An A to Z of Leeds facts: Part 2

An artist's impression of the proposed Leeds underground railway system. PIC: National Tramway Museum
An artist's impression of the proposed Leeds underground railway system. PIC: National Tramway Museum
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In the second part of a series about the history of Leeds, we discover how a past mayor of the city ordered soldiers to charge through the city with drawn swords, find out why Oakwood has a clock tower and why plans to build a Leeds underground have never officially been revoked.

Author David Thornton, 78, whose book Leeds - A Historial Dictionary is packed full of seldom-known and interesting snippets about the history of his home city, said: “I wanted to make a book which people would find easy to use, not exactly to read cover to cover but to dip in and out of. Since it has been published, someone has actually told me they are reading it cover to cover but that was not the intention, although it was a welcome complement.”

Ninety Nine Steps

A flight of steps in Burley. The stairs begin at Park Lane end of Westfield Road and climb up to Belle Vue Road. The steps have been a popular haunt for children down the years.

Oakwood Clock

The clock was built by William Potts and Sons to a design by Leeming and Leeming. It was placed in Kirkgate Market when the building opened in 1904. In 1912 it was moved to Roundhay, where it still stands today. The clock, which has fallen into disrepair, is the subject of a campaign led by local people to have it restored to its former glory.

Plug riot

The Plug Riot of 1842 were a series of riots which errupted across the north of England and were sparked by unemployment, poverty and in some cases near starvation. The name derives from the fact that the rioters sought to remove the plugs from the boilers of mills and factories, thus rendering them incapable of providing steam power. In August 1842, serious rioting occurred in Leeds, where mills in Farnley, Armley and Wortley were brought to a standstill. They later moved to Pudsey and Holbeck. So serious a threat were the rioters considered that the establishment even drafted in soldiers from the 17th Lancers under Prince George, which turned up with fixed bayonets.


Lighting decoys built to confuse the Luftwaffe during air raids in the Second World War. Their name was probably derived from the Navy’s Q-ships, which were warships disguised as merchant ships. Several sites were constructed around Leeds in 1940, including in Thorner, Barwick-in-Elmet, Swillington, Chidswell, Emley and Meltham Moor. Other decoys called Starfish were also used - these were in the form of burning buildings and several of the sites were uncovered by archeologists in the 1980s.

Revolution Well

This was built by Joseph Oates, in 1788 on land off Stonegate Road. It was built to celebrate the centenary of the landing of William of Orange and the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The Oates family owned land in Meanwood from 1796 and were the ancestors of Captain Lawrence Oates, who died in the ill-fated Antarctic expedition in 1912. Captain Oates was a frequent visitor to his uncle, who lived at Meanwoodside, near to the beck and from whom he inherited the estate in equal shares with his brother. The site of the well can still be seen today, in the copse of trees about 50 yards from the standing stone which marks the centre of the field off Stonegate Road.

Sisters of Mercy

A post-punk Gothic rock band which formed in Leeds in 1980. It was formed by Gary Marx and Andrew Eldritch. Over the years various performers have been members of the band by Eldritch has been a constant. The band have not released any new material since 1993 although it still tours and usually performs in Leeds each February. One of the band’s most well-known hits was Lucretia: My Reflection.


Street performer and a fairly common sight in Leeds before and just after the Second World War. The musician usually played a barrel organ known as a tinglairy, which he wheeled around the streets collecting pennies. Some of the performers brought pet performing monkeys with them as a novelty part of the show. Most of the organs were hired - in the 1920s, when they were most prolific, that cost about 2s a day.

Underground Railway

In the 1930s, Leeds City Council seriously considered the possibility of beginning work on an underground system, with the main station beneath City Square. The plans were published in the Railway Gazette in 1939. The initial plans were to have terminuses running out toward Roundhay, Cross Gates, Bramley and Hunslet. The estimated cost at the time was £500,000 per mile.

In 1944, WIlliam Moorland, general manager of Leeds City Transport, submitted a further proposal to build an underground railway system in order to ease growing traffic congestion. His east-west line was to run from the Woodpecker Junction to Wellington Street, his north-south line from North Street to Lower Briggate and from Woodhouse Lane to Neville Street via City Square. The cost of that scheme was estimated to be about £750,000 per mile but the idea was shelved on cost ground in October 1945 when the Labour group took over. The reason given at the time was that, due to the cost of the war, the council wanted to wait until more favourable economic times. However, the plans have never been officially rejected.

Vicar Lane

From 1453 there was a vicarage sites here. Later, two covered markets were built, in 1857 and from 1903-4. It was in Vicar Lane in 1645 that Alice Musgrave contracter bubonic plague. She was the first recorded victim of that outbreak.

Whiskey Money

Government grant to the town in aid of technical education. In the budget of 1890 George Goschen, Chancellor of the Exchequer, put an extra 6d on liquor to raise funds for this purpose. It was known as Mr Goschen’s Whiskey Money. In 1904, this grant allowed over £7,000 to be distributed to various educational organisations in the city.

Yorkshire Election 1807

One of the most celebrated Pre-Reform Bill elections. It was the first contested election in the county since the by-election of 1741. Two members were to be chosen from the following: Lord Milton of the Whig Party, Henry Lascelles of the Tory Party and William Wilberforce, one of the leaders of the movement for the abolition of slavery. The Leeds Intelligencer supported Lascelles, the Leeds Mercury Milton and Wilberforce. The election was plagued with violence and the mayor of Leeds assaulted a young Milton supporter and then ordered the cavalry to charge through the town with swords drawn to intimidate inhabitants. After fifteen days of voting, Wilberforce registered 11,806 votes, Milton 11,177 and Lascalles 10,989. Milton and Lascelles expenses amounted to £100,000 each.

Zion School

Founded by a Quaker in 1835, the original building was esstablished on the site of an old blacksmith’s workshop in Wortley Lane. Unlike most schools at the time, its teachers were from a variety of religions and taught children of all denominations. The same year a new school building was erected thanks to private subscriptions and a public grant. By the 1850s, it boasted 529 children and 67 teachers. It offered Sunday school and evening classes for both adults and children.

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