a leeds revolution

Temple Works: A Timeline Of Ownership

May 28, 2020

Temple Works: A Timeline Of Ownership

It seems absurd that the magnificent Temple Works was to be auctioned off for the nominal figure of £1, and it is a myth that CEG paid this sum for the zenith in the architectural and historical compendium of the city of Leeds. Because of the eye-watering prospective cost of stabilising, weather-proofing, cleaning up and re-purposing Temple Works, this grand Egyptian edifice was indeed listed with a starting price of £1. What followed was a nationally-reported apprehension and a creeping anxiety that a purchaser could emerge triumphant with no realisation of the risks or expertise in managing them, nor pockets deep enough to scratch the surface of the barely-understood structural problems.

That is before even considering what they might want to do with it. In the event, CEG stepped in a day before the auction and secured the liability-endowed yet prized asset for a more significant sum, which represented the complex balance between a crumbling structural conundrum, a design oddity and a rich historical endowment.

Since the day CEG secured full custodianship of Temple Works in January 2018, they have embarked on a steep learning curve that has challenged some of the country’s foremost heritage experts and structural engineering specialists. And part of that has been establishing exactly how and with what quality of materials the building was first constructed, and perhaps more pertinently, how it has subsequently been adjusted and modified. Because, whilst the building’s unique footprint and structure presents huge challenges in making it structurally sound and ready for any kind of re-use, how the building has been re-conditioned over the years has not necessarily aided its stability or longevity.

Temple Works is currently vacant, and has been for commercial use since 2004, and that represents the first prolonged period of dis-use for the building since it was first constructed in 1838. Of course, the business known as Marshall & Co constructed and primarily owned Temple Mill, but they ceased to operate in 1886. Almost immediately upon vacating the mill it was leased to a company called James Rhodes & Co, a wholesale clothiers, who changed the name from Temple Mill to Temple Works, to more closely represent the accumulation of different operations that were now consolidated under the one gigantic roof. 

(Image source: Historic postcard - a 1900 photo of Temple Works under James Rhodes & Co ownership. These front railings would soon be taken and melted down to help with the war) 

James Rhodes & Co 1886 - 1937

James Rhodes & Co [note – Kitchen, Johnson and Cook were the individuals who were carrying on business as James Rhodes & Co] leased the building until the business affairs of Marshall & Co were finally concluded and their small enclave of mills, warehouses and offices along Marshall Street were put up for auction. As current occupiers, James Rhodes & Co then bought the freehold of the building at the end of the century.

The lot description was functional and plain, ignoring the design flamboyance and the innovative styling, which, perhaps, would only grow in significance over time. The sale advert listed the building as a “large mill of Egyptian style, forming one large room (96802y) lighted from the top and east end. Fireproof groined roof on pillars. Fireproof cellar warehouse under whole mill, with narrow gauge tramway passages. Flat roof for drying ground. Hoist communicating with roof, mill and cellars. Imposing office in Egyptian style comprising counting house, two private offices, outer office, lavatory, closet and safes.”

Upon taking possession, Rhodes & Co wasted no time in adapting Temple Works to their own needs, partitioning off the main mill room floor to provide different departments for cutting, machining, finishing and storing cloth and completed garments. 1100 workers were initially employed there and over time the welfare facilities were vastly improved to 20th century standards.

In the 51 years of Rhodes’ occupancy the company did undertake some more significant structural changes, however. In the early 1930s the original undulating grass, soil and aggregate roof was replaced with a reinforced concrete slab. This was a practical move now that humidity control inside the main mill room below was no longer a necessary production parameter, but has subsequently proved to be an engineering oversight, given that a huge, single room now had a roof structure propped up by a series of equidistant cast iron columns not designed to carry such a formidable weight.

