A new book on Leeds will reveal some startling insights into the city’s history – from brutal crimes committed in the 19th and 20th centuries through to royal visits and humorous events.
The book, The Leeds Book of Days, is by Margaret Drinkall and contains one story for each day of the year.
Speaking to Times Past, Margaret, 66, who lives in Rotherham, told us how she came to write it.
“I have always been interested in history, right from a young age. I can remember being driven past Armley Jail as a youngster and being told that’s where people were hanged and I think that’s where it started for me.
“I came back to Leeds recently and while most people go for the shopping, I went to look at the jail and take pictures of it and I got really excited about that.”
Mother-of-four Margaret is the author of several books, including The Sheffield Book of Days, Sheffield Workhouse, Murder and Crime: Leeds and Rotherham Murders: A Half-Century of Serious Crime, 1900 - 1950, as well as some others.
After bringing up her family, she returned to education by completing a history degree in 1993 and went on to do a masters in 2006, publishing her first book, Rotherham Workhouse, in 2009.
“The format of the book means it is really easy for people to dip into, it’s not like reading a whole history of somewhere and yet, with this approach, you still get a feel for what it was like back then, it give you a snapshot.
“It took about six months to research and write up and it meant trawling through a lot of old newspapers, which I think are excellent records for all kinds of things, because they show real life.
“There are some funny stories in there but also some serious crimes, which is the kind of thing I have always been interested in.
“Like other cities going through the Industrial Revolution, there was a lot going on in Leeds - there was lots of crime and lots of civic pride. Even now when I visit the city and see a shiny new office block, I’m always awed to see it stood next to an old building with great architecture.
“I remember visiting the old assizes in the town hall and seeing the cells underneath the town hall steps and thinking that before me, so many others had walked down there knowing they were going to hang. I think the cells are a great under-used resource in the city and perhaps more could be made of them.
“She added: “I am a bit of a late comer to writing and in the beginning I had no idea how to submit a manuscript or find a publisher but over the years I have learned a few things and I have set up a website - www.margaretdrinkall.co.uk - in a bid to pass on what I have learned, so I hope that may help other people who are wanting to go down the same path.”
Extracts from the book prove interesting reading.
January 6, 1850 records: “A man named Charles Culley and three young girls who had stolen for him, were brought into court. A custom house official stated that as he was walking down Duncan Street, he saw the three female prisoners standing in a court. One had a bundle under her arm, but on seeing him, dropped it and ran away, along with the other two girls. The bundle was found to contain eleven woollen mufflers which had been stolen.
“A detective found the girls in Culley’s house on Hudson Street, and when the house was searched, other stolen goods were found. The oldest girl told him that the old man encouraged them to steal and to bring the goods to him in order to sell them on. One of the girls was only eight years of age yet, despite her young age, had been before the bench on seven different occasions and discharged because of her extreme youth. (Leeds Mercury).”
The entry for January 12, 1832 reads: “On the evening of this date, there was a performance by the celebrated Paganini at the Leeds Music Hall. A reporter from the Leeds Mercury attended the concert and described the evening. He stated that Paganini delighted his audience and it was later said that ‘there was something unearthly about him... his face is on the whole agreeable, and his smile indicative of a great good nature’. The report stated that: ‘We do not feel ourselves competent to speak of what may be termed as his miracles; we can admire his delightful harmonies, his cadences, his extraordinary dexterity, the more than musical sound of his fiddle. (Leeds Mercury).”
January 13, 1825 includes a report of an explosion at Middleton Colliery, near Leeds “at about 7 o’clock in the morning on this date. A bang as loud as a cannon was heard for miles around. Nearly all of the men who were working in the area of the explosion were killed, apart from a lucky few who were taken to the infirmary at approximately 2am, but they were unable to give an account of the explosion themselves.
“It is thought that the number of men to have been killed was twenty-four, including a young boy only five years of age. (Leeds Intelligencer).”
Another interesting entry was on July 24, 1867: “At the Astor House in New York, 200 members of the Ingraham family met together to assert their right to the possession of the piece of land – covering eighteen square miles of land – on which the City of Leeds is built. Two hundred years ago, the owner of all the land was a man called Joseph Wilson, and when he died he bequeathed it to his granddaughter, Sarah Cowell. In 1680 she married Timothy Ingraham, and the will, which had not been seen for four generations, was thought to be lost; until the city was built.
“In 1802, Solomon Ingraham, of New York, attempted to make a claim on the estate, but he died shortly afterwards. In 1825, advertisements were seen in The Times asking for heirs of the estate, and an attorney was sent to England to search for papers. None were found and there the matter rested, until the will was found in the hands of someone who asked $10,000 for it, as well as one tenth of the estate. In order to raise the money, each Ingraham was asked to forward $5 towards expenses, and in the case of those who could not offer the money they would lose their part of the estate. (The Times).”
Finally, on September 12, 1838: “A young man had been enjoying a glass of ale at the Gas Makers Arms, the house of a Mr Joseph Holmes, on Meadow Lane, Leeds. A quarrel arose in ‘which he became implicated’ and his wife flew to his defence. In less than a second she had the landlady’s cap torn into shreds and a brave soldier, fully equipped in his regimentals, sprawling out on his back.
The Leeds Book of Days by Margaret Drinkall is published by The History Press and will be available from January 31 but can be pre-ordered online.