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North Street – A Brief History

10th June 2016

millwrightst1894Maps by Netlam and Francis of 1815 and another by Rapkins of 1850 show much of the area from North Street down to Regent Street densely populated with back to back and through terrace housing. The area was known as The Leylands, and Leyland Road still remains, running between Byron Street and Skinner Lane, just to the north of Christopher Pratts furniture emporium. Compared to the back to backs we still see today, ‘The Leylands’ were poorly built two and three storey constructions of brick and slate, many built around ‘squares’ grandly referred to as ‘Courts’ but which in fact were nothing more than internal courtyards housing latrines or privies through which an open sewer ran.

It would appear these properties housed workers from the nearby factories, most of which were on the east side of Regent Street, such as the Hope Foundry (Iron and Brass), Byron Street Mills (Woollen) and Skinner Lane Works. On the west side of Regent Street there was Melbourne Street Mills at the junction of Melbourne Street and Regent Street and a Brewery at the bottom of Gower Street, tucked behind the houses and shops fronting Regent Street. Factories had been built in this area as it had a watercourse running through it, which we understand to be a continuation of Meanwood Beck. The watercourse remains, most of it underground – an interesting video of sections of the watercourse can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cecu5kyUf2M. This ‘beck’ continues into the River Aire at Crown Point.

The Sanitary Act 1866 imposed responsibility upon local authorities to eliminate overcrowding and to improve public health, and as a consequence this economically challenged population of Leeds was uprooted by the commencement of slum clearance.

By 1887 the streets were being cleared between North Street and Regent Street. All the properties down the left hand side of Nile Street had been demolished by April 1887 with the properties on the right hand side remaining, looking forlorn, with former busy shops including those with return frontages at the corner of Nile Street and Brunswick Row, now struggling for business.

Beyond Nile Street to the south was Trafalgar Street and this block of densely populated, three storey, properties, which included Bridge Court, were retained for another decade or so, complete with the original communal privies and open sewers, as a consequence of the local authority not being able to provide alternative housing quickly enough.

As the turn of the century approached public unrest was putting pressure on the council. To quell anxiety Back Nile Street had a new Shul built in early 1908 to replace the previous one on Hope Street which was to be demolished as part of latest “Hope Street Improvement Programme” – yet another slum clearance project. The Shul looked on to a factory fronting North Street, which we believe to have been Merchants House. The Leylands area had a high concentration of Jewish immigrants living there.  The Synagogue was erected to provide for the needs of the community. It was the Beth Hamedrash Hagodel Synagogue.

As part of the programme Back Nile Street was cleared in its entirety in 1909 although better quality properties were retained including Joshua Cohen’s butchers (corner of Nile Street and Bridge Street) and Benjamin Blacks Chemist (corner of Trafalgar Street and Bridge Street). The Gower Street council school was retained.

Beyond The Leylands, on Melbourne Street, better built back to back properties with their soldier-brick arched windows and polished and painted front steps were built. These survived well into the 1960’s, when once again these were declared slums and cleared for redevelopment. With a different attitude to housing and special requirements today, these back to backs would not be cleared, providing more than adequate housing with some refurbishment and modernisation.

In 1910 a bridge was built over (the aptly named) Bridge Street. Today, New York Road runs over this (strengthened) bridge

By the 1930’s much of the residential housing was dilapidated and we suspect had it not been for the war intervening, further clearance would have occurred sooner. By 1935 the north east side of Byron Street, which had some reasonably built street lined houses and shops had less than 50% occupancy, and many of the properties had fallen into disrepair and were derelict.

At the top of Lower Brunswick Street was No.5, the premises of Westgate Clothing Co. Ltd, which included Hirst Bros. tailors and J and B Felt, dress and light clothing manufactures. No.5 extended through to No.8a Melbourne Street, the next street to the north. It was the success of the clothing industry which probably led to the further development of the shops and houses on North Lane into what is today, Merchants House.

Shops on the ground floor were retained but development above provided two floors for the meetings of the Royal Order of Buffaloes (presumably this Order funded the development?) with the top floors occupied by tenants of various tailoring businesses. These flourished in the post war years, with their most successful hey-days in the 1950’s

So successful were these properties that major investment was made in some flagship premises, such as neighbouring Crispin Lofts. This was built in 1915 as home to Henry Heaton’s Clothing Company. It was subsequently occupied by HW Poole & Sons, Boot and Shoe Manufacturer, both being regarded as distinguished businesses in Leeds, and major employers.

The general decline of such manufacturing industries in the 1960’s and beyond led to this area falling into decline. The focus of Leeds city centre shifted south and many of the buildings were neglected and fell into disrepair. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that city living resurged and following major investment in the area this part of Leeds, so close to the city centre, is now one of the more desirable areas of the city in which to live.

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