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Origins

The map shows the waterfront as it would have appeared around 1500.  The corn mill was built close to the river and a complex system of dams and channels, or goits, was dug to divert water to power the mill. The mill goit re-entered the river beyond Leeds Bridge.  The map shows the two dams, the High Dam and the Bondman Dam, which diverted the river into the channels supplying water to the corn mill. The High Dam can still be seen from the bridge under the Dark Arches.  

The dams were built by driving two parallel rows of piles into the river bed. A framework of timber was then built between them, and the spaces filled with stone, sand, turves and faggots. The dams were sometimes damaged by flooding, as in the winter of 1383-84, when a breach in the High Dam left the channel supplying water to the mill completely dry. Repairing the dam was a laborious and costly process; stone and wood had to be brought from the surrounding district, and the sand and silt piled up in the river bed by the flood removed.

Fulling Mills
The river was also important in providing water for the textile industry. During the medieval period the most laborious part of woollen cloth making, the fulling process became mechanised with the invention of the water powered fulling mill. The soft water of the River Aire was ideal for this and a fulling mill was built in 1322, on the east side of Leeds Bridge. A second mill was built in 1356 on the west side of the bridge, and by 1600, there were fulling mills all along the northern bank of the river.  They were powered by water wheels, like the one at Nether Mills. Tenter frames for stretching and drying the wool were set out in the fields.  Villagers from the surrounding district brought their cloth to Leeds for finishing, and the town soon became an important centre for the woollen industry.

Leeds Bridge
Leeds Bridge, crossing the river at the bottom of Briggate, was built at some time during the 14th century. It is said that it was built with stones from the old Leeds castle. The cloth market was held on the bridge every Tuesday and Saturday morning until 1684, when it was moved to Briggate. The bridge was widened in 1730, 1760, and again in 1796, and was demolished in 1871 when the present bridge was built.



Click images to enlarge
Map of the waterfront as it would have been in 1500
Map of the waterfront as it would have been in 1500
King's Mill Goit, 1892
King's Mill Goit, 1892
High Dam from the Dark Arches
High Dam from the Dark Arches
Waterwheel at Nether Mills, 1954
Waterwheel at Nether Mills, 1954
Tenter Frames in the fields
Tenter Frames in the fields
Old Leeds Bridge, 1867
Old Leeds Bridge, 1867




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