History of Leeds

Mother Earth Travel > United Kingdom > Leeds > History

Leeds had established itself as an important centre of industry and commerce long before city status was granted by royal charter in 1893. By the seventeenth century, Leeds, (the name a corruption of the pre-Doomsday word "Loidis"), had become a prosperous market town founded primarily on the manufacture of cloth and trade in clothing.

Later developments such as the Middleton Colliery Railway in 1758 - the world's first commercial railway - and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in 1770, served to further underline Leeds' rapid transformation into one of the country's premier industrial centres.

Although a typical victim of the post-Industrial Revolution, with tribulations of over-population and poor living conditions, turn-of-the-century Leeds was marked by its fine public buildings, the University and arcades. These buildings continue to contribute to the city centre's imposing character in the present day.

Following a strategy of city centre regeneration that has gathered pace since the mid 1980s, areas in decline have become centres of housing, leisure and commercial development. Nowhere is this more visible than Leeds Waterfront, once the hub of Victorian commerce, now the home of the Royal Armouries museum and Granary Wharf, as the city embraces tourism. The splendid Corn Exchange and Victoria Quarter shopping areas play host to a diversity of retailers; including Harvey Nichols Department Store - its first venture outside London.

In recent times, Leeds has become the UK's second home to the banking and legal sectors. City centre amenities have sprung up quickly as a result. New café bars, restaurants, clubs, gyms and leisure facilities are in evidence all over the city. The West Yorkshire Playhouse, City Art Gallery and adjoining Henry Moore Institute are prestigious cultural landmarks serving the whole region. Following its success in hosting group matches during the Euro 96 Championships, Elland Road - the home of Leeds United FC - has become one of England's key football stadia. A similar story is to be found in Headingley, where neighbouring sports grounds regularly host international test matches in cricket and rugby league.

Leeds is perfectly placed for those wishing to explore the beautiful countryside of Yorkshire, particularly the Yorkshire Dales National Park to the north. Even closer to home are the stately homes Harewood House and Temple Newsam - both containing important collections of fine and decorative art - and the remarkably well preserved Kirkstall Abbey - a relic of the twelfth century.