(Image source: CEG - a current photo of the internal cast iron columns and the critical arrangement of tie rods holding the structure together)

The columns had already been pushed out-of-true during the early construction phases of the brick vaulting and the vital tie-rods attached to them - and holding the whole structure in a delicate balance of tension and compression – have been under stress from day one. Each 180-year-old load-bearing pillar is now, therefore, under considerable strain. The challenge of removing this overburden, and how to stabilise the structure in a practical and appropriate fashion, is challenging some of the country’s most experienced engineers. The later addition of an asphalt coating to the roof has also subsequently failed, leading to damaging water ingress and the collective musing that perhaps the agricultural basis and drainage system of the original roof wasn’t so eccentric after all.

At the same time as replacing the roof, Rhodes & Co installed 66 new conical skylights, most of which are still in place today. The replacements were shallower in angle and smaller than the original lights, but maintained the same arresting uniformity and with ten tonnes of Georgian-wired glass and steel frames, they performed much the same function in terms of light distribution. 

James Rhodes & Co still weren’t finished with the ‘modernising’ of the building though. They also filled in each of the cast-iron columns and capped them, thus removing their prior function of providing sustainable drainage of rainwater, collected through the roof’s intricate sloping pattern. Instead the company installed perimeter drainage around the building. Although, it should be noted, the cast iron columns not carrying rainwater for the last 90 years will have at least slowed down their structural deterioration, mercifully, to the point they can still perform their primary function of assisting in holding up the roof.

(Image source: England's Places - Samuel Driver's frontage photographed in 1952 shortly before Temple Work was sold again)

Samuel Driver Ltd 1937 - 1953

It is not known when James Rhodes & Co moved out of Temple Works, but the company entered liquidation and it had been vacant for a short period when Samuel Driver Ltd – a mail order catalogue company – bought the building in 1937, thus ending a direct textile association, and which, perhaps, was in keeping with the industry’s more disparate standing in Leeds itself, as the city struggled for an economic identity between the wars.

Samuel Driver Ltd moved into Temple Works after their Burton Road premises in Hunslet were destroyed by fire. By this time, Temple Works was no longer considered to have the largest single room in the world, and had been overtaken by the Ford Motor Group with their Dagenham works in Kent. Samuel Driver made few significant changes to the building, merely adding a wine cellar in the basement and building an air raid shelter and an ARP fire-fighting tank during the Second World War. Those hostilities also saw the iron railings and gates removed from the front of the building to contribute to the war effort, and at some stage, the north elevation of the three-storey block – which had previously housed the boilers for the steam engines with archways and stone capitols similar to those on the Marshall Street façade – was in-filled with brick.

There are existing records to show that Samuel Driver leased out portions of the Temple Works premises during their occupancy, with General Motors known to have rented out part of the basement, at least in 1942. Great Universal Stores had bought out Samuel Driver Ltd in 1938, however, and a few years later also bought another mail order catalogue company, Kays & Co Ltd.

(Image source: The Egyptian Revival, James Stevens Curl, 2005 - Temple Works in the 1980s)

Kay & Company Limited 1953 - 2004

By the time Kays took over occupancy of Temple Works in 1953 to make it their northern headquarters and distribution centre, the Egyptian curiosity had been designated as a Grade l listed building for its ‘exceptional’ architectural and historic interest. With Kays being part of the same group as Samuel Driver, the transition of ownership was smooth. Kays would become the last long-term occupants of the building, but they immediately put down some roots by building a large warehouse facility on the land adjacent to Temple Works on the south side bordering Sweet Street (informally referred to as the ‘1953’ building, but perhaps better known today as the vacant ‘Reality’ building recently purchased by CEG to refurbish and create modern office space).

The only changes made by Kays were largely cosmetic; creating a better flow to office areas, levelling the car parking terrain and re-concreting the main mill floor to repair fork truck damage. Modernisation also included the installation of an extensive conveyer-belt system through the mill building, which resulted in new openings being inserted in the south elevation of the original mill room directly into Kays’ new ‘1953’ building. Kays also oversaw the demolishing of the chimney in the yard in 1970, which itself had been a replacement built in 1850.

