Ever heard of the Leeds Dripping Riots of 1865? How about the city centre scuffle between soldiers and members of the newly formed police force, which turned into a bit of a pitched-battle? Or what about how the Black Death ended up being the making of Leeds?
These and other interesting and seldom-known snippets of history form part of a new book by former Leeds resident Richard Smyth, whose book, Bloody British History: Leeds, is just out.
The author, who recently moved to Saltaire, took time out to speak to Times Past.
Mr Smyth, a former legal editor, said he had always harboured a love of history.
“History has a habit of disappearing. Quite often, what will happen is events are chronicled and published but then they are put on a shelf and forgotten about. If someone does not come along and pick that book up, then no-one knows about it and the memory fades.
“That was the case with so many of the events in this book. There are all kinds of things which happened in Leeds which, on the surface, you find incredible and almost unbelievable but when you check the papers from the time, you discover how much of a big deal they were.
“That was the case with the Dripping Riots. It all started when a Leeds cook called Eliza Stafford took two pounds of dripping home from her workplace. Her employer, Henry Chorley, found out and had her arrested. This led to great upset among the working classes in Leeds.
“The newspapers got hold of the story and even The Times in London picked up on it and then ran a story along the lines of ‘how they treat their cooks in Leeds’.
“She went to prison for her crime and when she was about to be released, a huge crowd gathered outside the jail to greet her. As things happened, she was very shy and had in fact been released a little early and gone to Scarborough.
“However, after the crowd had got bored of singing songs, they moved on and eventually gathered outside the house of Henry Chorley in Park Square and they had a bit of a riot. It lasted two days, snowballs were thrown at the police and a man was even trampled to death by the crowd. Several arrests were made as a result.
“There was another thing which was important about the riots because at the time the was a great push to get the vote for ordinary working class people and this was a real set-back for that. The following day in the paper, there were all kinds of letters from well-to-do middle class people pointing out the fact that these trouble-makers were the ones who wanted the vote.”
Another incident related in the book goes back to 1844 – back then, a local police force was something of a novelty, the constabulary having only recently been formed.
Mr Smyth said: “One of the stories I came across was a fight between soldiers and the police. It started in a pub called The Green Man on York Street where a group of soldiers had been drinking and someone had scrawled some offensive graffiti on the walls.
“The soldiers began fighting with someone and when the police turned up, they had a go at them too. Some of them were arrested but the soldiers weren’t done. The following day, they mounted a plan and marched into Leeds looking for policemen to beat up. Some of the residents of the city applauded their efforts, others just closed the shutters on their windows.
“Then there’s the Black Death, which was the making of Leeds, because it left so many people dead, it forced the survivors to turn to more economic means of making a living, which is why people started keeping sheep and that was the birth of the textile industry.”
Bloody British History: Leeds by Richard Smyth (published by The History Press) is out now priced £9.99, but will be launched officially at Waterstones, Leeds, on March 7, at 7pm.