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Origins

The manor of Leeds is recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086 as a small village situated near to a crossing point on the River Aire. The village was surrounded by open fields, which were farmed by the inhabitants, who paid dues to the lord of the manor.  In 1207, the lord of the manor was Maurice Paynel, and he created a borough, a 'new town' within the manor. A new street, later to become known as Briggate, was laid out, with thirty plots on either side. The people living on these plots were called burgesses, and they paid their rent in money (16 pence per annum), rather than as agricultural labour. They were therefore free to pursue a trade, and it was hoped that more skilled craftsmen would be attracted to the new town, and so increase the income of the manor.

Surviving medieval records tell us how the manor was organised, and from them we can piece together the way in which the inhabitants of Leeds lived their lives. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the Lord of the Manor ran his estate to produce the greatest possible income for himself. In Leeds the Lord of the Manor was an absentee landlord, and his agents, like the reeve, who was responsible for collecting the rents, ran the manor. The tenants of the Lord were the peasants who worked the land. Among them were various degrees of wealth and poverty.

Most of the tenants of the manor were bondmen or villains; they held enough land to support their families, but owed rent and various services to the Lord of the Manor. They were not however, free men; failure to pay their dues meant that they lost their land. An 'extent' or valuation of the manor, carried out in 1341 tells us that Robert Knostrop, bondman, paid rent of 4s 9d a year for his cottage, and a small adjoining plot of land and the land he farmed in the open fields. He also had to give the Lord of the manor at Christmas 4 hens worth 6d, and 40 hens' eggs, or 2d at Easter. There is also a long list of services he had to perform for the lord, including owing 'ploughing service for 2 days at the winter sowing, and 3 days at the Lent sowing receiving each day (in return from the lord of the manor) 2 loaves of rye bread and 4 herring (as well as 5d)'. Despite restrictions on his freedom, a bondman was relatively well off. He could afford to pay labourers to work his land, which could amount to a sizeable area; Robert Knostrop farmed over 55 acres.

There were also the free men or freeholders, who, like the bondmen, worked the fields, and paid rent to the Lord of the Manor, but they were free from the other obligations to the lord. They were the 'upper class' of peasant society.

The bordars or cottars were the poorest of all. They rented a cottage, and an adjoining plot of land, and worked for the free men, bondmen, and the Lord of the Manor. Some may have gained extra income by spinning weaving and dyeing cloth.

As well as agricultural labourers, the village needed craftsmen. Surnames listed in the 1258 extent include Shoemaker, Carpenter, Smithson and Baker, show that Paynel's attempt to attract trade and commerce to the village was becoming successful. Other names listed in the 1258 'extent' of the manor were Webster (weaver) Taylor, (tailor) and Lister (dyer) indicating the beginning of the woollen cloth industry in Leeds. There was plenty of opportunity for skilled craftsmen to make money in the new town; the Poll Tax returns for 1379 show that the highest taxed inhabitants included 3 blacksmiths, 2 hostlers, a cobbler, a dyer, a butcher, a mason, 2 tailors, and a merchant.

Easy availability of land meant there was also opportunity for those already well-off to increase their wealth; by the fifteenth century local gentry, like the Romes of Cat-Beeston, the Nevilles of Cundall and the de Ledes of North Hall were investing in the manor, renting many of the burgage plots on Briggate. They were influential in running the town, holding positions of importance, like that of bailiff. An example is Henry Rockley, who built Rockley Hall on the Head Row.

The earliest plan of Leeds shows the town in 1560. The cloth industry was now well established, and many people came to the prosperous town looking for work. The wool merchants became increasingly successful, and took over from the gentry as the leading inhabitants of the borough.
Click images to enlarge
Manor of Leeds, 1086
Manor of Leeds, 1086
Plan of Leeds, 1560
Plan of Leeds, 1560
Rockley Hall
Rockley Hall
Timber framed buildings in Rockley Hall
Timber framed buildings in Rockley Hall
Site of Rockley Hall
Site of Rockley Hall
Medieval tomb in Leeds Parish Church
Medieval tomb in Leeds Parish Church
Sixteenth century houses on Briggate
Sixteenth century houses on Briggate




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