6th March 2018
Keith Williams, Architect with Leeds CC gave an interesting account of the history of the waterfront of the River Aire in his address to the RTPI back in 2014. The waterfront, as opposed to a ancient crossing-place over the River Aire, dates back over 900 years. From 1086 the first manorial corn mill was started on a goit along Swinegate, followed later by fulling mills near Leeds Bridge. The woollen cloth trade grew significantly in the 16th Century after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, and ‘tenter’ grounds for drying cloth appeared on the banks of the river behind Kirkgate. Mr Williams emphasised the importance of Leeds Bridge, which acted as a market place for the trading of cloth until it moved to Briggate by the 17th Century.
The river was vital for the movement of goods. With the growth of trade to the continent it was made navigable all the way to Hull by the early 18th Century by way of the Aire and Calder Navigation. This was followed by the construction of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in 1777. As the Industrial Revolution took off during the 18th and 19th Centuries, warehouses and mills were built extensively along the river bank with a new dock built in 1830. Commerce in Leeds was thriving, with a significant part as a consequence of the river and waterfront.
By the second half of the 20th Century decline had set in and in 1972 Ian Nairn made a film making the case for the need to regenerate the riverside. From the beginning of the 1980s a plan of action was developed and published in 1995 under the title, ‘City Centre Riverside’. In 1988 the Leeds Development Corporation was established and the first regeneration scheme got underway, followed by a myriad of other schemes, resulting in the riverside we see today.
There is yet more development in the pipeline for the riverside, including the site between Riverside Court and Granary Wharfe, which will see a completely new focal point for the north bank of the river.