Leeds nostalgia: When pubs and churches were order of the day

The sign over the George IV pub in Kirkstall today.

The sign over the George IV pub in Kirkstall today.

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THE streets of Leeds have changed enormously over the years – often as a result of the wider changes taking place in society. A good example is Commercial Road in Kirkstall, which has been researched by local amateur historian Mike Harwood.

THE streets of Leeds have changed enormously over the years – often as a result of the wider changes taking place in society. A good example is Commercial Road in Kirkstall, which has been researched by local amateur historian Mike Harwood.

For many centuries, Kirkstall had been part of the huge landed estates of the Brudenells, the Earls of Cardigan – the 7th and last Earl being famous for the Charge of the Light Brigade immortalised by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

However, by the end of the 19th century large parts of the land in Kirkstall were bought up by individuals and partnerships of entrepreneurial builders and developers. The area gradually went from being an outlying village to a residential suburb of Leeds. The advent of trams from the city along Kirkstall Road and Commercial Road and out to Kirkstall Abbey was crucial in this process.

“This could perhaps be described as the first herald of the suburbanisation of Kirkstall and the first shadow of death for all those small businesses and the pubs in Commercial Road,” said Mr Harwood.

“The whole city, and beyond, was being opened up to the inhabitants of Kirkstall’s new and growing, red brick community to seek work and amusement. That is what it was built for, not just for Kirkstall.

“But social change is rarely abrupt and we can say that during the early part of the 20th century until the Second World War, Kirkstall still remained very much a self-contained industrial village. Its houses were occupied by local workers, working quite possibly at the Forge or in the local mills stretched out along the Aire Valley.

“In 1913 it had acquired its own local cinema. In this period Commercial Road was the main shopping street, the busy, commercial hub of this village. In general local people did their daily shopping there or, at furthest, a tram ride down Kirkstall Road. And after work and shopping, they did their drinking not in the city centre, but a walk away in their own local pubs and beer houses.”

Hardly surprising then that there were at least five pubs in Commerical Road – The Woodman Inn, The Sovereign, The George, The George Hotel and The Shades.

“And just round the corner, in Kirkstall Lane, was the Abbey Inn,” Mr Harwood added. “And these were not the only watering holes in Kirkstall in this pre-First World War period.

“Most famous was the Star and Garter in Bridge Road where Sarah Siddons, the well-known actress, stayed in 1807.

“According to one legend, after her performance she announced to her audience: ‘Farewell ye brutes, and forever, I trust; ye shall never torture me again!’ There was also the Kirkstall Bridge, previously known as the Horse and Jockey, the Vesper Gate and the West End, as well as possibly other small ale houses.”

However, Kirkstall at that time was not “a desert of godless drinkers”, there was a similar flourishing of churches and chapels.

“Between them, and not counting the Church of England offering, the churches and chapels provided seating for over 2,000 people. In 1901 the population of Kirkstall was recorded as 4,623,” said Mr Harwood.

“Today, there is one church in Kirkstall and there is one traditional pub in Commercial Road, the George IV – and that is empty and shut down.”

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