Markets And History

I posted a little piece on social media about markets – thinking, specifically, about Leeds Market. Kirkgate Market has been in the same place, with the same beautiful Vicar Lane frontage, since 1904. It’s survived additions and fires. Before that, there was the Central Market, and the open market has been a fixture since the middle of the 19th century, a place where the cheaper goods are traded, and still are.

Go back further, and there was a market on Briggate on Tuesdays and Saturdays, the same days as the cloth market. Markets are at the heart of our town and cities. They’re truly the continuity of the past.

When I was young, people of all social classes shopped at the market. My mother did it, just as her mother, grandmother and more, going back, all had. Items were cheaper, there were bargains to be had. I remember the smell of the used book stall, the wonder of the toy stall near the top of the market – one of only two places to buy toys in Leeds back then; the Doll’s Hospital in Country Arcade was the other. We’d go there every week, and she buy something, maybe fish or something else. It was tradition, it was the way things were done before supermarkets became the places to shop, to get everything under one roof (the irony, of course, was that in the market you could get everything under one roof, and probably for less money).

market 1

Markets change, of course. We don’t have live chickens in cages for sale these days, as they did in the 18th and 19th centuries. We don’t have the entertainers like Cheap Jack Kelly, ‘Doctor’ Green and his nostrums or The King of Ashanti who were a part of the market experience for Victorian shoppers. Yes, M&S got their start with the penny bazaar in the open market. But that’s only one story among so many. What’s there now, the people who sell, the items they stock, reflect the way Leeds has altered. It’s a better barometer than any official figures.

Markets are the most democratic shopping places we possess. They always have been. Not just in Leeds, but all through the word. They’re part of being human, a vital ingredient in any community. Buying and selling has been part of our nature even since people gathered together and we moved beyond growing everything ourselves.

In recent years we’ve gradually come to realise that not all progress is a good thing. We’re getting rid of disposable carrier bags in favour of the kind of shopping bags our mothers and grandmothers carried everywhere. We’ve learned that drying clothes on the line is much better than in a tumble dryer. We’re trying to get rid of plastic – maybe in favour of the brown paper parcels and bags that were everywhere in the past. Those ideas weren’t all wrong. Everything new isn’t better, and not everything old was good (certainly not the return of rickets and Victorian/Edwardian levels of malnutrition). In the market they’ll pop your loaf of bread or pound of plums in a paper bag. Ahead of the curve by being old-fashioned.

market 3

I write historical crime novels, most of them set in Leeds. I tend to look at my city through the lens of time. And I’m old enough to remember a time when the hangover of the early 20th century remained, when the market was a place where all classes went. Somewhere in the last 50 years that’s changed. We became seduced by the new, the idea of convenience, and then of the brand in clothing and shoes. By advertising above all. We became convinced each ‘advance’ was a good thing, and that beast has fed on itself.

market 2

Perhaps the wheel will turn a little more and we’ll realise that markets are a good thing, and we’ll understand it before it’s too late. Markets have been around too long. A market is one of the centres, one of the hearts of our towns and cities. They’re about the only living connection with the past that we have right in front of us, something that’s not an historic monument, but working and breathing every single day. They’re important.

One last thing, if you don’t mind. My new book, The Tin God, is out in just over a month. You can read more about it here. And you can pre-order it, either from the behemoth beginning with A, or other places, bookshops and independents. I’d be very grateful if you did. Thank you.


The Rock Machine Turns You On

A Sunday supper of hot crumpets with butter and jam, then thick slices of malt loaf, all washed down with tea. The same every week. Once the pots were washed, the immersion heater would do on, heating the water for a bath.

Not much hot water mind, and stripping off in the freezing bathroom, relishing the heat as I lowered myself. Almost too much at first, as if it might scald my skin. Lowering myself down gradually, calves and thighs, then sticking them back up as I slid down.

Wash the hair first, always greasy by the end of the weak. The baby shampoo mam bought, coming up fresh and clean, then the green Palmolive soap on the body. Get rid of that tide mark around the neck, clean behind the ears and between the toes to avoid rot. Every Sunday, the routine.

No hanging around in the water, out as it began to cool, and rubbing meself with the rough towel while the little transistor played in the corner, bring some sound into the room. Switching over from Radio One where it was all jazz that made no sense, to Radio 3 and some chamber music that didn’t touch me at all. People talking in posh voices on Radio 4. I turned the dial, tuning in the only thing left. Sing Something Bloody Simple. Christ. A waste of air. Silence was better than that.

Dress quickly, before the November air could touch me, then time combing my hair until it was just so. 1968. Fourteen and spending my hours gawping at my reflection, picking at a spot as if it meant ruin.

My bedroom was freezing. But the record player was there. Not that I had many records to put on it. Four LPs and a dozen singles. Every one carefully selected, poring over the sleeves, going back and forth, before I’d part with my money. Each one precious. I took The Rock Machine Turns You On out of its sleeve, holding it at the edges and lowering it on to the turntable before wiping it clean. 14/11d. All those tracks, each different. A couple of names that were familiar, most a step into the unknown. But a budget price. A bargain, and I wanted that. New discoveries. Check the needle for dust. Watch the hypnotic magic as the vinyl began to spin. Stylus down gently, then Dylan was signing I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight. And suddenly I was somewhere else.


