Leeds heritage: opening the doors of city’s history

Castle Grove Masonic Hall, Leeds

Castle Grove Masonic Hall, Leeds

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LIVING HISTORY: This year there are more places than ever opening their doors as part of the national heritage open days, which begins today. Neil Hudson found out what’s going on in leeds

Dozens of buildings across the city of Leeds and in virtually every suburb will be opening their doors today as part of a national drive to enable the public to better appreciate them.

The four-day event, which runs until Sunday, has been run for the past 20 years but this year has seen a dramatic increase in the number of Leeds buildings taking part.

Dr Kevin Grady, director of Leeds Civic Trust, which helps organise the event, said there were 101 openings across the city.

He said: “For the last four of five years we have been hovering around the 80 mark but for a long time we have wanted to try get the number up to about a hundred and this year we’ve managed to get 101, which is fantastic.

“The idea behind the event is people can get to know these buildings and the people who run them. Most of the time, most people will walk past a lot of these places every day and not give them a second thought and perhaps not appreciate them and what they have to offer.

“There are also a lot of guided walks taking place in the city and in the suburbs, which people can just book on or turn up for.”

Among buildings opening their doors are The Howard Assembly Rooms, The Brotherton Library, The Leeds Library and The Thoresby Society Library, Gotts Park Mansion in Armley and Castle Grove Masonic Hall in Headingley.

Dr Grady added: “It’s a great event in terms of continuity and enabling people to feel like they belong to a place, especially when they know how certain buildings have developed over the centuries. It’s an eye-opener. It’s making heritage exciting but it’s also about how we live today.”

One of the buildings opening its doors will be Castle Grove in Headingley, home to no fewer than 15 freemason lodges and one of the oldest buildings in the area.

Charles Clarke, secretary of Aurora Lodge, which meets at the building said there were some interesting architectural features which had been preserved for more than 100 years.

Mr Clarke, who has also been a freemason for 15 years, said: “It was last opened to the public about 16 years ago, when we were approached by the Civic Trust to open this year we thought it was a good idea.

“The building was originally a dwelling and a fairly grand one. The land it stands on was originally bought in 1834 under the Enclosures Act and pieces sold off to developers who built the Castle Grove Estate.

“It was bought by a number of Leeds Lodges who met on Great George Street in 1934 and is now home to 15 lodges and various side orders.

“There are some marvellous architectural features inside, including ornate plasterwork on some of the ceilings and we have pictures from 100 years ago which show the rooms have not really changed in that time.”

Lynda Kitching, Chair of Leeds Civic Trust said: “This year’s Heritage Open Days, with the support of Leeds Civic Trust and Leeds City Council, has been even more successful in encouraging the owners, managers and guardians of historic houses, green and hidden spaces, libraries, museums and places of worship to show them off free of charge to the public. This much anticipated feast is one of the country’s largest Heritage Open Days events.

“Experts and knowledgeable volunteers will be leading walks and tours, introducing people to aspects of the city’s heritage rarely accessible to the public including behind-the-scenes tours of more modern buildings. First World War features this year in several exhibitions and special talks.”

There are also guided walks gallore, in the city centre, on the waterfront, around Leeds University’s campus, around the city centre looking for ‘lost cinemas ...’ and following the ‘Blue Plaques’ theme.

In the suburbs and outer towns, you can learn about Shadwell, Wetherby, Guiseley, Headingley, Seacroft and Morley.

There’ll be tours of Beckett Street Cemetery, along Woodhouse Ridge and Roundhay Park’s Geology Trail.

Books, Archives and Exhibitions

Discover some of the fascinating books and archives with tours and access to the special collections of the Brotherton Library, the (Georgian) Leeds Library, Leeds Central Library and the library of the Thoresby Society, which is full of resources for anyone tracing the history of their neighbourhood.

Be amazed at the archives of both the Yorkshire Archaeological Society and the Traveller community in Yorkshire.

Be humbled at the High Royds Memorial Chapel and excited at possibilities for ’City Centre South.’

Family events

There’ll be plenty to entertain youngsters at the Grand Theatre, in Otley at both the Courthouse and the White House where the Chevin sheep will be waiting.

Check out Fulneck’s Moravian Settlement, M&S’s Archive, the Leeds Library and Leeds Museums Discovery Centre.

Places of Worship

Leeds has a fantastic range from Saxon times to the 20th Century – with wonderful architecture, information about local areas and children’s trails of discovery in many.

With Grade 1-listed Parish Churches, Quaker Meeting Houses, a Mosque, Catholic, Baptist, several Methodist Churches and a Synagogue, there’s much to discover!.

Houses and Villas

Impressive Devonshire Hall and Gotts Park Mansion will show off their grandeur, as will Fox Hill (Moorlands School), Farnley Hall and Castle Grove Masonic Hall.

Industrial Heritage

Interest continues to grow in this area of Leeds life. Visit the Railway Roundhouse (Leeds Commercial), Sunny Bank Mills - in continuous use for 180 years, the massive Walking Dragline, get inside Temple Mill or learn about Holbeck on Leeds Civic Trust’s walk.

Star Attractions

The Howard Assembly Room, Leeds Grand Theatre, Sunny Bank Mills, Leeds and Morley Town Halls, Makkah Masjid Mosque, Headingley Carnegie Stadium, The Brotherton Library, Fulneck Moravian Settlement, The Queens and Quebecs hotels, in Holbeck, the ‘Cradle of the Industrial Revolution’ tour. Visit: www.heritageopendays.org.uk.

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