The history of Roundhay, now one of Leeds’ most popular suburbs, can be traced back to 1153. The area is thought to have originally been a hunting park for the De Lacy family of Pontefract Castle. There is also record of a smelting furnace in 1925*, as well as the mining of coal and iron ore. Once the mines exhausted, much of the woodland that existed at the time cleared, creating predominantly farming land.
The Roundhay township, as it was then known, was part of the Parish of Barwick in Elmet. Although, one area to the east of the township housed Roundhay Grange and was owned by Kirkstall Abbey. (The Abbey held many parcels of land at this time and was undoubtedly a powerful influence in the North.) The remainder was a small village with very little population.
Roundhay was home to a small number of grand houses in the 18th century. However, Gledhow Hall is the only one we can identify today. It even has links to Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge. Gledhow Wood Estate was purchased in 1875 by a German nobleman, Edward Baron von Schunck, the husband of Kate Lupton. As the daughter of the former Mayor of Leeds, Kate Lupton grew up at Potternewton Hall Estate with her cousin and his daughter, Olive Middleton, Kate Middleton’s great-grandmother! Olive Middleton also worked at Gledhow Hall, during its time as a Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital in the First World War. It was later split into flats, and is now managed and let by Moores Estate Agents.
In 1803 the Roundhay Park estate was bought by Thomas Nicholson. In 1811 he commissioned a young architect, John Clarke, to design and build the Mansion House. It was positioned to take full benefit of Nicholson’s beautiful landscaping of the grounds – two lakes, waterfalls, ravine, folly and even a gorge, all surrounded by delightful woodland walks. The beautiful ashlar stone house took 15 years to build, had 17 bedrooms and a driveway ¾ of a mile in length. The house still stands today, enjoyed by many as a restaurant and event venue. Workers also lived on the parkland in specially build housing. Some additional land was sold to affluent business-folk wishing to move out of the ever-expanding Leeds, into a more genteel and refined setting.
1820 saw the construction of a new turnpike from Sheepscar to Roundhay Bridge, somewhere near the Lido car park according to ‘A History of St. John’s Church Roundhay’. This allowed for easier access to Roundhay and the ‘hamlet’, with a population of just 84 in 1801, then 186 in 1822. The establishment of St John’s Church in 1826 saw the population rise to over 300 in the 1830’s. At this point, many wealthier families bought plots in which to build grand villas.
Roundhay’s population grew exponentially in the Victorian era, with many seeking a home away from the smog of Leeds.
In 1872, Leeds City Council purchased Roundhay’s parkland, opening as a public park for the ‘wellbeing of the citizens of Leeds’. Although 100,000 people supposedly attended the opening ceremony, gazing in awe at its splendour, few city dwellers could easily access the park.
In 1894 a public electric tram began running quarterly-hour services, leading to a sudden burst of popularity. Followed shortly after by boating on the lake, a sports arena and cycling track, and even a steamboat, the Mary Gordon, on the lower lake. This lake, actually built by soldiers who returned from the Napoleonic Wars, received the name ‘Waterloo Lane’.
This led in the early part of the 20th century to the building of significantly more housing and along with the construction of an open air swimming pool (lido) in the park in 1907 the area took on a much greater appeal. Houses built in the Victorian era were in great demand up until the First World War, when housing construction and sales virtually ceased. At this time part of the park was used for the gathering of military personal going to war, hence the name ‘Soldiers Field’. Demand took off again in the interwar years with further art-deco and typical 1930’s estates constructed with semi detached housing.
Roundhay’s history is perhaps not as dramatic nor as colourful, save for the park, as some areas of Leeds. However, despite virtually no mass housing building programmes, Roundhay has a delightful mix of quality housing. From Victorian and Edwardian to our current monarch’s reign, it gives this Leeds suburb a class all of its own.
Interested in selling your property in Roundhay, or intrigued to learn its value? We’d love to help! We provide free, no obligation valuations with Director and local property expert, Michael Moore. We’re open 7 days a week and currently conduct valuations in accordance with Covid Government guidance. Call us on 0113 274 2033 to book your valuation today. We even do Saturdays!
Or if you’re interested in living in Roundhay, find out what properties we have available here.
*Source: West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service