East Leeds: History of a former pit village

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Next year Cross Gates will mark its centenary of being part of Leeds.

Until 1912, the village wasn’t part of the city at all – its residents, mostly wealthy businessman and their families, paid their taxes to Selby, although the fact hadn’t gone unnoticed by Leeds councillors.

The authorities in Leeds made several attempts to bring the affluent, leafy suburb under the auspices of the city, if only so they could reap the benefits of the taxes.

Back in the early part of the 1800s, Cross Gates was nothing more than a dirt track between Seacroft and Whitkirk but it was a track which was regularly walked by those attending Whitkirk Church.

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Cross Gates may well have taken its name from a set of gates along that track at a point which stood at the centre of three surrounding townships: Seacroft, Temple Newsam and Austhorpe.

The story of how the town has developed has been chronicled in detail by members of the East Leeds History and Archeology Society. Bob Lawrence is president of the group and wife Jacki is secretary and events organiser. The group welcomes new members and meets every Friday from 2pm at Cross Gates Library

Bob said: “We have record of a land dispute at ‘Cross Gates’, near Whitkirk, dating from the 15th Century. At that time, it was probably no more than a few houses round a village green.”

That all changed in about 1811 when a man called prospector Samuel Wilk-Ward opened up the first coal mining pit in the area – he went on to sink about a dozen or so more pits and they served to draw people to the area.

Bob said: “He was a good employer, so people were keen to come and work for him. The first railway track came here in 1834 as part of the Leeds-Selby line.

“It was a pit village, it supplied coal to York, Selby and Harewood House – the Coal Road still exists today but the pits went bankrupt in about 1882 and at that time, as it was about 10 minutes away from Leeds city centre, many professional people considered it a desirable place to live – it was surrounded by rolling countryside.

“A lot of fairly well-off people came to Cross Gates and this did not pass unnoticed by Leeds councillors, who saw valuable tax revenue going outside the city. They tried a number of times to bring Cross Gates into Leeds and failed but eventually succeeded in 1912.”

Cross Gates got its first church, Manston St James’s, in 1847 and in 1915 the Barnbow munitions factory was built.

In 1924, tramlines were extended to the village, making it even more accessible. As an idea of just how busy Cross Gates was, at one point, some 80 trams a day, used to pass through it.


The first council estate in Leeds was built in Seacroft in 1921 and in 1939, the library on Farm Road was built – a building Leeds author Keith Waterhouse said ‘entranced’ him in his book City Lights.

Another thing that happened in 1939 was the creation of what was to become the famous Vickers tank-building factory.

Perhaps the town’s greatest claim to fame however is that it boast the UK’s first covered shopping mall – the Arndale Centre. After the Second World War, the area continued to be a magnet for people and in 1967, Cross Gates was chosen as the location for the country’s first US-style covered shopping mall, which was a huge fillip for the area.

Jacki Lawrence, meetings and events organiser, said: “After the war, there was development of the industrial areas in Cross Gates and that drew more people to the area. The Pendas Way estate was begun before the war and completed after it.”

Group archivist John Fieldhouse said: “There was a massive influx of people into Cross Gates in the 1800s and 1900s, which resulted in a lot of shops opening and the Arndale Centre, the first indoor shopping mall in the UK.

“Historical change happens gradually. In 30 years time, people will look back on today and marvel at how we lived.”

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