20 awesome ways Leeds changed the world

PIC: Eek Cat/Flickr/CC
PIC: Eek Cat/Flickr/CC
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Leeds is awesome, we know that. But compared to some of the larger, show off cities of the world, it’s fair to say our city’s standing on the world stage is a long way short of where it should be.

From revolutionising pop music to designing the White House, the world simply wouldn’t be the same without Leeds. Here are 20 reasons why.

1. We revolutionised rail travel

Well, sort of. Trains were used long before 1811, but this was the year John Blenkinsop and Matthew Murray, both Leeds engineers, put their heads together to invent the ‘rack an pinion’ system, which was first put into practice on the Middleton railway. The system allowed trains to take on gradients as well a host of other clever stuff that goes way over our heads, and paved the way for rail travel to become as popular as it is today.


2. We gave the world ‘Girl Power’

We know what you’re thinking, and yes, only one fifth of the biggest girl band of all-time is a Loiner, but without Mel B’s brash Leeds attitude, The Spice Girls may never have made it off the the drawing board. After initial auditions and a lukewarm response from Heart Management, ‘Scary Spice’ led the quintet through the doors of several other labels, before signing with Simon Fuller’s 19 in 1995.

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3. We spread the word of Karl Marx

From girl power to people power, few people know that back in the day, Leeds’ Northern Star newspaper was one of the few publications chosen by Karl Marx to deliver his musings to the wider world. The German revolutionary wrote original articles in the paper between 1845 and 1850 alongside fellow Marxist Friedrich Engels.

4. We designed the White House

Again, sort of. The grandly named Benjamin Henry Latrobe was heavily involved in designing large sections of the White House with James Hoban and Thomas Jefferson, including the east and west colonnades, which give the building’s fascia its iconic look. Latrobe was a prolific architect in America, also designing the Taft Museum of Art and the central section of the Capitol building.

5. We gave the world Marks & Spencer

Oh yes. It may not have changed the whole world, but for Nans across the UK, it’s the centre of the universe. Marks & Spencer was established as a humble market stall on Kirkgate Market in 1884 and has grown into one of the country’s biggest and most trusted retailers.

6. We changed TV forever

Playing host to iconic shows such as Rising Damp, Emmerdale and Countdown isn’t Leeds’ only contribution to the world of television. The television studios on Kirkstall Road were the first in Europe to design and build purpose-built colour studios, the first to try breakfast television as we now know it, and were the first station to go 24-hour in 1986. What was truly groundbreaking, though, was it’s commitment to investigative television journalism, in particular 1975’s BAFTA winning Johnny Go Home, which dared to look into the world of male prostitution and homelessness in London, and sparked national debate.

7. We invented Jelly Tots

The best item on this list? Possibly. When Horsforth’s Dr Brian Boffey failed to create instant setting jelly in the late 1960s, one of his efforts became Jelly Tots, which was rolled out under the Rowntree’s banner in 1967.

8. We dramatically improved road safety

The world’s first fully automated traffic light system was trialled and implemented on little old Park Row in 1928. This improved road safety immeasurably, replacing the gas light system and taking human error out of the equation altogether. The lights were nicknamed ‘robots’ by the locals of the time.

9. We gave the world televised darts

Televised darts has swept the world in recent years, with tournaments now shown on the Sky network across Europe, South Africa and Oceania. It’s come a long way since it’s humble origins as a simple pub game played by drunkards in a community hall, and much of that is down to the success of The Indoor League, filmed at the Leeds Irish Centre in the 1970s.

10. We invented Cluedo

Everyone has played Cluedo, and despite being thought up by a Brummie, it was Leeds-based Waddington’s who took a punt on the popular board game as far back as 1949. Along with dozens of others, a Leeds version of the game was devised to celebrate 100 years of the company being based in the city.

11. We changed the way we scrutinise politicians

Jeremy Paxman is one of Leeds’ favourite sons. His forthright attitude is a common Loiner trait and is one that led to him becoming one of the most feared political commentators in history during his 25 year tenure as presenter of political interest show Newsnight. Paxman’s iconic, brash interview style became a phenomenon, and has since been imitated, but never bettered, particularly in America.

12. We paved the way for the discovery of DNA

Whilst experimenting with X-Ray technology at Leeds University, father and son partnership William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg discovered the structure of crystals, allowing scientists of the future to look into the compositions of all sorts of things, including work on the structure of DNA. The pair were awarded a Nobel Prize in 1915.

13. We changed football forever

Sick of shelling out £50 for your team’s latest replica footy shirt every season? We’ve only got ourselves to blame. Leeds United were the first club to roll out replica shirts among supporters back in 1973, kicking off a worldwide market that is worth billions today. Looking back, the move is now recognised as the first time a club really dared to go into the merchandise market, and its success served as a catalyst for the game’s growth into the global entertainment industry it is today.

14. We contributed to literary history

Alan Bennett, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Jilly Cooper, Helen Fielding, Arthur Ransome, Tony Harrison, Barry Tebb, Alfred Austin, Keith Waterhouse. The link? They’re all established Leeds writers of course, of huge stature. This is far from the extent of Leeds’ contribution to the literary world, however, as Jonathan Clements, Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka and a certain JRR Tolkein all spent time refining their skills whilst staff members at Leeds University.

15. We revolutionised civil engineering

John Smeaton is a name more Leeds folk should be familiar with. Born in East Leeds and educated at the Grammar School, his later work in the design of many bridges, canals and harbours opened up a whole world of possibilities for businesses and in many ways provided the spark for the spread of the industrial revolution.

16. We changed gaming forever

Did you know that the glory days of the Grand Theft Auto game series were created in little old Leeds? From 2005’s Liberty City Stories to the ill-fated Chinatown Wars game in 2009, the GTA games were put together by Rockstar Leeds in the City West office park. Come on, who didn’t own a copy of Vice City?

17. We discovered oxygen

Oh yes. Birstall-born Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen in 1774 whilst writing the second volume of his six-strong ‘Experiments and Observations on Air’ book series. He was also an expert in the fledgling field of electricity, and through his experiments with gas is also credited with the invention of soda water.

18. We gave the world fish and chips

Well, we didn’t invent it per se, but in Harry Ramsden’s, Leeds boasts the world’s very first chippy chain. The hallowed shop in Guiseley has since been bought out by The Wetherby Whaler, but it was the original, spawning fish and chip shops as far and wide as Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Australia and the US.

19. We changed the world of comedy

Along with the aforementioned discovery of Les Dawson, Leeds has had huge effect on the history of comedy. Old school legend Barry Cryer was born in Leeds, as was Avid Merrion/Keith Lemon whirlwind Leigh Francis, The League of Gentleman writer Jeremy Dyson, Vic Reeves and Ernie Wise.

20. We invented the mousetrap

This one saved the world, probably. I mean, who knows what plagues were prevented by invention of the spring-loaded mousetrap, designed by Leeds-born James Henry Atkinson in 1899. Penned as ‘Atkinson’s Little Nipper’ originally, it was a huge success, selling across the world straight away.