty of places, and all the river stairs have long since gone. Walk down behind all those buildings, towards Calls Wharf. You’re by the water, and you call almost hear the cries of men who worked there. Look at the river from the right angle and you can see Jenny’s ghost under the surface. It’s there. Still there. Always there.

Jenny White’s story survives as a folk tale. But truth becomes tale over time. She’s remembered. She’s a part of Leeds, like the bodies at St Mary’s, or the man who carved Wayland the Smith in the Cross. Look and you can see them.

The Tale Of Rosebud Walk

Let me tell you a story…

…but it’s not about a person. It’s about a place.

A street called Rosebud Walk.

In Leeds. Of course.

A lovely, romantic name that conjures up country air and the scent of flowers. Quite bucolic.

Except for the fact that it stands on the edge of Sheepscar, running between Roseville Road and Dolly Lane Not long ago it was a short street of terraced houses, their brickwork covered with soot and smut. It’s little more than a good stone’s throw from the Victoria, the public house on Roundhay Road that Annabelle Harper runs in my Tom Harper novels; Rosebud Walk even gets a mention in one of them.

This is how the area looked in 1903. You can’t quite see the street, it’s off to the right.

This is the way it looks now. Not exactly pretty or rose-filled, is it? You at that low wall with the street sign? That’s the wall at the right-hand edge of the 1903 picture.

Yet it wasn’t always this way. Rosebud Walk has a history that reaches to the early part of the 19th century, and back then it earned its name.

We think of Sheepscar as part of the inner city, transformed from working-class housing into light industrial estate. At the beginning of the 19th century, it was countryside; hardly more than a few houses and farms. It had a bridge over the beck, carrying a turnpike road heading north towards Harrogate. A rapeseed oil mill and a ground redwood mill, along with the dye works, were the only businesses. The area, according to historian Ralph Thoresby, was “mostly inhabited by clothiers” – men who. wove wool into cloth and took it into Leeds to sell at the cloth market.

In 1810 another major road was constructed, branching off the turnpike just north of the bridge towards Wetherby – what we know today as Roundhay Road and the A58.

Nine years later, a cavalry barracks, locally known as Chapeltown Barracks, was erected over 11 acres to the east of the Harrogate turnpike and north of the Roundhay turnpike.

Curiously, this didn’t bring an immediate flux of businesses to Sheepscar. The trade directory for 1823 lists a pair of grocers, a seed crusher, a whitesmith, a painter, Holroyd’s dye works, and one cloth dresser. By 1828, a joiner was listed in Skinner Lane. They were the sole tradesmen listed in the area.

By 1834, there was a little more, but this was still very much well outside Leeds. A map from 1834 shows that the few buildings were clustered around the junction where the Roundhay turnpike, Sheepscar Lane, and Manor Street came together. But there was a new addition.

A little further up the turnpike you’ll notice a tea and pleasure garden across from the barracks, probably for the officers and their families. Owned by Mr B Beverley, it extended to Gipton Beck and beyond, stretching the track that would soon be called Dolly Lane.

This map from 1837 shows the extent of Beverly’s holdings. By this time they only seem to extend from Gipton Beck at the west to Dolly Lane in the east.

By 1839, the tea garden is listed on Roundhay Road, and run by Edward West.

Let’s move on to 1847. The tea garden has a name now – Rosebud Garden – and a house called Rosebud stands by to Gipton Beck. At this point the water would still be pure there, before it reached the piggery at the end of Manor Street and Holroyd’s Dye Works.

A path connects the garden to Roundhay Road and the barracks. Sadly, we have no information as to what the tea gardens were like. Very likely there was entertainment, musicians playing, possible more, but we’ll never know the details.

Rosebud Gardens still existed in 1866, and the house named Rosebud was still there. Even at that point, there was very little building in Sheepscar. It would have been green, the air reasonably clean, pretty much semi-rural.

Everything began to change soon after, in 1870. The streets began to rise up in Sheepscar. Housing for the growing numbers of the working classes, back-to-backs and through terraces. By 1890 Rosebud Gardens had gone. The top boundary was now Roseville Street, and the bottom had become Rosebud Walk, a line separating the backyards of Roseville Terrace from the land behind. That name would be the only way the place would live on.

By 1906 it was even more hemmed in, with the Keplers to the north, and then the Andersons as Harehills grew.

That was how it would stay for a few decades, until the demolition of Sheepscar. Roseville Terrace has been pulled down, although one side of Roseville Street remain.

And Rosebud Walk is there, a single lane through from Dolly Lane to Roseville Road. Not even a memory of the tea garden, or even of the houses that were once there. Only a name.

Rosebud.