That was the power of music in those days. It was like a wall, keeping the world at bay, a place where I could disappear. Somewhere secret, where songs possessed power. Some more than others. The track at the end of the side, Leonard Cohen, had a dark elegance to its words. Poetry. The images built pictures in my head, the nuns who were lovers, who softly wove their spells. I didn’t even know there was a Catholic order called that.  But what I knew about the world would have fitted on the back of a stamp with room to spare.

Maybe it still can, if I’m cruelly honest.

Flip it over, and the grind of Taj Mahal’s Statesboro Blues, then the electric energy of electric Flag and Killing Floor, as if they were trying to break out beyond the notes, to bring that desperation right into my bedroom and lay it out before me. See here, sonny, this is what life is like. It’s chaos and mayhem, and every man looking out for himself.

I wanted to believe. But when your life is the school shit in the morning five days a week, on with the blazer and the stiped tie, how could you know? Everything in my life was ordered, even if I didn’t quite realise it yet.

Routine. Except for the music. That was the door to somewhere else. To the wild world outside. To being grown up.


The Tin God Is Coming – Trailer

To start: Free From All Danger is now out in the US, and available everywhere as an ebook. And The Year of the Gun is available in the US now, too.

And to the heart of the matter…

Sometimes, a novel seems to write itself. The right suggestion at the perfect time and everything falls into place in an instant. I’ve only had that once before, with The Crooked Spire. In the last 12 months it’s happened to me twice, with The Hanging Psalm, out later this year, and The Tin God, which is published at the end of next month (at least in the UK).


After an event, a friend said, ‘Why doesn’t Annabelle run for office – become a Poor Law Guardian?’ And with the, the tumblers clicked and fell into place. It was after the horrible murder of the MP Jo Cox, and the humiliation of Elizabeth Warren in the US Senate. A time, still continuing, when female politicians were subject to massive online abuse.

Annabelle was already a Suffragist speaker in Leeds. After the changes to the law in Leeds that allowed the working class – both sexes – to vote and stand in some local elections, it was a natural extension, one with resonances reaching through time.  And this being 2018, the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, when some women received the Parliamentary franchise, the timing couldn’t be more apt.

I’m biased, I know, but to me this is a powerful book. I dearly love Annabelle, and there’s more of her in this than any of the previous five books in the series. But she’s not shoehorned in. It’s natural, and there are many facets of her on display. The political, the personal, and the police all come together.

She’s a real person, very human. Perhaps not real in the sense of having been flesh and blood, running the Victoria public house. But as real to me as anyone I see or speak to. She’s there, in my head. I can sense her. And as the emotional linchpin of the series, it was time she had a book that featured here -but did it in a way that seemed natural. Which, maybe, made her all the more real.

There’s folk music in the book, too (fragments of song lyrics form the clues), with Frank Kidson, a real-life, pioneering Victorian song collector from Leeds, who helps Tom Harper.

To me, it’s all real, it resonates in a way nothing else I’ve written quite does. At the risk of sound pretentious, I feel I’ve written something much bigger than myself. I’ll probably harp on about this a bit over the next couple of months. I hope you’ll forgive me, but…I’m ridiculously proud of this book.

I know that somehow, everything in this book is right. I can taste every moment of it. I’m as proud of it as a parent with a favourite child. Thanks to generous, helpful friends, I’ve been able to pull out all the stops to try and help it find a bigger audience (I love you all, but for this one I’d like more of you, please!).

And so, there’s a favour I’d like to ask, and I’d be very grateful if you could help. When the book is published at the end of March – and believe me, I’ll make sure people know – if you could read it, review it, recommend it, mention it. If you can buy a copy, even better. If not, then take it out of the library.

I believe in all my books, I put heart and soul into every one of them. But this…I’m not sure I can explain it beyond a feeling. I won’t detail all the plans to try and reach a wider audience, but I only hope they work. Ultimately, though, word-of mouth is always the most powerful recommendation. A rave from a friend. I only hope I’ve given you a book worth raving about.

And, to finish, I should give you a taste of The Tin God. Hope you like it (a lot of work went into putting this together, believe me, and my thanks to Thom Ashworth, who let me use part of his version of Work Life Out To Keep Life In).

A Whiter Shade of Epiphany

It’s true. A record can change the course of your life…

The summer of 1967 was a big one for me. I became a teenager and received my first record player as my birthday present. Although my father loved music, and was an excellent jazz pianist, we had no records, nothing to play them on. No instrument in the house (the baby grand had gone a few years before).

I went into town and bought my first single and LPs. A significant rite of passage, and one that changed me in more ways that I could ever imagine then. The single was one that was all over the Light Programme – Radio 1 was still a couple of months away – one that was the hit of the summer, Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade Of Pale.

