Leeds nostalgia: Historical curiosities
Yorkshire is full of historical curiosities, nostalgic oddities which tell tales all their own and which both honour and charm us with their antiquarian acquaintance. Here are just a few...
HEADINGLEY BEAR PIT
Opened July 4, 1840, it was home to swans, eagle hawks, owls, monkeys, raccoons and bears. Bears were made to climb a poll while being pelted with buns by the public. Bought by Leeds Civic Trust in 1966, part of the original complex on Cardigan Road still exists.
STANK HALL BARN
The oldest building in Leeds, dating from 1420 and rebuilt in 1492, it was the ‘Las Vegas of feudal Britain’. Ostensibly, a hunting lodge attached to Rothwell Castle, frequented by the king, it was out in the sticks back then, so what happened in Stank Hall, stayed in Stank Hall. Roman artefacts have been found nearby, it’s also rumoured to contain some of the timbers used on Chrisopher Columbus’s ships.
Made in the 17th century and composed of 5,840 plates and weighing 118kg, it is the only animal armour of this scale on public display and recently entered the Guinness Book of Records as the largest animal armour in the world. It even has tusk swords. Acquired in India by Lady Clive, wife of Edward, 2nd Lord Clive (Governor of Madras), between 1798 and 1800, and brought back to England in 1801, it is now on display at the Royal Armouries.
Erected in 1829, this standing stone records that London and Edinburgh are both 200 miles from Leeds. It stood at the old entrance to the demolished Kirkstall Forge and is mostly unregarded. Perhaps now the new train station has opened, it will get more attention. Apparently, because it is listed, it caused planners some headaches in relation to the new entrance, as they were unable to move it.
DICKENS ON LEEDS
Charles Dickens dubbed Leeds “an odious place” when he visited in 1866, adding there was a “ paucity of public houses” and he found it difficult to buy a penknife. He described it as “one of the dirtiest places” he had ever been - quite something considering he lived in London.
Yes, Leeds does have an underground. Of sorts. It’s the abandoned railway station beneath the present station, which still has rooms, corridors, stairs and even old telephones on the walls.
THE OAKWELL REDWOOD
You might not be able to see it at the moment but in a hundred years or so, the biggest thing in Birstall may well be the giant redwood which was planted in the grounds of Oakwell Hall in 2010 by ranger Richard Aspinall. The tree was presented to him by the Friends of Oakwell Hall.
WORLD’S OLDEST RUM
Disvovered in the cellars at Harewood House in 2011, these old dusty bottles were found on a shelf. They had been there since the 1780s and contained what turned out to be the world’s oldest rum - still drinkable - which later sold at auction. Six bottles of t light rum fetched £25,000, with the last bottles of dark rum sold for a mind-boggling £7,000 each.