a leeds revolution

A Stream In The Hollow – A Potted History Of Holbeck

April 16, 2019

Matthew Murray

Before delving more deeply into the history of John Marshall, his life, family, business and influence, and the fascinating story of Temple Works, it feels right to document a brief history of Holbeck itself and rightly acknowledge many other people who have helped shape the area.

Marshall’s drive and ingenuity changed the area forever, and his story merits a forensic appraisal and lavish recounting to truly do it justice. That will come. But many of the buildings and landmarks that give Holbeck such an idiosyncratic visage have appeared, and in most cases remain, because of the endeavour and munificence of others. It may be weathered and worn and bear the scars of rupture and an unstable past, but here, for posterity, we celebrate the ‘other’ people that built Holbeck.

1089 – A small community grew from a fording place that was created by a deposition of silt where the Hol Beck and, from the north, the Sheepscar Beck met. The original manor we know as Holbeck today belonged to the Priory of the Holy Trinity at York. In 1089 a chapel was presented to the priory by a Ralph Pagnell.

12th century – Reference to the name Holbeck is first found in old Norse language, referred to as Holebeck and Holesbec. Taking a literal meaning, ‘Hol’ referred to a hollow and ‘Beck’ is a stream. And so the ‘stream in the hollow’ was formed.

16th century – The dissolution of the monasteries undertaken by Henry Vlll between 1536 and 1541 saw monasteries and priories disbanded and huge chunks of land and assets disposed of. As part of this, much of the land in Holbeck found its way into the Darcy and Ingram families.

1631 – Always a populous area, Holbeck undertook the first of many slum clearances when, as a small hamlet still, it was struck by the Bubonic Plague. Holbeck was known as an ‘out township’ and one of ten such satellite communities that encircled the town of Leeds.

17th century – Holbeck became known for its spa waters; a bizarre revelation given the area’s history of disease and uncultivated living. Water was sourced from the Hol Beck and transported into Leeds to sell, and the trade survived until the industrialisation of the area also tapped into the Beck and instantly polluted the purified waters.

(Matthew Murray's grave in St Matthew's Churchyard - Holbeck) 

1765 – Matthew Murray was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He became one of the most innovative and dynamic engineers in the industrial revolution, but due to a reluctance to take on competitors is not as widely recognised as fellow steam engine pioneers such as Stephenson or Boulton & Watt.

Murray, then living in Stockton-on-Tees, was an apprentice millwright who had heard about work being undertaken to industrialise the textile industry in Leeds. John Marshall had copied ideas for flax spinning machinery from a group working in nearby Darlington and having made some improvements, sought to patent his design. Murray got wind of this and travelled down to Leeds to befriend Marshall. He was eventually taken on as an engineer by Marshall, improved the Darlington equipment and eventually designed his own specialist spinning machinery to spin flax into linen yarn, which he patented himself in 1790.

Adding the technical expertise that the business lacked, Murray was crucial in Marshall being able to mass-produce yarn. In 1795 he left Marshall’s business and set up his own engineering partnership with James Fenton and David Wood. They first set up at Mill Green in Holbeck, but in 1802 built what was to become known as the ‘Round Foundry’ on land on Water Lane leased to them by John Marshall. The partnership still made machinery for Marshall’s developing mills but also made swift developments in steam engine design.

The Round Foundry was one of the world’s first integrated engineering works, combining manufacture and assembly on one site, and Murray was the driving force. In 1811 he built the world’s first commercial steam locomotive, the Salamanca, which ran at nearby Middleton Railway.

Murray built himself a house adjoining the Round Foundry, which became known as the ‘Steam Hall’, due to its innovative use of central heating pipework and systems. Alas, Murray’s principal competitors, the Birmingham-based Boulton & Watt, became fearful and suspicious. They had already moved into premises adjacent to the Round Foundry to prevent Murray from expanding. They also spied on the operations there, and while Murray was open and honest with them, Boulton & Watt prayed on Murray’s naivety and challenged a number of his patents. The courts revoked them on technicalities and there was an accusation that Boulton & Watt subsequently stole some of Murray’s ideas.