It was strange, enigmatic, and very literate, gnomic in its lyrics. And the music, with bits of Bach organ carrying the melody over the descending bassline, was mathematically precise and beautiful, a sharp contrast to Gary Brooker’s bluesy rasp of a voice, one that gave an earthiness to the words.

It offered a sense of mystery, of something uniquely different – the guitar might as well not have been there. At its heart was a timeless, still quality, yet it couldn’t be anything but modern. But that made sense: it was a very different year, one that turned the world on its head, at least to a boy from the provinces.

London had been swinging for a few years. We knew that because the papers and TV told us. In the capital, maybe all across the South, British youth had emerged, blinking and dazed, into the 1960s, grown its hair and put on peacock plumage. It was a lovely idea, one that had slowly grown since the Beatles emerged in 1962, and the Rolling Stones, Animals, Kinks, Small Faces a year or two later.

Yet it was really 1965 when the first waves of the sea change really rolled in. The new fashions, the colour. It’s a cliché that Britain was in black and white until the ‘60s. Yet true, until the middle of the decade. And longer up North. We had Top of the Pops, Ready Steady Go! Had been and gone. But walk through Leeds and the reality looked somewhat different. Drab and dour, still hungover from the ‘40s and ‘50s.

Procol Harum, even more than the Beatles and Sergeant Pepper changed that for me. I don’t know how many times I played it. Plenty, with such a small collection, although it didn’t send me off in search of more by the band. It was such a perfect little gem on its own.

What it achieved, with me, was to help me understand that music had possibilities beyond pop. It was a huge hit, supremely catchy. But at its core, it wasn’t pop music. It was deeper, it aspired to be more. So did many other things at the time, including the Beatles themselves, and the Stones’ awful attempt at psychedelia.

The hippies had been going in California, although footage on TV showed them holding a funeral for the movement as it became adopted by so many. So it was over, wasn’t it? And what exactly was psychedelia?

I was too young and naïve to join the dots, probably to even understand they existed, when I went into Woolworth’s and bought the single. However, it didn’t take me long to discover more. Along with records, I discovered music papers, then John Peel on the radio – the pirate stations at first, then Radio 1.

Between them, they offered a real panorama. Not just of music, but a world that belonged to the young, beyond the understanding of the older generation that ran so much of the world. There was a wide-open vista ahead, and some people were leaving the herd and galloping off into it. I wanted to be a part of that.

The original promo film that wasn’t used…you can see why.

By Christmas, the music I was buying – not much, I was 13 and only had pocket money – had moved away from what was in the charts. I read the weekly music papers. I’d become an avid listener to John Peel’s Top Gear. Not that I’d completely turned away from the charts; this was a time when the space between rock and pop was very fluid. I was very taken by keyboards, especially the rich fullness of the Hammond organ, although I was learning to appreciate well-played guitar. But the changes went deeper than music. Some switch inside had clicked because of that single, and I’d realised that you didn’t have to follow the crowds. It was fine to become yourself. A gradual process for any teen, of course, no matter the decade. But without conscious thought, it seemed to become the way I lived my life.

My musical tastes have evolved over the years. They’re bound to, for anyone who loves music. From progressive rock, such as it was, gradually, I learned about roots, where the Rolling Stones, John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac drew their inspiration, and I delved into that, and my tastes headed farther afield.

I know it’s ironic that one of the most-played and most popular singles in British music history should send me off down a very different path. But there it is. My Damascene moment, my epiphany. And now, more than 50 years later, I have absolutely no regrets.

Leeds In Songs

A few weeks ago, I put in a few voices of Leeds through the centuries. Collecting them was a very satisfying experience. But something I realised was that there seem to be very few references to Leeds in folk songs and broadside ballads.

A trip to the Family and History Library at Leeds Central Library took me into the broadside ballads collected by Frank Kidson, one of folk music’s towering figures and collector and analyst (even if I initially just wanted to know who printed ballads locally). It also brought a few items that relate to Leeds, although it’s doubtful that any of them were ever really sung, let alone, handed down.

Broadside ballads were the single of their day, printed up quickly, each sheet sold for a penny. They commemorated everything – visits, disasters, executions – or sometimes nothing. But they can be a treasure trove.

This, for instance, concerns Queen Victoria’s visit to Leeds in 1858 to open the new Town Hall. What was the tune? We’ll never know at this distance, but it would be a common one that almost everybody would already know.


The Meeting of the Leeds Town Clocks is an absurd delight, but it also tells us where all these clocks were in Leeds – helpful information for any historian. Many people would not have owned watches of any kind, so public clocks were vital. From around 1860, it’s a wonderful artefact.



Equally ludicrous is On Leeds Becoming a Sea Port Town. Quite what prompted it, I don’t know, but the line “From the Exhibition” makes it likely that it was published just after the Great Exhibition in 1851, held in London, and possibly a bit of a satire on all the rage for the new and different.


The Leeds Tragedy is a very lengthy piece, set in a former time, one of those mock-Medieval fantasies. Quite probably, different version circulated in other parts of the country, with the name of different towns plugged in. It certainly deals with a knotty topic – a brother’s non-brotherly love for his sister.


