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1600-1800

During the seventeenth century the river was used as a source of water for the corn mill, the fulling mills, and the dye houses on the river bank. However, there was no piped water supply for domestic purposes until in 1694 George Sorocold built a water pumping engine near the bridge. Water was pumped from the river to a reservoir near St. John's Church from where it was distributed by lead pipes to houses in the town.

By this time Leeds was a thriving market town, clothiers bringing their cloth to the market, where it was bought by merchants for dyeing and finishing. It was important for the merchants to be able to export their cloth cheaply and easily. Poor road conditions and theft of goods by freebooters made road transport costly and hazardous. In 1699, the merchants solved the problem by obtaining an act of Parliament to build the Aire and Calder Navigation, and by 1700 boats could travel inland as far as Leeds. Leeds was now an inland port, with links to London and Europe through the port of Hull.

Cossins map of 1725 shows boats on the river, indicating the increased water transport due to the opening of the Aire and Calder Navigation. The town warehouse has been built just to the east of the bridge. The old King's mill can still be seen at the bottom of Mill Hill, and Sorocold's water engine is shown just off the Calls which runs from Briggate to the Parish Church. The Calls is described by Thoresby, writing in 1715, as 'a Foot Path-way thro' the Fields, by certain Gardens'. The garden of Alderman Cookson's grand house stretched down to the river, and had a summerhouse on the riverbank.

At this time most of the area we now call the waterfront was meadowland, used for grazing, and for tenter frames. Two contemporary prints show us the town of Leeds in the early 18th century. Lodge's print of 1715 views Leeds from the south bank of the river, at the point where the Hol Beck joins the River Aire. Place's Prospect of Leeds looks towards Leeds from the east. It shows the Leeds Lock at the start of the 'New Cutt', a short length of canal, which by-passes the Leeds dam.

Leeds dam, which probably dates from the medieval period, powered Nether Mills at its northern end. By 1715 there were two fulling mills here, and by the end of the eighteenth century there were nine fulling stocks, five scribbling machines, cotton spinning frames and mills for grinding dyestuffs operated by five water wheels. The owner of Nether Mills was a Mr. Fearns, and the area downstream of the mills between Timble Beck and the river is still known as Fearn's Island.

Jeffreys map of 1770 indicates that the waterfront area had not changed much since 1725. The area between the Mill Goit and the river (School Close on later maps), is shown as fields, and there is still almost no development south of the river.

The Leeds and Liverpool Canal Company built a warehouse in 1777 beside the lock (the River Lock) at the junction of the Aire with the canal. The building was designed by Richard Owen, an engineer employed by the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Company. A branch of the canal entered the building at the western end, so that boats could load and unload under cover. The interior of the building was modified at the end of the 19th century when it was used as a granary. In about 1790 a dry dock was built on the other side of the canal opposite the warehouse.





Click images to enlarge
Sorocold's Water Pumping Engine
Sorocold's Water Pumping Engine
Cossins Map, 1725
Cossins Map, 1725
Leeds from the Holbeck Road, 1715
Leeds from the Holbeck Road, 1715
Leeds from the Knostrop Road, 1715
Leeds from the Knostrop Road, 1715
Nether Mills in 1954
Nether Mills in 1954
Map of Leeds, 1770
Map of Leeds, 1770
Leeds and Liverpool Canal Warehouse, 1951
Leeds and Liverpool Canal Warehouse, 1951




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