VIDEO: Sir John Betjeman tours Victorian Leeds in 1968

This fascinating archive film shows the poet Sir John Betjeman admiring Leeds's finest buildings.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 5th October 2016, 8:52 am
Updated Wednesday, 5th October 2016, 3:39 pm

In 1968 the writer, who was also a keen architectural historian, visited the city to make a BBC documentary called A Poet Goes North.

A passionate defender of Victorian architecture, the Poet Laureate alights in City Square, where he is impressed with the statue of the Black Prince but less so with the surrounding modernist office blocks, which he describes as ‘brutes’.

He pays a visit to the Town Hall, where he discusses the building’s role in the city’s love of music and the arts, before examining the skylights of the former Marshall’s flax mills, which by the 1960s had become premises for a mail order service.

Betjeman laments the decline of Leeds’s 19th-century industries, and points out the Egyptian and Florentine influences on the old mill buildings in the ‘meadows of the Aire’.

He views St Bartholomew’s Church in Armley and many of the back-to-back houses earmarked for demolition, and is impressed by Whitelocks pub, which he describes as a ‘riot of colour’.

The writer then heads to the suburbs, touring Spenfield House in Weetwood, a Victorian villa built by the Oxley banking family in an area he calls ‘the Wimbledon of Leeds.’

He visits the graves of wealthy families in Woodhouse Cemetery and the county arcades, before ending with a glimpse into the city’s future at Seacroft, where families have been re-housed in tower blocks in the ‘new town’. He wonders whether they miss the community spirit of the slum terraces.

The film, however, was never broadcast to the public.