The election song for John Barran shows a different facet of the ballad as political advertising. Supposedly from the early 1900s, it indicates broadsides were still in vogue, and must have been effective as party political broadcasting – like newspapers, they were the mass media of the age.


This ballad doesn’t come from Kidson’s collection, but it’s worth including (I used it in Voices of Leeds, but no apologies for bringing it back). Used to raise funds for the widow and surviving child, it’s the charity single of its day, and possibly a rare example of a broadside not published solely for profit.

When William Snowden’s keel boat, the Edward & William, capsized at Whitton Sands in 1885, only one man seemed to survive. But his wife and three children remained trapped in a pocket of air on the boat, and were freed after seventeen hours. Two of the children died on board. Mrs. Snowden and one child survived. A ballad was written and sold in Leeds to raise money for them.

The Keel to Leeds returning from Grimsby we are told,
In charge of Chaptain Snowden a sailor young & bold.
And in the vessel down below his sleeping children lay,
And two with him to sleep in death upon the coming day.

Soon come the shock, the keel overturned the husband’s spirits fled,
His gallant heart’s ceased beating he is numbered with the dead.
The mother clutched her little ones that slept so peacefully,
And tried, so hard to save them but alas twas not to be…

The water rose about her and higher still it came
The little arms are around her neck and she calls each one by name.
But when the water sunk again she knew one spirit fled,
And called her little Lizzies name but ah! her child was dead…

At last they hear her knocking and willing hands contrive
To save the mother and the only one she’s left alive.
What tongue can tell her feelings or who shall know her grief,
Pray God in all her mercy send her stricken heart relief.

Finally, a song that Kidson collected and published in his Leeds Mercury column in 1887, one which had probably been around Leeds for quite a while – the Lees Wassail, sung by groups who went door to door at Christmas, much as carol singers did not too long ago. It’s obviously a variant on God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen, and though Leeds isn’t mentioned, this was sung locally. Many areas had their own carols (which are still very much alive around Sheffield).

God rest you merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ our Saviour
Was born on Christmas Day
For it is the Christmas time,
And we travel far and near;
So God bless you and send you
A happy new year.

We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door;
But we are neighbours’ children,
Whom you have seen before.
For it is the Christmas time…

God bless the master of this house,
The mistress also,
And all the little children
That round the table go.
For it is the Christmas time…

Call up the butler of this house,
Put on his golden ring;
Let him bring us a glass of beer,
And better we shall sing.
For it is the Christmas time…

We’ve got a little purse
Made of stretching leather skin;
We want a little of your money
To line it well within.
For it is the Christmas time…

For the musically inclined, the tune is here.

Thank You and A Sense of Place

I hope you won’t mind if I begin with a bit of self-congratulation: Publisher’s Weekly has given Free From All Danger a starred review. I’m immensely proud of that for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s impossible to know what any reader will make of what a writer does, so something that positive means a great deal. Secondly, it’s the seventh in the series, arriving four years after the last one. That’s quite a space of time. All the previous six achieved starred reviews, so there’s a giant sigh of relief that they like this one as much. Richard Nottingham is older this time around, a changed man in some ways. I’m just happy people still like him.

Anyway…Christmas and the end of 2017 are just a few days away. I wanted to wish you all a lovely time, and a happy, healthy 2018 – and to thank you for your support. I really do value it.

At this time of year I like looking around Leeds and thinking about my family connections to the place. They crop up quite a bit in my novels. References I know, that I enjoy putting in.

The biggest is probably the Victoria pub from the Tom Harper novels. Annabelle is the landlady, but from the 1920s to the 1940s, it was my great-grandfather who ran the place. My father lived in Cross Green, and as a boy he’d walk over in the summer so he could go upstairs and play the piano for hours on end. Impossible not to celebrate a connection like that.

victoria pub

In fact, a little of the idea of including the place at all came from a book he wrote, that was never published. His main character was a female servant from Barnsley who came to a pub in Sheepscar as a servant. She ended up running the place and owning three bakeries. His maternal grandparents were from Barnsley, and originally ran a pub in Hunslet before taking over the Victoria. And, in the Harper series, Annabelle runs, then sells, three bakeries. So thank you, Dad. You have me a lot in that.


Dan Markham’s flat in Chapel Allerton (Dark Briggate Blues) is in the building where my parents made their first home, and where I spent my first year. Curiously, a reader told me once that her daughter was living there now. His office on Albion Place is where my father had his office.


Lottie Armstrong’s house in The Year of the Gun is the house where I grew up. The present owner graciously showed me around, and it’s very much the same as it was, I’m pleased to say.

It’s four years now since I moved back to Leeds, and honestly, I’ve never felt more connected to a place in my life.

The Real Leeds Voices From History

Several weeks ago, I was talking to a gentleman who works in the Local and Family History Library at Leeds Libraries. We discussed the lack of authentic Leeds voices in our local history (among other things). There is a book called Leeds Describ’d, but so many of the pieces in there are from outsiders describing the town.

In the last few days I looked through the Leeds books on my shelves and put this together. It’s far from exhaustive, and other people have done the heavy lifting, really. But this is Leeds in the words of the people who lived here, the condition of the place, how they lived, how they worked. A little window into history, I hope.

