History and nostalgia: The men who helped shape Leeds

HISTORY LECTURES: Ken Biggin, author of the book Yorkshire in the World.
HISTORY LECTURES: Ken Biggin, author of the book Yorkshire in the World.
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The role Leeds played in the Industrial Revolution is to become the focus of a series of lectures delivered by historian Ken Biggin.

Mr Biggin, author of Yorkshire In The World, is to reprise the history classes he started several years ago after receiving a number of requests.

He said: “I’m thinking of running the course again because I run two permanent groups in Leeds and I’ve had expressions of interest from both in doing that. I run classes at Moor Allerton and Beeston libraries from April to October.”

Father-of-three Mr Biggin, 64, a retired housing director, who also has three grandchildren, said he had always harboured a passion for history. His lectures will cover Leeds’s industrial heritage, together with lesser-known facts about Yorkshire.

He said: “The book I wrote was an attempt to show people how Yorkshire has had an effect on the world at large and it covers the period from pre-Roman times right up to the Cold War, with the infamous golf balls at Fylingdales.

“I think that although a lot of this stuff is chronicled, it’s not often associated with Yorkshire. So, a good example of that is the fact that the Roman Emperor Constantine was acclaimed emperor in York and he was the one who changed the Roman Empire from being Pagan to Christian, the impact of which was tremendous in terms of world history.

“The idea is to get people to think outside the narrow box of what Yorkshire is and what they associate with it. The people from this county have had a remarkable influence upon the world at large, from Captain Cook going out and exploring the world to William Wilberforce’s attempts to abolish slavery.

“Of course, one of the biggest contributions which has shaped the modern world is the Industrial Revolution, which began not in London but in cities like Leeds and Glasgow.

“In 1700, the village of Hunslet was described by Daniel Defoe as a pleasant rural settlement across the river from Leeds characterised by its village windmill. Windmills and water-mills had been the only significant, large scale mechanical inventions relating to the manufacturing process over the previous two hundred years. Now, suddenly, over a period of less than two centuries, mechanical inventions were to completely transform man’s productive capacity.

“It all grew, unsurprisingly, from that great bedrock of the medieval English economy, the textile industry. Kay’s famous flying shuttle, invented in 1733, meant one weaver required far fewer spinners. No wonder his first mill in his hometown of Bury was smashed, and his second in Colchester, and his third in Leeds.”

Another topic covered in the book is Matthew Murray’s (1765-1826) contribution. Although born in Stockton-on-Tees, he came to Leeds in 1789 to work at Marshall’s Scotland Mill. By 1795, he had founded an engineering factory in Holbeck with James Fenton and David Wood, producing textile machinery, steam engines and locomotives. It was this factory which produced the world’s first commercially successful steam engine for the Middleton Colliery in 1812.

By 1777, Middleton Colliery was producing 48,000 tons of coal a year.

Other little known facts which will be discussed include the remains of an Iron Age fort behind one of the pubs in the centre of Barwick-in-Elmet

Leeds born John Smeaton (1724-1792), who was educated at Leeds Grammar School, is another person to feature in the book.

He planned the navigation of the Calder, the Firth-Clyde Canal, Spurn Lighthouse, together with other bridges and mills.

* For more information about the courses, contact Ken Burton at the Beeston Library group on 0113 270 9459.

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