Leeds nostalgia: Headlines from the past

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If you ever get to thinking life today is faster than ever, that tragedy and misfortune are something new or that scandal, crime and the general hubbub of urban life are at an all time high, then a trawl through our archives might just change your mind.

In the second of our Times Past specials, we turn the clock back 100 and 200 years and discover that the world was not much different to today.

100 years ago...

Scott of the Antarctic was making his way to the South Pole, Italy declared war on the Ottomon Empire, founded in 1299, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre, France and America landed the first aeroplane on an aircraft carrier.

It was just as busy in Leeds and surrounding towns.

A report in the Yorkshire Evening Post on Friday December 22 read: “There was a Christmasy air about the Leeds streets this morning and as the day wore on it extended to the railway stations. The number of Christmastide excursions, indeed, approximates this year more than ever to the number during the summer season.

“The rush from Leeds to the Continental winter resorts is very marked, more marked indeed than at any previous Christmas... So far as the Leeds trams are concerned, there will be an increased service tomorrow evening. This will be a great boon for late shoppers.”

There was chaos at Leeds Market with more than 30,000 turkeys and 25,000 geese on sale there and a record supply of oranges. Turkeys were selling for 11d a pound, geese for about 9d and pheasants for 5d or 6d.

A new training college was being built at Beckett’s Park, Headingley, Leeds by the Leeds Education Committee at a cost of £144,000, providing accommodation for 480 students, 300 women and 180 men.

A driver was heavily fined for exceeding the speed limit in Leeds. Spencer Naylor Blackburn, who had several previous motoring convictions, appeared at Leeds Police Court, having been observed driving along Chapeltown Road over a distance of a quarter of a mile at 27mph. When told of the offence, he responded: “It’s a bit awkward, the rotten speed limit.” He argued he was testing the car. He was fined £7 or given the option of a week in jail.

An advert on December 30 read: “After ‘standing about’ in the cold, the sensible thing is a Mustard Bath – a hot bath to which is added a couple of table-spoons or so of Colman’s Mustard.”

200 years ago...

It was the time of Napoleon and Lord Admiral Nelson.

France was the dominant power in Europe, having emerged victorious from skirmishes with other powers including Prussia, Russia and Austria. Only Britain withstood its might, thanks in part to Nelson’s victory in 1805 in which he beat the combined French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar.

In 1808, France became embroiled in a new conflict, known as the Peninsula War in Portugal, a conflict which contributed to Napoleon’s downfall.

The Leeds Intelligencer carried a report on December 30 commenting on that battle, which read in part: “a decree has been passed placing 120,000 men of conscription age at the disposal of the minister for war. The continual waste of life, on the part of the French, in the contest in the Peninsula, necessarily calls for a large supply of men to fill up the thinned ranks of their armies and there appears great reason to believe, that ere long the annual waste will be greater even than the population of France can supply.”

The Leeds Intelligencer also reported on December 30 of a “fresh instance of brutal ferocity” in Fox Lane, Shadwell, after a young man named Mellish came to grief.

The report goes: “A young man named Mellish, clerk to Messrs Swain and Stevens, solicitors in the Old Jewry, was sitting with the nephew of the landlord of the Three Foxes public house in Fox Lane in the back parlour, when suddenly they heard the watchman’s rattle and a cry of ‘Stop the murderers!’ They immediately cried out, ‘My God, there is more murder!’ Both young men armed themselves with a poker, ran out into the street and joined in the pursuit of a suspected person.

“Young Mellish could not keep up with his companion but followed him as far as he could. At the corner of the lower turning in Spring Street, he met three men running – two of them were remarkably tall, ill-looking fellows and the third a very short man.

“Supposing they were the men against whom the hue and cry had been raised, he said: ‘You are the villains and I’ll have at you.’ He instantly levelled a blow with the poker at the head of the little man, which, however, had no other effect than to stun him for a moment.

“The villain almost immediately recovered himself and discharged a pistol in the face of Mr Mellish, the contents of which, being small shot, disfigured him in a shocking manner.

“The miscreants all ran away and nothing since has been heard of them. [Mellish] has completely lost the use of his eyes and remains in the Three Foxes public house in a very precarious state.”

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