The Cost of keeping Roundhay Park, 1373

roundhay hunting

In medieval times, Roundhay Park was used for hunting, and was much bigger than it is today. There was boundary fence. In the accounts of Robert de Halton, reeve, there’s an indication of some of the yearly work.

And in the wages of five men cutting brushwood and other trees for feeding the deer in the winter season of this year, in the park of Roundhay, viz, each of them at different times for forty days, at 2d per day.

And in six cartloads of hay to support the deer in the ensuing winter, in a place called le Stannk – 20s.

And in the hire of one cart to carry the hay from le Stannk to the Grange within the park by six turns at 8d a turn.

And in the wages of one man driving the said cart and helping to stow the said hay in the Grange, for four days, taking by the day 3d-12d for this year.


A Handfasting in Headingley, 1563

Handfasting was a form of marriage, and still practiced in Elizabethan times. This comes from evidence given to the Consistory Court of the Archbishop of York by Thomas Whitehead, regarding the union of Edward Walker and Anne Hobson. The meeting described took place in the garden area of what is now the Original Oak.

Walker: Ye know that you and I have had communication together for marriage howe saye you nowe is there any man that you beare any better favour unto than you beare unto me and the said Anne answering said no and further said unto the said Edward that he shulde be more welcome to her company than any other man shulde be using himself lyke and honest man. And then & there the said Edward Walker said unto the said Anne Hobson yf You be contented to sticke to me as I am contented to sticke to you we will make no more to do but take wittnes & go throw with the matter. Whereunto the said Anne consented. And then and there the said Eward Walker toke the Examinant [Whitehead, the witness] to be wittnes for him & the said Anne toke William Smythe to be witness for her.


An End to Three Plotters, 1664

farnley wood

After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, a Republican plot to overthrow Charles II was discovered – the Farnley Wood Plot – and a number of men sentenced to death. Three of them, Robert Atkins, John Errington and Henry Wilson escaped to Leeds, where they were arrested in an inn and hung in chains on Chapeltown Moor. But that wasn’t the end of their punishment, according to a contemporary account:

…their 3 heads were cut off and put into a cloth bagg by the executioner, Peter Mason, a Notorious Villain, by occupation a Joyner at yt day brot in a cart to Leeds and all yt night lay in a flask full of water in the prison to suck out all the blood. 20. Jan, 1664, being Wednesday all there heads were sett upon the Moot hall end, severally fixed upon 3 spikes of iron.


Servants, 1704

Any large house required a small army of servants to keep it running. But those employed hard to work hard for their wages, as this agreement between Sir Walter Claverley of Esholt Hall and Joseph Mawde shows.

Agreed with Joseph Mawde to serve me one year from this day, for which he is to have £5, and 20s to buy him a frock with for brewing, & a livery, vizt, coat, waistcoat, breeches, hat & stockings: & his imployment is to be, to look at all the stables, horses & mares, both in the house & pastures, & keep the fold clean & also the pheasant garden & little garden within the pales of the fold, & to see the trees to be therein nailed any time on occasion, & also to keep the court before the hall door clean, & grass places in good order, & also to brew the master all his drink, to keep the jack in order, to take care of the calash & drive it, to keep the boat carefully locked, cleaned & dressed, to wait at table when occasion, &, if he does not his best, but neglects these things, to have no wages.


The Tenter Cutter, 1713


Cloth was a vital part of the Leeds economy for centuries, and it was stretched using hooks on tenter poles set in open land. Anyone interfering with the process, from spinning to sale, could expect rough treatment and swift justice. From the Memoranda Book of John Lucas.

Friday 24 July, about 9 o’clock in the evening one Matthew Bailey who lived in Meadow Lane but was one of those persons called kerseymen was taken in the act of cutting tenter in the Millgarth. He had been suspected to follow that trade long he was apprehended that night, and the next day, was sent to York and it being Assize time Mr Mayor went to York early on Monday morning and got him tried that forenoon where he was cast, and in the afternoon he had sentence past on him to be transported.


Trying to Avoid a Hanging, 1748

From the of Births, Marriages and Deaths for Leeds Parish Church 1748/9. Josiah Fearne was the first (only) Lord of the Manor of Leeds to be executed – and his is a great story. But it’s the length of this entry that makes it unusual. The murder took place at Nether Mills on Fearn’s Island.

Tho. Grave, Nether Mills, buried 4th March 1748/9

N.B. Tho. Grave was most barbarously murdered in his own House, by a domineering, villainous Lord of the Manor, Josiah Fearn, 24 Feb., 1748, with four wounds in his Body, of which he died 2 Mar. Fearne was taken and committed to York Castle and tried before Sr Tho. Burnett, was convicted, condemned, and hanged 25 Mar., 1749.

Soon after Fearne was condemned, he sent an Attorney to Mrs Grave to offer her Twenty Pounds a Year for Life or for Twenty Years to come at her own Option, in case she wou’d sign a Petition to the Judge in his Favour (which Fearn said was a Sufficient Recompense for the Injury he had done to her and her Eight Children), but she prudently declined the Offer, well knowing there is no Satisfaction to be made for ye Blood of a Murderer.

