A Brief History of Leeds

Leeds’ history can be traced back to the 5th Century when the Kingdom of Elmet was covered by the forest of Loidis, which is thought to be the origin of the name of Leeds. The borough of Leeds was created in 1207 and in 1626 a new charter of incorporation was granted which united the entire parish including a further eleven townships. Leeds became a county borough in 1889 which gave it independence from the West Riding County Council and in 1893 it gained its city status.

Leeds Corn ExchangeIn the Middle Ages, Leeds developed as a market town as part of the local agricultural economy, and in the 17th and 18th centuries it became a major centre for the production of wool and woollen cloth. During the Industrial Revolution it grew into a major industrial centre which handled one sixth of England’s export trade. This growth was further aided by the building of the Aire and Calder Navigation in 1699 and in later years, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in 1816. There was also an evolving rail network around Leeds which began with the Leeds and Selby railway, followed by an east-west connection with Manchester, Liverpool and Hull. This, in turn gave greater access to the international markets. However, it wasn’t just the international markets that were flourishing, there was also a growing local market with continued interest and demand for agricultural commodities which led to the Leeds Corn Exchange (left) being opened in 1864.

While wool and flax mills were the dominant industry, with a boom in factories being built in the early 1800’s by the early 1900’s printing, engineering and clothing manufacture had become a major part of Leeds’ industrial scene. Although there was a slight slump during the War years, manufacture focused on the production of military uniforms and munitions during World War II. The clothing industry continued to decline however as cheap foreign competition took over, however Leeds City Council had the vision to market the city as a “24hour European City” and a “Capital of the North” and has since become a telephone banking centre connected to the electronic infrastructure of the modern global economy. The corporate and legal sectors have also developed in Leeds and this increased affluence has led to a rich and diverse retail sector which includes a luxury goods market. In 2011 it was announced that Leeds will become an enterprise zone, helping small businesses in the area to increase in economic growth.

Leeds expanded from a compact market town in the 16th Century and absorbed the surrounding villages to become the bustling urban centre it is today.