It could almost be Orson Welles…

Alice Mann: A Forgotten Woman Of Leeds

As a novelist, one of the things I’ve tried to do is give a voice to the voiceless in Leeds, and to celebrate those who made a difference to people in this town. It’s why one of my proudest achievements was to be associated with The Vote Before the Vote exhibition in 2018, celebrating local women who worked toward the vote during the 19th century.

One woman who should be known and lauded round here is Alice Mann. She was a radical bookseller and printer. The newspapers and magazines she sold and some of the pieces she printed did what I admire: raised the cry of those who usually went unheard. She stood up for her principles; she even went to prison for them.

Yet most people have never heard her name.

We do we know about her?

She was born Alice Burnett on Hunslet Lane in 1791, and her father’s name was William. There’s no trail to follow for him, and Alice’s mother isn’t named.

In 1807 she married James Mann at Leeds Parish Church.

Who was James Mann? Born in Huddersfield (or possibly Leeds, on Briggate) in1784, he was employed as a cloth dresser, a man who cropped the finished woven cloth. It was a skilled trade that paid a handsome wage; the croppers had to wield large shears and do their work with concentration and exactitude -and great arm strength. The croppers were among the elite of cloth workers.

Becoming Radicals

The job of cropper was dying. Machines were coming in that could do the work faster and cheaper. This was the time of the machine breakers, the Luddites. Men who wanted to stop industrialisation. It was a forlorn hope. The gates had opened and the flood was coming. But it gave rise to broader issues that would result in Chartism later in the 19th century.

By 1812, the couple were apparently Radicals. They were reputedly involved in a riot on Briggate, where the market was held every Tuesday and Saturday.

England was in the middle of its war against Napoleon. The price of corn (wheat) kept rising and rising, with no check. Bread was a staple food and people couldn’t afford it.

The Manns possibly organised the riot, encouraging people to take the the food. Alice might had led it all, dressed up as “Lady Ludd.” Others claim it was James in a dress. A report in the Ipswich Journal claimed that on August 18:

In the afternoon [in Leeds] a number of women and boys, headed by a female who was dignified with the title of Lady Ludd, paraded the streets, beating up for a mob.

In 1819 the Manns opened a bookshop on Briggate. That was the year of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, and government fears over agitation for reform. By then, the Manns had a reputation. The Leeds Intelligencer claimed that their “house appears to be the head quarters of sedition in this town.”

James was a speaker on parliamentary reform, and also an advocate of female reform societies. In 1820 he was successfully prosecuted under the new Six Acts for sedition. While he was travelling around West Yorkshire, Alice apparently kept the shop and looked after the nine children the couple would eventually have (six are listed in the 1841 census, ranging from 23 to 11, along with another child and a lodger).

In 1832, cholera swept through the country. It killed James Mann on August 2, and he was buried at Mill Hill Chapel – apparently a convert to Nonconformism.

The Second Act

Alice still had a family to raise. She needed the bookshop more than ever, and began working with Joshua Hobson, another Radical journalist/printer/bookseller, who moved to Leeds from Huddersfield. He published Voice of the West Riding, and was prosecuted three times for selling an unstamped newspaper.

He set up in business on Market Street – about where Central Arcade is these days – and became active in politics in the town. Alice, meanwhile, had also been in court for selling unstamped papers. In 1834 she ended up being sentenced to seven days in the House of Correction in Wakefield. Two years later she was offered a deal where most of the charges would be dropped if she agreed to stop selling unstamped papers. She refused, saying selling books and papers was her only way to support her family. She was sentenced to six months in prison at York Castle. According to the Leeds Intelligencer, a public dinner was held up on her release.

She’d moved premises from Briggate to the new Central Market on Duncan Street, and lived in Trinity Street (or Court, according to the trade directory).

Central Market (Leodis)

As a jobbing printer, she took on whatever jobs came her way, and repeatedly tried to become printer to the council, a lucrative position, which she won in 1842.

By the 1851 census, she and her family were living in Woodhouse. One blogger has speculated she might have been the author of The Emigrant’s Guide (you can read the piece here), published in 1850. It’s possible, although the evidence is scant. But she had to make a living.

However, she remained true to her roots, supposedly becoming printer of the Leeds Times after its 1839 sale. She was responsible for publishing The Ten Hour Advocate and Mann’s Black Book of the British Aristocracy, among a number of others.

Although any contributions she made haven’t been unearthed, she was almost certainly involved in the Chartist movement in the 1840s, which was strong in Leeds (where the Northern Star newspaper was published).

The only other facts are that she died on June 8, 1865, and left an estate worth less than £3000. It was administered by her son Alfred, who he carried on the business.

The listing for Alice Mann’s death

However, in 1876, a woman named Alice Burnett Mann married John Temple.

Who was Alice Bruneett Mann? One explanation is that in 1891, a child named Gertrude Temple was living in York with Henry Mann and his family. Gertrude was listed as Mann’s granddaughter. Henry Mann was one of the children of James and Alice Mann.

