Leeds nostalgia: Historic sites are on ‘at risk’ register

The Sebastapol cannon were scrapped before the Second World War.

The Sebastapol cannon were scrapped before the Second World War.

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One of the most important buildings in Leeds, a historical moor and a recently discovered castle in the middle of Mirfield are all on the list of ‘at risk’ sites in a report published by English Heritage.

The body, which usually only deals with grade I listed buildings, enlisted hundreds of volunteers across the country to help it survey grade II listed buildings and other sites.

Perhaps the most significant mention on the ‘at risk’ list in Leeds is the First White Cloth Hall, the history of which is synonymous with the history of the city itself.

The building on Kirkgate, which today stands in a poor state of repair, was built in 1711 as a response to traders in nearby Wakefield, who had built themselves a covered cloth hall a year earlier.

The building was indicative of the level of trade in wool and textiles which took place in Leeds at that time.

Its creation helped cement the success of the city as a major centre for trade in the 18th century and underpins the economic boom which came with the Industrial Revolution.

Tammy Whitaker, who helped compile the list for English Heritage, said: “The First White Cloth Hall is central to the history of Leeds, it’s a very important building which today is in a sorry state. We are working with Leeds City Council to see what can be done about it and this report helps highlight how important it is.

“This building is part of the reason why Leeds is here in the first place. All buildings have to evolve in terms of how they are used over time and there have been some very good examples of that taking place in the city. Historical buildings help us understand where we came from and they help give us a sense of identity. If we lose the First White Cloth Hall, then we lose part of that.”

Another site which has been added to the list is Woodhouse Moor, one of the first public open spaces in Leeds and described in Victorian times as ‘the lungs of the city’, a playground for factory workers at the weekend.

The 27-acre park dates back to 1857 and in the past used to display two huge cast iron cannon captured during the bitter Crimean War – the cannon were, unfortunately, melted down for scrap before the Second World War.

It is significant that today the moor faces the threat of being dissected by the planned NGT Trolleybus scheme backed by Metro, the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Authority, which has said one option is to run the tracks across the 
moor.

The Friends of Woodhouse Moor have mounted a campaign to prevent this but no final decision has yet been taken.

Of the 519 listed places of worship surveyed in Yorkshire, perhaps the most intriguing is that of the recent discovery of the remains of a castle in Mirfield.

The discovery was only made after high winds blew down a church wall on Church Lane.

What was found was a mound and some remains of a keep and moat.

Ms Whitaker said: “This is a very interesting discovery and I think much of the credit has to go to the local volunteers who have helped to catalogue the find and are helping to preserve it.”

Still, it is not all bad news in terms of buildings being at risk. Some 96 archaeology entries have been removed from the 2012 register.

The report said nationally, damage from arable cultivation is the greatest risk factor, accounting for 43 per cent of those on the register. In Yorkshire the proportion is 57 per cent.

Buildings recently added to the ‘at risk’ list include Crown Court House, Wood Street, Wakefield; Henry Simpson’s Barn, Craven; Church of St Andrew, Yeadon and Guiseley; three square barrows in Broxa Forest, Scarborough; Headingley Hill, Hyde Park; and Woodhouse Moor, Leeds.

Clocks of Leeds. The Leeds Town Hall....26th October 2010 .... Picture by Simon Hulme

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