The history of sex work in Leeds: Timeline reveals evolution of Holbeck's managed zone

The managed zone in Holbeck
The managed zone in Holbeck
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A Leeds historian has created a unique online resource documenting the sex trade in our city from the early 19th century through to the present day.

The History of Sex Work in Leeds draws on local archives, police reports, court records and the YEP’s own coverage to shed light on how charities, the law, residents and police have responded over the decades.

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It is hoped that the timeline and its hundreds of entries will help to inform current debate about the controversial ‘managed approach’ to street sex work in Holbeck that is rarely far from the headlines.

Kate Lister, the Leeds Trinity University historian leading the project, said: “Although it goes back to the turn of the 1800s, it’s all about giving people the information to see where it comes from. We’re hoping to expand this into an oral history project next because what’s very rare is firsthand accounts – that could be something that people who’ve lived in Leeds for a long time can help us with.”

Together with students, Gemma Vause, Fran Redmond and Dara Howley, she has spent months trawling archives with the aim of building a comprehensive record to which they can continue to add information as it is gathered.

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Leeds-based charity Basis Yorkshire, a partner in the research, has also opened up its own archives from the past 30 years for the first time.

But there are some periods that have proved challenging, with references to the sex trade virtually disappearing from police reports and newspapers between 1920 and 1960.

Kate said: “It will be there, but it’s just a hole in the records for some reason – the police are reporting it differently, maybe it’s the war or it’s attitudes and they didn’t want to talk about it.”

Email to share recollections or materials with the project.