In typically benevolent fashion, Murray believed that developing systems and making improvements that everyone could benefit from was more important than who owned which invention, and hence his errors with patents never concerned him, but they profoundly altered his legacy. He died in 1826 aged just 60, and is buried in St Matthew’s Churchyard in Holbeck, where a huge iron obelisk today marks his grave.

The Round Foundry and his business continued after Murray’s death, with the Marshall family buying machinery from the business right up to 1836, but the characteristic three-storey circular rotunda which housed a steam engine that powered the whole works, and gave the Round Foundry its name, burnt down in 1875. Since then, schools and street names have carried the Murray legacy on and the Round Foundry complex has been significantly regenerated for 21st century enterprise.    

1774 – John Scholey was born in Holbeck. Between 1801 and 1850 Holbeck was urbanised as a result of a rapid mushrooming of mills and foundries in the area, and the need to house workers nearby. John Scholey owned most of the streets that the mills were built on, including Water Lane, but also further south where the area was becoming more densely-populated. South of the river was soon populated by three times the amount of people that lived north of the river. Scholey quickly sold all his land before the Industrial Revolution took hold.

1793 – Midland Mill is built on Silver Street off Water Lane. It still stands today as the oldest surviving mill in the area. It was built by John Jubb and operated briefly as a flax mill, but in the early 19th century became a workshop building machinery to serve the textile industry on its doorstep. There are as yet uncommitted proposals to redevelop the site, whilst preserving the Grade ll-listed mill building.

1812 – A Luddites’ uprising rampaged briefly through Holbeck in protest at the wide scale industrialisation of the textile industry and how it had taken work away from skilled tradespeople and changed communities.

1832 – A cholera epidemic, repeated also in 1849, led to more slum clearances which concentrated on the Holbeck area, now saturated by working communities squeezed into suffocating rows of back-to-back housing.

(Photo Credit: Holbeck in Bloom) 

1832 – St Matthew’s Church is built at a cost of £3,786. It was converted into a community centre in 1981.

1834 – Holbeck was famously crowned “the most crowded, most filthy and unhealthy village in the country”.

1840 – Emily Meynell-Ingram was born. Back in the 16th century the dissolution of the monasteries handed land in the Holbeck area to the Ingram family. Emily Charlotte Wood, daughter of the First Viscount of Halifax, married Hugo Francis Meynell Ingram – an MP for Stafford – and the couple lived in Temple Newsam House. Hugo was tragically killed in a horse riding accident when Emily was aged only 31, and Emily lived out the rest of her years in the huge house alone, becoming the last permanent resident of Temple Newsam before it was sold to the corporation and eventually made available for public use by Leeds City Council.

The land that the Ingrams owned was chiefly Holbeck Moor and the area near the viaduct where Ingram Road, Gardens and Close are named after her, and of course the adjacent Ingram Distributor (A643). The 1960s-built 17-storey apartment block Meynell Heights also bears her name. Emily was known as a formidable woman but she allowed the moor to be retained for public use and owned the land in the area until her death in 1904. The legacy of using her name also triggers intriguing thoughts about who or what is behind other street names in the area, such as the Tilburys, Colensos, Rydalls and Shaftons.

1845 – Joseph Henry was born in Holbeck. At nine years’ old Joseph Henry was already working part-time at the Marshall’s Temple Works factory, but he moved to the Round Foundry to become an iron founder, and eventually started his own foundry business in Holbeck, at one point based on Manor Road. He had always been interested in politics and in 1881 was elected to the Holbeck Board of Guardians, and then in 1887 was the Liberal representative for Holbeck on the city council board.

Henry enjoyed great popularity with and absolute trust from the local Holbeck people and became known as the ‘King of Holbeck’, one of his notable achievements being the development of nearby Cross Flatts Park as the first public park south of the River Aire. He served on the council until 1906 but eventually returned to politics in 1918 when he became Lord Mayor of Leeds.

