Leeds was granted its first charter by Maurice Paynel in 1207, and this led to the creation of Briggate, a wide street, lined with houses and shops with gardens behind. At the northern end of Briggate, at right angles to it was the Head Row, so-called because of its situation at the 'Head' of the town. It appears on the earliest surviving plan of Leeds made in 1560. The Head Row formed the northern boundary of the medieval town; beyond were the open fields. Originally, it would have followed the line of one of the 'headlands', which gave access to the fields.
From the junction with Briggate the street slopes downwards to the east towards Lady Bridge over Sheepscar Beck, where it becomes 'the Street', the road leading eastwards to York. Westwards it climbs to Burley Bar on Butts Hill, and then slopes downwards again towards the west, where it links up to 'the Street', the road into town from Kirkstall Abbey and Wharfedale. The 1560 map shows that unlike Briggate, which had deliberately been made wide enough to accommodate the market, the Head Row was very narrow. Until the 1930s, when it was widened, it was no more than 8 yards wide.
Burley Bar marked the north western limit of the medieval township. It was important to mark the boundaries of the town: those living within them were granted privileges, like paying lower tithes, free delivery of letters within the township and exemption from jury service at York Assizes. Butts Hill, was so-called because it was near the place where the medieval townsmen practised their archery. It was also known as Merryboys Hill. The original name is remembered in Butt's Court.
The 1560 plan shows both sides of the Upper Head Row lined with buildings. Like Briggate, houses on the Head Rows would have fronted onto the street, with gardens or 'backsides' behind. One of these was Rockley Hall, which was situated at the junction of the Head Row with Vicar Lane. As the population of the town grew, the gardens behind the large houses became congested with cottages and outbuildings.
On the north side of the Head Row was a one and a half acre croft owned by Thomas Wade, who in 1530 founded a charity and directed that rents from his lands on the Head Row should 'remain and go to the use of mending, upholding, and keeping up the highways about Leeds'. The charity was administered by the Trustees of Wade's charity, and in 1893, as the result of a hearing in the High Court, it was decided that the charity's funds could be used for buying land for public parks and open spaces. The Garden of Rest in Merrion Street, and Middleton Park were both financed by funds from Wade's charity. The photograph shows properties on the site in 1928.
Towards the western end of the Lower Head Row, near the junction with Vicar Lane was the chantry of St. Mary Magdalen, founded by William Evers, Vicar of Leeds, in 1470. Thoresby, writing in 1716 says that in the registers of St. Peter's Church (the Parish Church) there is a mention of a 'Chapel at the Head Row' which had been converted to a private house, but he could find no other evidence of it.
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Earliest plan of Leeds, 1560 (redrawn)
Burley Bar Stone
Butt's Court, 1946
Wade's Properties, 1928