Leeds nostalgia: New (old) pictures of Civic Hall’s humble beginnings

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Fascinating pictures of old Leeds have been discovered languishing in the Yorkshire Evening Post library in a book from the 1930s called Changing Leeds.

The book came to light following the recent move of the Yorkshire Post and Evening Post from their former home on Wellington Street to new premises on Whitehall Road.

The book itself is packed full of images of old Leeds, many dating back to the 18th Century and show how much the city had altered by the 1930s.

Times Past will be serialising this work over the coming months and we begin this week with images which show what the Calverly Street and George Street looked like before the Civic Hall was built.

The Civic Hall was opened in 1933 and was one of the jewels of the emerging powerhouse which was Leeds. The image below shows the street scene before the hall was built. Calverley Street was much shorter than it is today - it was blocked by properties at the level of Great George Street and the book informs us that a Leeds-based motorcar was produced in these buildings for a period, although it appears it was replaced by a car which was imported from Germany - it went by the name of Loidus.

In the image which shows the newly built Civic Hall, there can be seen the “ever expanding college of technology”, which now forms part of Leeds Beckett University.

The book tells us that Calverley Street owes its name to the Blayds family, who lived in a mansion which stood on the site of the present-day Town Hall. The family assumed the name of Calverley in 1852.

When the Town Hall was first built - being a rectangle some 250ft by 200ft, it was, apparently, quite a thing to try and run all the way around it, starting at the stroke of 12 and (hopefully) get back to the start before it finished chiming.

The Civic Hall, of course, became the administrative nerve centre of the city but even as it was opened it was bursting at the seams, so that extensions had to be built at the rear and running up towards Woodhouse Lane.

The book explained that the Civic Hall housed the main council chamber, which was 70ft by 42ft and panelled in walnut. In the West Wing (the Infirmary side) were the Lord Mayor’s Rooms.

In the impressive entrance to the building, two names were engraved - they were Dr Joseph Priestley, cleric and scientist who discovered oxygen and Joseph Aspdin, who discovered Postland cement. The book adds that the Civic Hall’s twin towers are 170ft high, the building itself being of steel-frame construction, with Portland stone facing.

The Civic Hall itself, however, was more than just a stepping stone in the history of the city. It was a symbol of just how far it had come since the 19th Century and the phenomenal growth in population which had occurred as a result of its industries.

This period in growth took place from the office of the first Lord Mayor (Sir James Kitson) and John Rafferty, who held the office in the 1960s, who had this to say about the ‘Changing Leeds’ publication: “The Yorkshire Evening Post has earned the thanks of Leeds citizens for presenting in picture form aspects of the manner in which the city continues to develop. In housing, transport, central development... Leeds continues to hold its prominent place among the larger cities.”

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