The Park Estate took its name from the medieval park which had been part of the demesne of Leeds manor. After the sale of the manor by Charles I in 1628, the park was broken up and sold off as small closes or fields. At the end of the seventeenth century the Wilson family inherited the site of the manor house and some of these fields. Gradually the Wilsons acquired more land, and by 1761 Richard Wilson owned all the land to the west of Boar Lane and the Coloured Cloth Hall, almost as far as the township boundary. The land was made up of fields; there were no buildings except for the farms at Drony Laith and St. Peter's Hill. The northern boundary of the estate ran along Park Lane, which joined the Upperhead Row at Burley Bar at its western end.
In 1755 The Wilson family released land for the building of the Coloured Cloth Hall and for the Infirmary in 1768. In 1767 Richard Wilson granted a building lease for residential development south of what was then Park Lane, and west of what would become Park Row. The 140 acre site was ideally situated for the gentlemen merchants of the town. It was close to the Coloured Cloth Hall, and the town centre, yet secluded; the streets (except for Park Row) were laid out so that they did not connect with a public highway. The site was on a south facing slope with good drainage, but was far enough above the river to avoid flooding. The prevailing south westerly wind carried away the smoke from the dyehouses and workshops of the east of the town.
The first streets to be built were Park Row, and South Parade. The new streets were wide, with terraces of large houses originally facing a large open space, 'the Square.' The development was extended to the west by East Parade, Park Place and Park Lane, and in 1788 building work began on Park Square. The garden in the centre of Park Square is still there to-day. The houses of Park Place had views across the fields to the river; opposite, across the road were gardens leading down to an ornamental canal. The size of each plot of land, and the design of the houses varied according to the wishes of the leaseholder. The residents were some of the leading families in Leeds, including merchants, lawyers, surgeons and members of the clergy. The estate had its own church, St. Paul's, built on the south side of Park Square. The Leeds Guide of 1806 describes Park Place as 'a very elegant range of buildings, with a south aspect, and which commands a very pleasing view of the country, particularly of the River Aire; all the houses are built in a very superior style etc.'
The development was never completed. The outbreak of war with France meant that people had less money to invest in property, and by 1792 the Wilson family no longer lived in Leeds, and as absentee landlords, were less concerned about the fate of the Park Estate. In 1793 Benjamin Gott bought land at Bean Ing and built his new woollen mill, Park Mills, there. Smoke from this and other factories and dye works affected Park Estate so that the residents could no longer hang out their washing to dry, and plants in their gardens were blackened with soot. The land to the south of Park Square was sold for industrial use, and between Bean Ing Mill and Park Square streets of overcrowded back-to-back houses were built, bringing the fear of infectious disease to the residents of the Park Estate. Those who could afford to move did so, and bought houses further out of the town.
In 1805 the open space enclosed by East Parade, Park Row and East Parade was sold for building land. Greek Street and Russell Street were laid out on it, and it became the business district of the town. The area was subjected to increased traffic because of the new turnpike road to Bradford. During the nineteenth century, the houses of the Park Estate, vacated by their wealthy owners to escape the smoke nuisance and the fear of infectious disease, were converted to offices.
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Plan of Park Estate, 1815
Extract from Leeds Mercury, 24th June 1777
Houses in Park Square
Nos.41 and 42 Park Square, 1948
Houses in Park Place, 1949
Original doorway of house in Park Square
St Paul's Church, Park Square, 1816