This probably is the First Lord of the Manor of Leedes that has made his Exit at the Gallows and God Grant he may be the last. Fearne’s Temper was extremely rigid to the poor and his Dependents, that he was dreaded by All, but beloved by None. He was buried at Clifton, near York, 31 Mar.


Highway Robbery, 1774

c18 leeds

Crime has always been with us, but reports of highwaymen around Leeds are quite uncommon. This is from a newspaper, possibly the Leeds Intelligencer.

On December 27th, 1774, as the daughter of an eminent butcher of this town was returning, in company with a servant maid, from Chapeltown, they were stopped by a footpad, who presented a pistol, with the words, “Your money or your life”. Not assenting immediately, he searched their pockets and took from them one shilling, three halfpence, and a silver thimble and then gracefully retired.


Poverty, 1797


Cellarts, Garrets and such like Places, exhibit…abodes of human Misery, the wretched Inhabitants are frequently found either exerting the last Efforts of Nature to support themselves…or languishing under the most powerful Influence of complicated Disease.


Poor Trade, 1826

The Leeds wool trade was in dire straits in the 1820s. In a letter to his brother, merchant Joshua Oates was frank about the situation.

I have actually suspended what? payment? No! not exactly, but I have suspended purchases of every description except bread, meat and potatoes, and I have driven clothiers away with a “can’t you call again next month?”….there is literally next to nothing doing by our foreign merchants and such numers of them are in back water that I should hardly know where to begin with introductions – it is                                         said by the Dyers and clothiers that with the exception of six or eight houses in Leeds no payments have been made since last November.


The Irish in Leeds, 1842


Dr. Baker, the Medical Officer, had done wonderful work after the cholera epidemic in 1832. Throughout the 1830s and 40s, many Irish people came to Leeds, many settling on the Bank (Richmond Hill). In 1842 he wrote about them.

In the houses of the Irish poor, of which there are a great many in Leeds, who work in factories and are engaged in weaving by hand plaids and other stuff goods, there is a general state of desolation and misery…They are mainly employed in plaid-weaving and bobbin-winding, and in some of the mills of the town, of whose population they compose no inconsiderable amount, especially those departments of mill-labour which are obnoxious to English constitutions and to some unendurable. To such an extent, indeed, has the employment of the Irish been carried in Leeds, that, in 1835 and 1836, many of the flax-mills would have been obliged to stand for want of hands, but for the influx of Irish labourers which then took place.


The Children of the Poor, 1849

Angus Bethune Reach was a Manchester journalist on the Morning Chronicle. In 1849, with the Relieving Officer, he went to some houses in Leeds. In one, he found three children picking ropes apart. The family had been receiving parish relief for seven years. The oldest of the children was eight.

Where’s your mother?

Gone out to try and get some washing to do.

Where’s your father?

In the Fleece – that’s a public house. Ah! Mother told he had better not go today for you (to the relieving officer) would be very likely to come round; but he wouldn’t stay.

What does your father do?

Sweeps the streets sometimes.

But does he not help you pick these ropes?

No; he wouldn’t do that. He makes us do that.

What do you get for picking?

Fourpence a stone but I give it all to my mother.

Do you go to school?

Only on Sundays. I must work, you know. I can’t read yet. But my little brother goes to school on week-days. Parson pays for him. Only sometimes they keeps him at home to help in picking. He can’t read either.

And is not the other little boy your brother?

Oh no! He only comes in to help us pick.

Do you like picking?

No, because it makes me poorly. The dust gets into my eyes and down my throat, and makes me cough. Sometimes, too, it makes me sick. I can’t keep at the work very long at a time, because of that.

You say you give all you earn to your mother Does she never let you have a penny for yourself?


And what do you do with it?

I buys bread.


A Pint and a Death, 1856

Drink and violence were as common in Victorian times as they are now, especially on a Saturday night when men had been paid. This is a deposition to an inquest into the death of John Mensey, from Robert Madden, the landlord of the Yorkshire Hussar on Union Street.  Both men lodged on Lower Brunswick Street, and the fight took up again there, lasting until one am. A verdict of manslaughter was returned.

On Saturday night the deceased and Patrick King came together to my house, about ten o’clock at night. They appeared to have had some beer, but were sober. Whilst in my house, they played at dominoes, and about half-past eleven they quarrelled over the game. The deceased got up and put himself into a fighting attitude. King did not seem disposed to fight, and the deceased called him a coward. King replied, “Well, I’ll be a coward.” Mensey then sat down. They continued to have high words up to twelve o’clock, when I requested them to go. I followed them to the door, and when they got outside they began to fight. I requested some persons present to assis me in separating them. At that time they had fallen to the ground. We assisted them up, and immediately afterwards they fought again; but I cannot say who began it. They had then taken off their coats. Both fell again, and were again separated. King then went towards Vicar-lane and Mensey went in the opposite directions towards his lodgings. The deceased and King were fresh, but able to walk. I heard King say that he didn’t want to fight, but he would not be “put upon.” After they separated, I saw no more of them.


