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.

The Oldest Photos Of Leeds

The Internet is full of rabbit holes. For me, bits of Leeds history can start me burrowing, and I only emerge, blinking, a few hours later. The Leodis site, with its wonderful old photos of Leeds, is like a little warren, an Aladdin’s cave, a place to lose myself for hours.

And inside there’s plenty of treasure. Like these, the oldest photographs of Leeds. We’re so used to seeing images that it’s easy to forget that the science of photography isn’t even 200 years old yet. The very first picture taken with a camera dates from 1826 or 27. The first to include a person? 1838.

It was quite a while later that the camera came to Leeds, at least from images that remain. This would seem to be the oldest, dating from 1866. Leeds Bridge as it was then, before it was replaced by the new iron bridge in 1870. This structure dated from the 1730s, and that had replaced an older one. It’s still an immediately recognisable view.

leeds bridge 1866

A year later came this view of Lower Briggate, with the rise of Holy Trinity Chruch in the background. All these buildings on the street are long gone now, as are the two women talking, or the mother and son walking along the pavement (the picture looks as if it might have been taken from a room in the Royal Hotel, which started life as a coaching inn in the 1690s).

lower briggate 1867

From the same period is this one of Briggate, with the old Corn Exchange in the middle of the road, as the Moot Hall had been before it. By then, the Corn Exchange we all know had been opened, and this building was awaiting demolition. What’s remarkable is how empty Leeds’ busiest street was. It’s eerie. Just what time of day were these shots taken?

Briggate 1867

Bridge End, just by Leeds Bridge, is where this photograph was taken in 1869. There’s life here: people walking and starting to move into the frame, the blur of mother and child behind the window. There’s a barber’s pole by the shop, the neat display of goods in the window, and the archway for carts and deliveries. It’s worth noting the discolouration of the brickwork, covered by a few generation of soot from the factories and mills.

Bridge End no30 1869

1870, Rotation Yard, taken from the entrance. The photographer must have climbed a ladder to take the picture and frame it this way. More people, mostly men, but also a shopkeeper’s wife standing next to her husband. There’s a mix of working men, on the right of the picture in their caps and battered bowlers, a pair of youths, and a few more who look eminently respectable. The small street is clean, well-cobbled, a reminder that not every court in Leeds was home to the poor. For those who know Leeds, this is now part of New Market Street.

Rotation office yard now New Market St 1870

It’s impossible to know it now, but this is Lands Lane in 1881, with a very different selection of shops compared to today’s ‘retail offering.’ It would have been part of Tom Harper’s beat in those days; at that time he would still have been a constable.

lands lane 1881

Across the river to Hunslet, and a reminder that Leeds did once have a formidable pottery company in Hartley, Green & Co., whose premises were on Jack Lane. Taken in 1883, this is two years after the pottery closed for business. The office is the squat building to the left, and the conical structures are all kilns.

leeds pottery

Political meetings drew huge crowds throughout the 19th century, and well into the 20th. This gives an idea of the vast scale. Taken in the courtyard of the Mixed Cloth Hall (which stood where the NW corner of City Square is today) in 1880, it shows the yard filled to its capacity of 20,000, all gathered to listen to William Gladstone, who’s on the platform in the distance.

Roundhay Road in 1889, with workmen laying track for the tram. This view looks north – the first street going off to the left in Gathorne Street. The very first electric tram in Leeds, travelling from Sheepscar to Roundhay Park, appeared in October 1891. At the end of the third Tom Harper book, Skin Like Silver, Annabelle Harper wangles an invitation for herself and Tom on the inaugural trip.

roundhay raod 1889

Those are the old photos. To go back further, we need sketches. This 1834 panorama of Leeds, probably sketched just downriver from Fearn’s Island, show the effect of industry. Factory chimneys rise like awful fingers, leaving a pall of smoke; you can almost taste the soot. The Parish Church stands tall, four years before it was completely rebuilt. It’s a Leeds that’s beginning to look familiar to us today.

leeds 1834

The oldest illustration I’ve found, though, is far uglier in its own way. It dates from 1694, an image from Mabgate, found in the Leeds Corporation Court Books, showing a woman being dragged to the ducking stool by Lady Beck (or Sheepscar Beck). We even know her name: Anne Saule, the wife of Philip Saule. According to the record, several complaints had been that, stating she was “a person of lewd behaviour, a common scold and daily maketh strife and discord amongst her neighbours, it is therefore ordered that the said Anne Saule be ducked.” In fact, she was one of three women receiving the same punishment that day. The others were Jane Milner and Elizabeth Wooler, both of Mill Hill. At least we’ve moved on from that. But it’s the only old image of Mabgate that I’ve ever seen.

1694 ducking see leodis