Whilst serving as Mayor, Henry fought passionately against the Football League in their dispute with Leeds City over alleged illegal payments to guest players during the First World War. He tried in vain to save City, but his son Joe Henry Junior was subsequently on the very first board of the newly-formed club Leeds United. Henry retired in 1922 and died a year later.

1855 – Holbeck Railway Station was built. This was opened by the Leeds, Bradford and Halifax Junction Railway and served that line, being significant for the fact the station operated with platforms on two levels; the High Level and the Low Level. The railway was small and cramped and became notorious for lengthy stoppages as passengers were held awaiting clearance to move into Leeds central station. The station was arguably closer geographically to Armley than what we now know as Holbeck, being situated to the east of what is now Armley Gyratory. The station closed in 1958.

1855 – Reverend John Hutton Fisher Kendell is made Vicar of Holbeck. He was incumbent in Holbeck for 24 years, during which time he worked with John Marshall to build a Day School to educate children working at Marshall’s mills. In 1870 the Education Act was passed and Kendell was elected to the First Leeds School Board, also overseeing the building of schools in Hunslet and Beeston. Under Kendell’s leadership attendance at Leeds schools rose from 22,000 to 50,000 in the first six years, this being before education became compulsory in 1880. In Kendell’s time, Leeds was ahead of Manchester and Birmingham in terms of the percentage of children going to school and not work.

Kendell became a Conservative MP and founded and became president of the Holbeck Pitt Conservative Club on Domestic Street. He died in 1879.  

1864 – Tower Works was built by Thomas Shaw between 1864 and 1866. This was a distinctive red brick factory on Globe Road making steel pins and gauges for carding and combing in the textile industry, a business founded by Colonel Thomas Harding. The factory grew into a world class centre for a revolutionary technology that became an international classification standard, and by the end of the 19th century its products were sold all over the world. By this time, the three towers that neatly embellish the Leeds skyline had been completed.

Perhaps prompted by James Marshall’s grandiose mimicking of Egyptian styling at Temple Works thirty years earlier, all three towers were inspired by the Harding family’s love of Italian architecture, including the Lamberti Tower in Verona. The final and largest tower, added in 1899 by architect William Bakewell, was based on the Giotto’s Campanile, a bell tower in Florence. These are all now listed structures, but were ground-breaking at the time as they were constructed to provide ventilation for workers in the steel mills below, using a pioneering steel dust extraction technique long before the officious jackboot of health and safety truly took a grip of the industrial sector.

In this respect, the Harding family were well-known for their benevolent treatment of employees and when Thomas Walker Harding took over the business from his father when he retired in 1890, he contributed greatly to civic and cultural life in Leeds. Harding Jnr became the city’s Lord Mayor in 1898, president of the Leeds Chamber of Commerce, founded Leeds Art Gallery and helped create City Square, donating a number of statues in 1903, including the famous Black Prince.

The Tower Works site was damaged during World War ll when neighbouring buildings were bombed during an air raid on Leeds railway station. The buildings were never properly repaired and the business ceased trading in 1981 after 117 years. Acquired by Yorkshire Forward in 2005 the remaining works now house digital and creative companies as part of the area that previously had been named as Holbeck Urban Village. There are new proposals to redevelop the remaining parts of the site for commercial and residential uses.

1869 – The Holbeck viaduct was built to serve the London and Western Railway line that ran out of the Leeds central station. It was acclaimed as a Victorian masterpiece of engineering and was not completed and opened until 1882.

Extending from Globe Road to Gelderd Road it measures 1.7 kilometres in length and contains 85 arches, some of which are widened to accommodate the Hol Beck (now covered over in part) and what became the Ingram Distributor. None of the structure has listed classification.

Sadly, it suffered as a result of the diminishing industrial influence in the area and fell out of regular use in 1967, although a final journey on the line took place in October 1987. A community group continues to progress plans to seek to bring the viaduct back into public use as a walkway; it seems doubtful that its geometry and condition make it suitable for renewed rail use but it remains a Network Rail asset.