The Omnibus, 1857

In some ways, perhaps, bus travel doesn’t change much. This is an letter to the Leeds Mercury about the early, horse-drawn omnibuses.

I have had the misfortune to ride with people half drunk, three quarters drunk, quite drunk, noisy drunk, sleepy drunk, dead drunk. The omnibus, unfortunately for some of us, passes two or three places of resort in Briggate and elsewhere, where men is respectable positions congregate of an evening to talk and tipple, then ride home in a public conveyance to the disgust of all decent people. Could not a tippler’s omnibus be started for these should-be-gentlemen? I am not a teetotaller, but I hate to sit in a small compartment of about 4 feet wide by 6 feet long, with two, perhaps three redolent gentlemen trying to talk without stuttering, but none of whom could pronounce intelligibly the word ‘statistics’, if it were to save his life.


The Places of Crime, 1859

A police report noted:

120 houses of ill-fame; 30 public houses; 50 beerhouses; and seven coffee shops, all being resorts for thieves and prostitutes. There are also 120 low lodging houses which accommodate 622 persons nightly, several of them of questionable character requiring the attention of the police.


Death and the Ballad, 1885

When William Snowden’s keel boat, the Edward & William, capsized at Whitton Sands in 1885, only one man seemed to survive. But his wife and three children remained trapped in a pocket of air on the boat, and were freed after seventeen hours. Two of the children died on board. Mrs. Snowden and one child survived. A ballad was written and sold in Leeds to raise money for them.

The Keel to Leeds returning from Grimsby we are told,
In charge of Chaptain Snowden a sailor young & bold.
And in the vessel down below his sleeping children lay,
And two with him to sleep in death upon the coming day.

Soon come the shock, the keel overturned the husband’s spirits fled,
His gallant heart’s ceased beating he is numbered with the dead.
The mother clutched her little ones that slept so peacefully,
And tried, so hard to save them but alas twas not to be…

The water rose about her and higher still it came
The little arms are around her neck and she calls each one by name.
But when the water sunk again she knew one spirit fled,
And called her little Lizzies name but ah! her child was dead…

At last they hear her knocking and willing hands contrive
To save the mother and the only one she’s left alive.
What tongue can tell her feelings or who shall know her grief,
Pray God in all her mercy send her stricken heart relief.


Tom Maguire, 1886


Maguire was one of the most important – and largely unheralded – figures in late 19th century Leeds politics. He was a union organiser, a proud proponent of Socialism, and played a vital role in the formation of the Independent Labour Party in 1893. He made his living as a photographer’s assistant and died penniless on Quarry Hill in 1895 at the age of 29. This reminiscence comes from Alf Mattison:

My first meeting with Tom Maguire was also the occasion of my first acquaintance with socialism. It must have been sometime early in 1886 that, strolling through the Market-place of Leeds, my attention was attracted to a pale but pleasant featured young man, who in a clear voice began speaking to a motley crowd. After listening for a while I began to feel a strange sympathy with his remarks, and – what is more – a sudden interest in and liking for the speaker; and I remember how impatiently I waited for his reappearance on the following Sunday. A few months later I joined ‘the feeble band, the few’ and became a member of the Leeds branch of the Socialist League…


Jewish Labour, 1885

Published in Arbeiter Freund, this is a strong reminder of the collective action taken by Jewish tailors in the Leylands in 1885. Many came from Poland and Russia and settled in the triangle of the Leylands, a network of streets running just north of the city centre towards Sheepscar. This is possibly an outside voice, but sheds some valuable political light.

In the history of the Jewish labour movement in England, Leeds will, without doubt, occupy one of the nicest places, if not, indeed, the first place. And, in truth, whilst in some other towns such as Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Nottingham, Birmingham and others, the Jewish workers are not even organised in societies, or are entirely beneath the heel of the masters, having entirely surrendered their free will to them, the Leeds workers have, in this regard, made enormous progress. They have not stopped at this…they have decided to open a co-operative grocery shop, and, by this means, to free themselves from the shopkeepers, butchers, ritual slaughterers, milk-and-butter dealers, etc., who live and get fat on the sweat of the workers like rats on a living corpse.


Criminals, 1892


The Chief Constable requested more officers to cover the increased area of Leeds and deal with all the urban problems.

In the Borough residing at present are 21 known convicts, 17 persons under police supervision, 335 suspected persons, i.e., persons who seldom or never work, but loaf about the streets, watching persons getting into or out of tramcars with a view to picking pockets, or frequently following women who are of loose repute, and who entice men into secluded spots where they are robbed and ill treated by the man or men and woman.

Places to be most avoided are the Dark Arches, Swinegate, Whitehall Road, or anywhere behind the Queen’s and Great Norther Hotels.


A Hunslet Home, 1894

The booklet Hypnotic Leeds appeared in 1894, a polemic about the problems the working-classes in Leeds lived with every day. This was written by Joseph Clayton, a blanket-raiser who lived in Hunslet.

