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Kirkstall – A Brief History

2nd March 2016

Although most famous for its Cistercian monastery, Kirkstall Abbey which was established on its present site in 1152 by a group of 12 monks from Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire, the area of Kirkstall was mainly fields and tiny hamlets until around 1600, when it became a Borough in its own right. The Borough grant by Charles I placed Headingley-cum-Burley and Kirkstall adjacent the Leeds Parish. It was able to make its own laws and levy its own taxes. Although the Abbey was still the principle driver of industry, manufacture and innovation, development continued slowly with this new independence.

Rising from the River Aire which meanders by the Abbey, fields and parkland climbed the north valley to New Grange, an impressive house with extensive views down the valley and across to the fields and hamlets on the southern side of the river (now Bramley). The vista must have been magnificent. The original New Grange was built by Benjamin Wade in 1626. It was passed down through various members of the Wade family and ultimately rebuilt in 1752 in a much grander style by Walter Wade, some of the architecture of the time is still evident in what is now used by Leeds Beckett University. A Wade family illness (bilious fever, apparently) led to the premature departure of the Wades’ who sought smaller (and no doubt more economical) accommodations, and the property was leased to the Recorder of Leeds, Samuel Buck, in 1795. His tenure was short lived as the lease on the estate was taken over by John Marshall in 1804. Marshall was a successful businessman whose flax-spinning business had made him a fortune in Leeds.

Interestingly, Marshall’s business was originally based at Adel Beck and he fortuitously employed a brilliant engineer by the name of Matthew Murray from Darlington. The business flourished and they relocated to Water Lane in Holbeck where Murray’s clever use and adaption of the spinning jenny made Marshall’s fortune. Murray, of course, went on to establish an engineering foundry in Leeds and is world renowned for his many inventions.

Marshall’s wife bore him 12 children and his tenure at New Grange flourished. More than a dozen servants were employed there and the household expenses are reputed to have cost over £3,000 per annum. Mrs Marshall entertained Dorothy Wordsworth, an old school friend, at New Grange in 1807. She wrote to Mrs Marshall afterwards “New Grange is a cheerful place, and the Abbey – how beautiful.” The Kirkstall Valley was a place to behold by all accounts, as Dorothy Wordsworth’s upbringing in the Lake District must have set a very high bar. Ultimately, Marshall and his family moved on to a large estate in Cumberland and after various other tenants and extensions to the property it fell into the hands of the Leeds’ banker, William Beckett around 1830. For further information see our Area Focus on Beckett’s Park.

The Kirkstall Valley economically declined in the mid-20th century but today we are seeing major infrastructure investment, including new shopping and business parks, as well as a new train station. The valley has obviously seen significant swathes of its beauty removed yet there still remains much woodland and walks, as well as a wetlands wildlife centre towards Rodley.

  • Bramhope
  • Headingley
  • Hyde Park

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