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Alwoodley – A Brief History

20th April 2016

No one’s too sure about the history of this popular residential area of north Leeds. The Roman’s certainly built a fort at Adel around which a settlement grew. One of the trading roads from Ilkley to Tadcaster ran through Alwoodley, just north of Stairfoot Lane and across Alwoodley Lane, although there’s little trace of it today above ground level. Archaeologists excavated a section along Lakeland Crescent before the houses were built there in 1994. There are no traces of any Roman houses in Alwoodley although one of the rocks in Adel Crags has an incised figure of the Celtic God Cocidius with a spear in one hand and possibly a shield in the other. The spear and shield would support the theory Cocidius was a God of War (akin to Mars) but other research holds him out to be a God of forests, groves and wild fields – which would fit the location.  It is thought this was either the focal point for Celtic priests to worship or perhaps a burial marker/

Alwoodley certainly appears in the Doomsday Survey of 1086 as Alwoldelei, although a century before it appears to have been spelled either Aluuoldelei (no, we can’t pronounce it either!) or Aethelwaldley. These earlier variations are apparently the merger of two words; the first part of the word comes from Aathelwald (which is an Anglo Saxon man’s name) and the second part means clearing in the forest’. Therefore the whole name means Aathelwald’s forest clearing. This suggests the area was heavily wooded in and around the 7th century AD and the trees had to be cleared to turn the land to agriculture.

By 1086 the manor of Alwoodley was in the hands of a man called Rossketill. He had 5 carucates, a carucate being an area of land that a team of eight oxen could plough in a day. Clearly, depending upon the topography and fitness of the oxen a carucate could have various dimensions and there are indications the land could have been anything from 64 acres to 120 acres! The Doomsday Survey states the Manor was valued at 20 Shillings or £1.00! Today, with planning permission we’d be looking at more than £100m for the land.

The manorial centre was possibly Alwoodley Old Hall just to the south of what is now Eccup Reservoir (now a golf course). This was the home of the Frank family for many years. This Hall may have had gardens or even a moat around it. The surrounding and fields were farmed by tenant farmers who derived a meagre living from the land. The Hall itself was abandoned in the 20th century and fell into ruin. It was eventually demolished in 1969 to make way for Sandmoor Golf Club.

Alwoodley remained relatively agricultural during the industrial revolution and acted as a retreat for those residents of Leeds who could afford to escape the smog of the city and the polluted River Aire (by then) for fresh air and fields. Adel Craggs and the Seven Arches Aqueduct were popular attractions, as was the construction of Eccup Reservoir in the 1840’s when land was acquired by the Leeds Waterworks Company from Lord Harewood to provide clean drinking water for the city.

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