At a time when few women ran their own businesses, Alice kept hers going very successfully after her husband died. Equally rare, she was a woman involved in Radical politics in a period when it was a dangerous business, and raised a family on her own. A remarkable woman – one who deserves to be better-known than she is.

To finish, a reminder that Brass Lives is now out in hardback in the UK, and ready for you to buy or borrow from a library (ask your library – they’ll order it). The ebook will be available worldwide from August 1, and the hardback from September 7.

Some information for this piece came from posting to the Secret Libray website and David Thornton’s essential (to me) Leeds: A Biographical Dictionary. I’m grateful.

The Bold Escape Of The Suffragette

As you’ll almost certainly be aware by now, my new book called Brass Lives is published next week.

While one of the main characters is based on the real-life Leeds-born gangster Owen Madden, one small strand features another real person – suffragette Lilian Lenton. She was in Armley Gaol on Leeds, accused of arson in Doncaster. On hunger strike, she was released under the Cat and Mouse Act. The idea was she’d eat and gain weight, then be hauled back to prison.

However.., in the book, Special Branch is watching her. Let’s say it’s not a success. What I’ve described seemed to be what really happened.

Lilian Lenton

Friday morning, half-past eleven. Harper sat in the chief constable’s office, listening to Inspector Cartwright of Special Branch. Beside him, Sergeant Gough’s face was so red with anger that he looked as if he might explode.

            ‘None of my men had seen any sign of Miss Lenton, so I knocked on the door first thing this morning and asked to see her. I wanted to know if she was well enough to be returned to Armley Gaol.’ Cartwright spoke as if he was reciting from his notebook in court.

            ‘Go on,’ Parker said. He clamped down on the cigar in his mouth to hide his amusement.

            ‘The maid told me that she wasn’t there. My men searched the house from top to bottom and the information was correct. She was not there.’

            Parker studied the rising smoke. ‘Have you discovered what happened?’

            ‘She escaped, that’s what happened.’ Gough was close to shouting.

            Harper raised an eyebrow. ‘How?’

            ‘As best as we can ascertain, sir, she was in disguise,’ Cartwright continued, avoiding their eyes as he stared at the wall. ‘She arrived on the Tuesday. Late that afternoon a delivery van appeared on Westfield Terrace. It was driven by a young man. He had a boy with him. We observed the boy eating an apple and reading a copy of Comic Cuts. The driver called out “Groceries.” A servant opened the door and said, “All right, it’s here.” The boy took a basket into the house through the back door.’ He went silent for a moment, glaring at the sergeant. ‘Shortly after that, the delivery boy reappeared with an empty basket, returned to the van and it drove away.’

            ‘The delivery boy who came out was Lilian Lenton in disguise?’ Harper asked.

            ‘Yes,’ Cartwright said through clenched teeth. ‘That’s what we’ve managed to discover. I talked to the grocer. He told me everything as soon as I threatened him with prosecution. Miss Lenton was taken a mile away to—’ he consulted his notebook ‘—Moortown, where her friends had a taxi waiting to drive her to Harrogate. We’re pursuing our enquiries from there. At this point we have every reason to believe she’s fled the country.’

            ‘That’s very unfortunate,’ Parker said. ‘And it makes the Special Branch look pretty poor.’

            ‘Yes, sir, it does.’ Cartwright was staring daggers, but he had to sit and take it. His men had messed up. They’d allowed the woman to escape as they sat and watched. ‘You can help us, if you’d be so good.’ He looked as though they were the hardest words he’d ever had to speak.

            ‘What do you need?’ Harper asked.

            ‘If you could ask the force in Harrogate to talk to people they know and discover where she’s gone, that would be a great help. The sooner we can find out the better, of course.’

            ‘We will.’

            ‘Thank you, sir.’ The men stood.

            Before they could leave, the chief said: ‘A word to the wise, Inspector. I’d advise you not to prosecute the grocer. If this comes out in court, you’ll look an utter fool.’

Brass Lives is published June 24.

Three Weeks To Go

Yes, as June arrives and summer really seems to be here – 23C yesterday and the allotment is grateful! – the times is paxssing quickly. In just over three weeks, Brass Lives will be published in the UK (ebook everywhere on August 1, and US hardback publication in September, I believe).

It’s the first time I’ve used a real, well-known person as the foundation for a major character, and given his life the kind of turn it never had.

Who? A Leeds-born man who moved young to New York and become notorious as a gangster and bootlegger – and as a killer. Owen Madden. Here’s a short film I made about him in my other role as writer-in-residence at Abeey House Museum. He really is a fascinating person.

My version of him, Davey Mullen, is a little different.

Why not read it and find out? This place has the cheapest price, and free shipping (and they’re not Amazon).