The typical workman’s house in Leeds has one living room, adorned with sink and taps for washing purposes, two bedrooms, and an attic in which is possibly a bath. The bath is the one redeeming point, and the corporation should insist on it being built in every house.

The sink and taps on the other hand are depressing in a sitting room, and the smell of the atmosphere of the weekly wash not conducive to health of mind or body. If we prefer to dry our clothes across the street and not indoors we may gratify our neighbours’ curiosity as to the condition and quality of our under-clothing, but the smoke of Leeds resents our brandishing clean clothes in the open air and showers down smuts. Of the necessary sanitary arrangements of every dwelling-house – it is difficult to speak calmly in Leeds. Our ashpits which adorn the street are the resting place for decayed vegetable matter, and domestic refuse generally; the stench from them is probably a sweet smelling savour to the arch fiend, but it is poison to the children who play around them.


The Machine Girl’s Life, 1896

This comes from Richard Sheracy’s superb expose, The White Slaves of England: The Slipper-makers and Tailors of Leeds, published in Pearson’s Magazine.

I come in at 8am. If I’m late I’ll be fine 1d or 2d. There will be nothing for me to do. Then I’ll sit at my machine doing nothing till half-past twelve. Then I’ll ask the foreman if I may go home. He’ll say: “No, there’s orders coming up after dinner.” Dinner? I probably haven’t any, knowing work was slack and expecting to get home. So I go without. At half-past one, I’ll go back to my machine and sit doing nothing. Foreman will say “Work hasn’t come up yet.” I have to sit at my machine.

Once I fainted from hunger, and asked to be allowed to go home, but they wouldn’t let me, and locked me up in the dining-room. I stay at my machine till 3 or 4. Then the foreman will say, as though he were conferring a favour: “The orders don’t seem to be going in, you can go home till the morning.” And I go home without having earned a farthing. Sometimes work may come in the afternoon, and then I will stay on till 6.30, earning wage for the last two or three hours.


The Traffic Problem, 1898

A report by the Chief Constable.

The rowdyism in Briggate is a matter most difficult to deal with owning to the number of people using this busy thoroughfare, it being next to impossible to keep people to the right of the pavement, arising from the great number of side passages leading in and out of Briggate. On the 7th January 1898, a number of men were placed in Briggate to note particularly the number of vehicles and pedestrians passing. They watched from 8.20pm to 8.30pm at one point not exceeding 30 yards, on the west side of Briggate and noted 2,306 pedestrians, 3 omnibuses, 10 tramcars, 3 four wheeled cabs, 6 hansoms ans 2 post mail carts.

The Club for Mill Girls, 1890s

To try and keep mill girls out of the gin palaces and music halls, and on the straight, narrow path, middle class women would set up clubs for them with wholesome activities. Several existed in Leeds in the 1890s.

We have taken a large room and made it look as tempting as we can, with bright curtains and some pictures, and above all a very fair piano, which to our musical Yorkshire girls is an endless source of pleasure.


The Old Market Cross and the Fish, 1897

The market cross had stood at the top of Briggate since the 1600s, but was demolished tin the 19th century. More Annals of Leeds contains a reminiscence vaguely about it by Mr. William Campbell.

Between the south end of the cross and the noth end of the Middle Row was the fish market. I have a vivid recollection of a jolly good natured looking fishwife who had the principal stall near the cross. Returning one day from taking my father’s dinner, I stood watching the woman empty a hamper of fish, when taking out a fair sized cod, she remarked, “There’s been a devil at that fish.” A large piece had apparently been bit off its shoulder. Looking at me, she said, “Here, my bonnie lad, take that home to your mother, and tell her to boil it for your dinner; it’s no worse for having that piece bitten out.” I scarcely need say I ran all the way to Woodhouse with the fish, and how welcome it was. My father was employed by a corn merchant; his wages were 15s a week, out of which a family of seven had to be supported. His hours of work were much nearer sixteen per day than eight. A dinner of boiled fish was a treat to us. The fish market was held on Thursdays, and I may say that fish was sold much cheaper in those days than it is now.

Hunslet, 1930s

In Memories of Distant Days (1989) Carrie Stocks wrote about growing up in Hunslet in the 1930s.

We were surrounded by factories and work shops. At the bottom of our street was Belinda Street; Bromley’s Coffee Works was in the middle of Belinda Street and the smell of coffee hung round most of the day. Alongside was Lax and Shaw’s Glass Storage Depot so the chink of glass bottles could be heard. The smell from the Lead Works of Wilson and Jubb also permeated the surroundings, as they were a few yards higher up the street.

In Church Street was the Chemical Works; they threw out a yellow dust which settled on the pavements, roads and gardens, and gave off a smell of sulphur. On Low Road opposite my school was the Hygenol Soap Works where they manufactured disinfectants, polish and soap. A little further along the road was the Coglan Iron and Steel Works, giving out loud sounds of metal being beaten by trip hammers.

The Wireworks and the Nail Mill with machines working loudly were on Penny Hill, and on the wind came the smell of fish and leather from the Fish Canneries and Tanneries just over Balm Road Bridge.