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The History of Leeds


Leeds began as a small village. By the time of the Domesday Book (1086) it had a population of around 200. By the standards of the time Leeds was quite a large village. Many were much smaller.

Then in 1207 the Lord of the Manor, Maurice De Gant, founded a new town at Leeds. At that time trade and commerce were increasing in England and many new towns were founded.

First the Lord of the Manor created a new street of houses west of the existing village and he divided the land into plots for building. Then craftsmen built houses and paid rent to the Lord for the land. The new street was called Brigg Gata (gata is an old word for street and brigg is an old word for bridge so it was the bridge street). Soon the town of Leeds was flourishing.

In Medieval Leeds there were butchers, bakers, carpenters and blacksmiths. However the main industry in Leeds was making wool. In Leeds wool was woven then fulled. That means it was pounded in a mixture of water and clay to clean and thicken it. Wooden hammers worked by watermills pounded the wool. Afterwards it was dyed.

In Medieval Leeds there was a weekly market. There were also 2 annual fairs in Leeds. In the Middle Ages fairs were like markets but they were held only once a year. People would come from all over Yorkshire to buy and sell at a Leeds fair.

However many of the people in Leeds made a living from farming. The little town probably had a population of around 1,000 people. It would seem tiny to us but settlements were very small in those days. A typical village had only 100 or 150 inhabitants. Having said that, in the Middle Ages, Leeds was a small and relatively unimportant town.


Leeds grew much larger in the 16th century. That was mainly due to the rapid growth or a woollen cloth industry in the town. The amount of cloth made in Leeds boomed and the population soared. By the late 16th century the population of Leeds had reached 3,000 and by the middle of the 17th century was probably about 6,000. From being a small and rather insignificant town Leeds grew to be one of the largest towns in Yorkshire.

Meanwhile in 1552 a grammar school was founded in Leeds and in 1626 Leeds was incorporated. In other words it was given a corporation and mayor.

In 1628 a writer described Leeds: (I have changed the words slightly to make it easier to read) Leeds is an ancient market town. It stands pleasantly in a fruitful and enclosed vale upon the north side of the River Eyer over or beyond a stone bridge from where it has a large and broad street (paved with stone) leading directly north and continually ascending. The houses on both sides are very thick and closely compacted together, being old, rough and low built and generally all of timber (although they have many stone quarries in the town). Only a few of the richer inhabitants have houses that are larger and more capacious.'

During the 17th century as Leeds grew more prosperous many of the merchants rebuilt their houses in stone. St Johns Church was built in 1634.

Then in 1642 came civil war between king and parliament. Most of the townspeople supported the king and a royalist army occupied Leeds. But in January 1643 parliamentary soldiers captured it. They held Leeds until the summer of 1643 when, after losing a battle in Yorkshire, they were forced to abandon the town. The parliamentary army returned to Leeds in April 1644. They held Leeds for the rest of the civil war.

In the 17th century Leeds was a wealthy town. The wool trade boomed. However like all towns in those days it suffered from outbreaks of the plague. There was a severe outbreak in 1645. However in 1694 Leeds gained a piped water supply (for those who could afford to be connected).

At the end of the 17th century the travel writer Celia Fiennes described Leeds as a large and wealthy town. She wrote that Leeds had many broad, well-paved and clean streets. The houses were built of stone and were often of substantial size.

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