LEEDS 2023: A House Through Time helps putting heritage in focus

Barbara Woroncow OBE, a LEEDS 2023 trustee, writes here for the YEP.

Leeds Library is a rich vein of culture in the city.
Leeds Library is a rich vein of culture in the city.

Heritage Open Days allow us to embrace our city’s rich history

The brilliant BBC series A House Through Time started again last week, and I, along with the rest of the country, have been completely hooked.

If you haven’t yet seen it, historian David Olusoga looks at the history of one house and uncovers stories about the people who’ve lived there.

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This series is particularly fascinating because it’s about a beautiful terraced house in Headingley.

I was delighted when I found out it was filmed in Leeds, as I’ve lived and worked here for more than 40 years and history has been both my passion and my work.

I’ve spent my career in heritage, working in big museums, small museums and everything in between.

I was a curator at Leeds City Museums, Chief Executive of the Yorkshire Museums Council, and I’ve worked for UNESCO in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

I’ve been to so many interesting places and discovered many stories, but, as A House Through Time proves, I always think some of the best are hidden right under your feet.

This weekend we all have the chance to get up off the sofa and find some of those hidden treasures for ourselves.

It’s the last few days of Heritage Open Days, England’s largest festival of history and culture. There are thousands of completely free events happening across the country and we have a whole host here in Leeds.

A must-see is St Aidan’s Church on Roundhay Road.

You would never guess what’s inside if you looked at it from the street, but go through the doors and you’ll be blown away.

On the back wall is a jaw-dropping mosaic in the most astounding colours of blue and green and gold - it’s like being in the Mediterranean. It was finished in 1916 and is the biggest mosaic in Northern Europe.

I saw it for the first time a few years ago with a friend who was visiting from London, and I’ve been recommending that people go and marvel at it for themselves ever since.

Tucked away above the shops on Commercial Street is another of Leeds’ best-kept secrets; The Leeds Library.

It’s the UK’s oldest surviving subscription library and was founded in 1768. I love that people are busy walking through town, doing their shopping or meeting a friend for coffee, and a library that’s older than the United States is only a few floors above them just waiting to be discovered.

Another fascinating find is the bath house in Gledhow Valley woods.

It was built in 1671 and was originally part of the Gledhow Estate. The main house is now private flats, but you can still go into the old bath house which was used by the wealthy residents of the hall.

I’d really recommend going for a walk in the woods and exploring the bath house, and you can find out more about it from the team of volunteers who protect the surrounding woodland.

I’ve always thought of Leeds as a city that rewards discovery and patience. It’s a place with so many hidden treasures and secrets, some tucked away on our busiest streets. I urge you to go out and explore some of them this weekend; you never know what you might find.

To find out more about the events you can go to this weekend, as well as events taking place online, click here.