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Poverty and Riches

This is an account of the differences between the way the rich and the poor people lived in Leeds from the seventeenth century until the beginning of the 1900s. It also tells how those in authority in the city cared for the poor, from the benevolence of John Harrison and the creation of the workhouse to the social reformers and increasing provision by the council of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

It was in the nineteenth century that the gulf separating the rich and the poor in Leeds became really apparent, brought to everyone's attention by social reformers like Robert Baker. With the advent of photography it became possible to document the conditions in the slums of the city. Through these photographs, and the reports of Baker, and many others we ourselves can get in touch with the way the poorest citizens of Leeds lived at that time.

The account presented here is not, of course, the whole story. This is a huge subject, and it is only possible to give an overview, with some examples from surviving records, of how things were for the people of Leeds in the past. Also, the terms rich and poor describe the extremes; many people were neither rich nor poor, but somewhere in between. For those who want to study the subject in greater depth, the bibliography gives information on sources and suggestions for further reading.

Poverty and Riches researched and written by Suzanne Grahame

Click images to enlarge
Mason's Buildings
Mason's Buildings
Meanwood Towers, 1950
Meanwood Towers, 1950

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© 2003 Leeds City Council | Site created by: LCC electronic information team | 25 March 2003