To try and improve conditions in the town, an Act of Parliament, the Leeds Improvement Act was passed in 1755. This resulted in the establishment of the Leeds Improvement Commission, whose first task was to provide street lighting, proper pavements, and to clean up the streets.
It is the Improvement Acts which tell us what the streets of Leeds, including Briggate, were really like at this time. For instance the 1755 Act says that: 'several Burglaries, Robberies, and other Outrages and Disorders have lately been committed, and many more attempted within the said Town, and the Streets, Lanes, Alleys, and Passages thereof, and the enlightening the said Streets and Lanes, and regulating the Pavements thereof would be of great advantage.'
It also tells us about the condition of the streets; as a result of the Act people were no longer allowed to throw rubbish (defined by the Act as 'ashes, rubbish, dust, timber, dirt, dung, filth, tubs and other annoyances') into the street, and were required to sweep up the rubbish outside their doors at 3 o'clock every Saturday afternoon, and leave it in a pile ready to be taken away. No cattle, calves, sheep lambs or swine were to be slaughtered in any part of the street except the Shambles. With all the refuse from the various markets, and with the shambles situated in the middle of the street, Briggate must have been particularly bad.
The 1755 Improvement Act was to some extent successful, but the town continued to grow and become even more congested. In 1790 a further Improvement Act was passed, to improve the town's water supply, and to further clean up the streets, and make them safe for pedestrians. Scavengers were employed to clean the streets. People were to be fined for running 'any wheel, sledge, wheelbarrow, hand barrow, truck, dray, hurry or other carriage' on the footpath. They were not allowed to roll barrels, ride or drive horses or cattle, or tie horses or cattle on or across the street. Horses were not allowed to run loose, nor could people exercise or break horses, or expose their stallions for the purpose of mating with mares in the public streets.
Unfortunately there was no-one around with a camera in the eighteenth century, but the photographs on the right, taken much later on, give us an idea of how narrow and dark many of the streets leading off Briggate were.
|Click images to enlarge|
Court off Briggate
View of Bay Horse Hotel through archway
Slaughter Yard, Briggate
Wood Street, 1898