(Low Hall Mills in 2019)

1874 – Low Hall Mills is built on Holbeck Lane, and although it is believed that parts of the building can be traced back to a previous mill built in 1792, it can be identified by its ‘1874’ inscribed stone facade. Low Hall Mills was one of the many flax mills that sprouted up in the area on the back of Marshall’s vast success, but it became known largely as a woollen mill and the home of the Union Cloth Factory. The building is now empty and derelict and has been identified by Leeds Civic Trust as being a building ‘at risk’.

1877 – Holbeck Working Mens’ Club opens. It remains open today as the oldest working men’s club in the UK and known now as ‘the Holbeck’.

1880 – The United Methodist Free Chapel is built on Domestic Street and became Grade ll listed in 1982. The Baroque-style exterior design features ornate plinths, columns, porticos, balustrades and towers. The interior is little changed from its original inception, except that it now houses a carpet warehouse and is rather uninspiringly known as Holbeck Mills.

1903 – The red brick building on the corner of Marshall Street and Nineveh Road is opened as a public library. Its ornamented design incorporated the use of Burmantofts glazed terracotta tiling and it remains a standout building in Holbeck. As the slum clearances took hold in the early 20th century, the population of Holbeck declined and the need for a library reduced significantly. The library service transferred to St Matthew’s Church and the building became a Mother and Baby Clinic; it is now used as offices. 

1927 – Reverend Charles Jenkinson became the Vicar of Holbeck. Jenkinson was born in London in 1887 and upon completing his curacy in Barking, asked to be sent to the “worst parish in England”. He duly arrived in Holbeck in 1927 and was elected to be a Labour member of Leeds City Council in 1930. Three years later he was chair of the housing committee where he was responsible for the demolishing of 14,000 slum dwellings, to be replaced by 15,000 new council houses.

Jenkinson was famous for mixing with local people and seeing for himself the living standards in the area that prompted his actions, and he quickly identified that Leeds was lagging behind other cities in terms of suburban housing. He also oversaw the introduction of rent reliefs for lower paid families and pioneered a scheme whereby residents could rent furniture if they couldn’t afford to buy it.

By 1948 he was considered a national expert, and was appointed chairman of the Stevenage New Town Development Corporation, but retained his position in Leeds and travelled between the two locations until 1949 when he died suddenly in the LGI. 

Jenkinson is often cited for his involvement in the design of the ill-fated Quarry Hill Flats in Leeds, which were built in 1936 as part of Jenkinson’s re-housing scheme for poorer families. In Holbeck, however, his legacy is that of a humble man who spent millions on re-housing but wore second-hand clothes himself and rode a second-hand bicycle. A number of streets in Holbeck are now named after him.

1945 – Hugh Gaitskell becomes Labour MP for Leeds South. Gaitskell is known in the south Leeds area for significantly improving housing conditions and for enabling the construction of the five tower blocks that were long term landmarks but were demolished in 2010. They provided much-needed housing and were state-of-the-art in the early 1960s when built, and two of these were called Gaitskell Grange and Gaitskell Court. He retained the Leeds South seat up until his death in 1963, whilst manoeuvring rapidly up the political ladder.

Gaitskell had a reputation for integrity and a commitment to principle. He became leader of the Labour party in 1955 and famously opposed military action in Suez in 1956 and fought for unilateral military disarmament in 1960. He died suddenly at his peak in 1963 after suffering a viral infection. Even his opponents conceded that he would have been a formidable prime minister and he is widely hailed as the ‘best Prime Minister Britain never had’. Within two years, Harold Wilson had finally got Labour back in power, but back in South Leeds, Gaitskell’s legacy is found today in street names, a commemorative garden and a primary school.

1991 – Holbeck is designated a Conservation Area due to its special architectural and historic interest. Within a decade significant regeneration of Matthew Murray’s Round Foundry Complex and John Marshall’s Mills C, D and E brought new direction and new prosperity to the area, which is now ripe for further development in 2019, with ambition for another decade of regeneration which will stretch to the established community of Holbeck to the south.