A to Z of Leeds: The 'miserable looking' mangy city centre landmarks

We all know Leeds is a great city, right?

Monday, 21st December 2020, 11:30 am
The Leeds Town Hall lions enjoy a hosedown in July 1972.
The Leeds Town Hall lions enjoy a hosedown in July 1972.

There are many reasons for this bold claim, from the people who've called this place home, to the history of the region, the developments underway and the talent and creativity we see on a daily basis. Here, we go through the alphabet to give you some reasons to be proud.

L IS FOR LIONS

Lt Col Kitson Clark had some harsh words for the Leeds Town Hall lions in 1921.

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The former president of the Thoresby Society described them as “extraordinarily poor, mawkish” and “miserable looking”.

The lions were carved by William Day Kayworth Jnr, of London and Hull and put up in 1867 - the first two on February 15, the other two on June 7 - at a cost of £550. Kayworth reportedly spent six months at a zoo studying lions before carving them. Indeed, their doleful appearance and general lack of elan have long been remarked upon.

There was some debate about what they were carved from.

In letters to the Yorkshire Evening Post in 1937, stone mason James Raw said the blocks were quarried from his grandfather’s land in Wath, Nidderdale and that his father helped quarry them and even made scale models from the same stone, pictures of which resides in the YEP archive.

But this was questioned in 1948 by H C Versey, senior lecturer in geology at Leeds University, said the stone was too soft to withstand erosion in a city, he said they were carved from white limestone, which was indistinguishable from Portland stone.

Whatever their composition, the lions have endured the elements, manmade pollution and even bombs from the last war, one of which damaged the two facing Calverley Street, when it was said they were struck by several fragments of debris.

As the YEP reported on the even of their centenary in 1966: “Much maligned, they may be mangy but they are the best lions we have got.”

The now rather weathered lions were originally put up to guard the entrance to the town hall and there is a well-known urban myth associated with them, which has it that when the town hall clock strikes 12 at midnight, the lions come alive to roam the city.

MORE A TO Z OF LEEDS:

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Laura Collins