Leeds nostalgia: mystery of city square balustrades solved... thanks to readers

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The mystery of what happened to the granite boalustrades which formed part of the original design of City Square in Leeds has been solved - partially at least.

A few weeks ago, we ran an article in the Yorkshire Evening Post and the Yorkshire Post about the balustrades. It recounted details from a previous article, which told how a retired decorator called Harold Henson bought the entire collection - said to be numbering more than 100 - from a reclaimation yard in Leeds in June 1986. He reportedly used some to create a wall at his house in Birkin, North Yorkshire.

However, since then, reader Val Bowe got in touch with us to say she has some of the bollards at her home in North Yorkshire, where they form part of a wall.

She said: “We got them about 20 years ago when we were looking for materials to build this house. They were advertised in the Yorkshire Post by a firm in Guiseley - Machells - and so we travelled down and bought some.

“I did look into the history of them and I do find the connection to Leeds interesting.”

Val, 68, who ran her own oil distribution firm for 32 years added: “For some reason, not long ago, I ended up having the chief stone mason from Ripon Cathedral here and he saw the balustrades and the first thing he said was, why haven’t I had them cleaned. I think they look fine but obviously to the trained eye, they could be cleaned up.”

In the original story, it was reported that Mr Henson had the bollards he used cleaned.

Now, however, there has been one more twist to the story.

William Machell runs Machells reclaimation yard in Guiseley and he remembers buying around 50 of the bollards from the widow of a Leeds man who apparently bought them from the council.

He said: “There must have been 48 or 50 of them, they were granite balustrades, very nice to look at and obviously worth a fair bit. We had them in the yard and I remember one day a man came in and after looking at them, he asked where we’d got them from. I did wonder why he was asking but it turned out he was from Leeds City Council and they were looking to use some of the original balustrades in the scheme which is in place there today. This was more than ten years ago now. Anyway, he bought them all.”

Mr Machell, 62, whose late father, also called William, founded the business, said he had since had the balustrades valued at more than £1,000 apiece. They were commissioned for the city especially and are thought to have come from Italy.

So, it would seem that the balustrades, having initially formed part of the original City Square design, were sold some time around the 1950s or 1960s to a reclaimation yard and that possibly they were all bought by Mr Henson, who used at least some of them at his house in Birken.

After he died, it seems the remaining balustrades went to Machells. Some were bought by Val Bowe and the rest were bought back by Leeds City Council for the scheme which can be seen today.

One wonders whether anyone else has any of the granite balustrades. Certainly, Mr Machell has a couple, which he says he uses as lamp stands in his home. If you can shed any more light on the matter, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us at the usual address.

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