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1800 - 1900

During the nineteenth century Leeds changed from a small town to a large manufacturing city, covered by a pall of smoke and fumes from the factory chimneys.

Between 1790 and 1840 there was a huge increase in numbers of the 'lower orders', who were now called the working classes. This was partly a result of the introduction of the factory system- factories like those of Benjamin Gott and John Marshall needed a large workforce. Also, The town was growing in prosperity, and attracting manufacturers, tradesmen, and shopkeepers, as well as those working in banking and property development. All this commercial activity meant that people came to Leeds seeking work.

There were not enough houses to accommodate all these people. Property speculators saw the chance to make some money, and put up terraces of cheap back-to-back houses, with no proper drainage or sanitation. These crowded narrow streets became the slums of Leeds, and were criticised by many social reformers. Eventually changes were made, and in the second half of the century conditions improved to some extent.

In between the merchant elite and the lower orders of the eighteenth century there had always been the craftsmen, shopkeepers and cloth workers who made up the middle classes. But now this group increased in numbers and importance. By the 1830s they made up about one fifth of the population of the town, although there was no precise division into working and middle class; many people came somewhere in between the two groups.

Some of the middle class became very wealthy indeed, overtaking the wool merchants as the leading citizens of the town. They were the upper-middle classes, and made up about one twentieth of the population. They built grand houses, like Gardenhurst, built for a member of the Kitson family, and enjoyed an opulent lifestyle, just as the merchants had done before them. The children of rich families continued to enjoy better education than those of the working classes, who often had little or no schooling.

An increase in population meant an increase in those who were very poor or destitute; the means of caring for these people were already inadequate, and became even more so in the nineteenth century. A new Moral and Industrial Training School, and a new Workhouse were built in an attempt to address the problem.
Click images to enlarge
Leeds 1840
Leeds 1840
Leeds 1858
Leeds 1858
Leeds 1885
Leeds 1885
Bean Ing Mills
Bean Ing Mills
Marshalls Mills
Marshalls Mills
Gouldens Buildings
Gouldens Buildings
Gardenhurst
Gardenhurst
Poor families - Leeds Mission photograph
Poor families - Leeds Mission photograph




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