Kays Catalogue represents a company through which many local people were employed, largely in routine work, and as such they extended a tradition first started by John Marshall over 150 years previously. Indeed, those former employees who are still living will most likely be the last large-scale group of Beeston and Holbeck residents to call Temple Works their daily workplace, and with those generational tales of ritual work life set to gradually disappear from local folklore, perhaps now is the time to ensure they are captured whilst we still can?

(Image source: Stephen Levrant Heritage Architecture - the busy main mill room of Kay's Catalogue in 1956)

Vacancy and uncertainty 2004 – present

The first step in Temple Works arriving at its current status occurred in 2002 when the Barclay Brothers – billionaire owners of the Telegraph Media Group – bought the Littlewoods Group. This triggered a chain of events which would ultimately leave Temple Works vacant, neglected and deteriorating. Kays was also bought by the Barclay Brothers in 2004 and merged with Littlewoods, with Kays almost immediately moving out of Temple Works and the adjacent warehouse by August 2004. The Barclay Brothers were ultimately the owners of Temple Works but played no active role in its upkeep, effectively leaving it to pasture. By the time the building was listed for auction in 2017, it was still under the ownership of the Barclay Brothers’ empire, and while the duo had attempted and failed to move the building into new ownership, certainly they had been treading water in terms of the building’s ultimate wellbeing.

Various local developers had eyes on the city’s architectural and historical jewel in the crown, and fashion retailer Burberry held an option on the building and bought surrounding land to support their long term plans, until Brexit uncertainty led to them pulling out of any deal in July 2016. During the previous intervening ‘void’ period Temple Works had been subject to another option, where development depended on a Heritage Lottery grant and where the bid was not successful. Prior to that a local arts collective was allowed to use the building as an event space and cultural hub, but they only occupied a small portion of the building which, for the first time in its existence, wasn’t in active daily use, or being maintained as such. Development proposals during this period were faithful to the city’s ideal that Temple Works could become a grand cultural landmark for Leeds, but alas it was becoming increasingly clear that the building’s condition and related costs for securing the building’s future and bringing it back into use, were dramatically prohibitive.

The partial collapse of the Marshall Street elevation in 2009 was the most visible sign that unless the building secured substantial investment, hopes of restoring its former glory would be both physically and financially elusive; until the complex project is complete, that could still prove to be the case anyway, but now hope is realistic and substantial investment is already underway. As Temple Works enjoys its current status of being under the stewardship of considerate owners who, for the first time in the building’s long timeline of ownership, are dedicated to understanding how to take care of the building and find a way to secure a future for it, the time is ripe to take stock, understand its status in the true fabric of history and take a considered look at what could be possible.

Urgent works, along with a regime of sophisticated monitoring and careful interim management have hopefully allowed some breathing space and moved the Temple Works project on from merely a stay of execution. If feasibility work and discussions bear fruit to move the British Library North into the building - as a city centre facility open to all, which would complement the national resource at Boston Spa - then there will be a credible long term vision for the building for the first time in this millennium. The structural and internal design works to Temple Works will require Listed Building Consent, and the outward facing profiles will retain their dashing architectural brilliance; the project also requires the wider setting of the historic building to be regenerated comprehensively into a new district named Temple, including new public space to enjoy with Temple Works at its beating heart.

Temple Works has been on quite a journey, and for now, surely the journey is still on hold. With its true structural status now stripped bare, there is no quick buck to be made, even if anyone wanted to. Instead one can only take a long term view and rest easy in the knowledge and comfort that we now seem able to do so, and that this opportunity seems to have come around just in time.


Special thanks to Stephen Levrant Heritage Architecture for extensive research via their Heritage Appraisal and for help with the images in this article

(Lead image: James Rhodes & Co letterhead from 1924 - Image source: Stephen Levrant Heritage Architecture)