An A to Z of Leeds facts: Part 1

The Hindenburg over Leeds in 1936.
The Hindenburg over Leeds in 1936.
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A 78-year-old former headteacher’s book about the history of Leeds sets out to bring a fresh perspective to facts and figures about the city’s past. Neil Hudson selects some.

Author David Thornton’s book Leeds - A Historical Dictionary contains many often astonishing facts about our city.

The 78-year-old former headteacher, who has penned numerous other books about Leeds, says in his introduction he understands how people may feel about his latest offering.

“I have no doubt there may well be those who feel... ‘Not another book about the history of Leeds,” says the grandfather-of-four, adding: “The difference is... this [book] attempts to bring together as many aspects of the city’s life as possible, in an easy, accessible format.”

The book itself is crammed full of all kinds of information so if you fancy impressing your relatives with your knowledge of the local area as the Christmas turkey is being wheeled out, try a few of these historical titbits on for size...

Aire & Calder Navigation

The scheme was talked about as far back as 1621 but did not actually become a reality until November 1700, when royal assent was granted to the project. The reason for the delay was due in the main to opposition from neighbouring cities, who rightly feared the canal would advantage traders in Leeds at their expense. The book says: “The Air & Calder Navigation came into use in 1704. It runs for 33 miles from Leeds to Goole with links to Wakefield and Castleford. Originally, woollen goods were moved eastwards and corn and wool were brought into the town.”

Benson, Ivy

Born in Holbeck, she came from a musical background, her father played in the Leeds Synphony Orchestra. Ivy was an accomplished musician on the piano, clarinet, alto sax and electric organ. In 1939 she formed her first all-girl band, the Rhythm Girls and for the next 40 years, she achieved considerable fame. Her finale with the Ivy Benson Showband came in 1982 at the London Savoy.

Charter of 1661

Granted by Charles II on November 2 in response to requests from the council, it instituted the appointment of a mayor, 12 senior members of the council, 24 assistants, a town clerk and recorder, all appointed for life. The first mayor of the town was Thomas Danby. The charter was revoked in 1684 and reinstated in 1689.

Dickens, Charles

The author visited the town on a number of occasions to give readings but he never shielded his somewhat negative views of the place, referring to the people of Leeds as ‘dull and slow’ and the city itself as ‘an odious place’. He went on: ‘You either like it very much or not at all.’ Still, that didn’t stop him giving a reading at the Music Hall in December 1847, when he addressed a gathering of about 1,200 people.

Elland Road

Sport has been played on the site since at least 1902, when Holbeck Rugby League Club used it and at that time it was known as the Old Peacock Ground but being next to Elland Road, it was the latter name which stuck and which persists today. The first floodlit match was played there in 1953, when Leeds player Hibernian.


The world’s first internet service provider to dispense with a monthly subscription fee, which was established in Leeds in 1998 by Rob Wilmot and Ajaz Ahmed. When it was sold in 2001 to Wanadoo, it was worth £1.65bn.


In particular, that country’s plans for Leeds had they won the Second World War. There is no evidence the popular myth that the German occupying force would have made Quarry Hill Flats their city headquarters but they did have a list of people whom they wanted arrested which included Prof Selig Brodetsky, a celebrated mathematician and zionist leader, who lived in Headingley and Prof Robert



The infamous German airship which famously perished in a ball of fire in May 1937, was seen hovering over Leeds in 1936. It was the second time the aircraft had passed over the city and some later came to question whether it was, in fact, taking aerial shots of the ground. The matter was even raised in the House of Commons on July 8 by Leeds West Unionist MP Vyvyan Adams.


A small denomination of obscure Calvinist nonconformists which broke away from the Moravians in 1753. The movement was founded by Benjamin Ingham. Within a year or so a chapel at Holbeck had been established and by 1817 another was opened on Duke Street, Leeds. As late as the 1890s there were still some member of the sect left in the town.


The hospital can trace its heritage back to 1848 when the Board of Guardians opened the Moral and Industrial Training School for pauper children in Burmantofts - the building is today known as The Lincoln Wing of St James’s Hospital. By 1915 the hospital moved and became East Leeds War Hospital and was visited by King George V the same year. After the war, it was decided to retain the hospital.

The name ‘Jimmys’ was settled upon, derived from Dr James Allen and Sir James Ford, both of whom were closely associated with its development.


It was a medieval hamlet south-east of Leeds and contained a fortified manor house. In 1872, 26 acres of land was purchased from Temple Newsam and the first Leeds sewerage and pirification works were built there.


There is no clear indication of its origin, although various theories have been suggested, one being it is descriptive of the many lanes and yards which run off Briggate and the back entrances to these we known as ‘low ins’ or ‘loins’. When Leeds Rugby League Club was considering rebranding itself with a new name, Leeds Loiners was popular among supporters, however, those in charge went with Leeds Rhinos.


A crater on the moon is named after Anne Sheepshanks, it is approximated 25km long. Sheepshanks lived from 1789-1876 and was born into the wealthy Sheepshanks family of woollen manufacturers. After her brother, Richard, died, she devoted much of her energy (and money) to supporting astronomical endeavours.

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