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1850-1900

An Inland Port
At this time, Leeds was an important inland port, with barges bringing raw materials into the town, and moving finished products away to both domestic and foreign markets.

Some of the raw materials brought into Leeds were:
Flax and wool for the textile industry,
Coal to power factories and heat houses,
Stone, slate and marble for building construction,
Limestone and iron ore for the iron and steel works,
Clay and flint for the potteries,
Timber for building construction, and for making furniture etc.
Corn for flour and animal feed,
Seeds for manufacturing oils, and milling into mustard,
Hides for leather manufacture,
Wood for making dyes,
Wines and luxury goods,
Produce from the colonies such as sugar, rum, and spices.

Exports from Leeds included: wool and linen cloth, engineering products of all kinds, coal, stone, leather, canvas, glass, and many other items manufactured in Leeds.

For five hundred years the old Leeds Bridge had been the main crossing point over the river, but by the middle of the 19th century the old medieval bridge could no longer cope with the volume of traffic passing along the main north south route through the town. It was demolished in 1871 and replaced by the present structure.

Industry and its effect on the River
By the 1840s both banks of the river were lined with factories, including textile mills, engineering works, chemical works, dyehouses, oil mills, iron forges, print works, corn mills, tanneries and saw mills. All this industrial activity, while bringing great wealth to the town, had a disastrous effect on the river, which became heavily polluted. Robert Baker, writing in 1858 said: 'Though a trout stream within the last twenty years, having footpaths clothed with avenues of trees it is now nothing but an open sewer, containing the sewerage of Bradford and Shipley, and lastly of all the Mills, Dyehouses, Tanneries and workshops which crowd its western banks'.

Many of the manufacturing processes, e.g. dyeing, needed water from the river. Bank Mills, a flax mill, used water at a rate of 1,000 gallons/minute (600,000 gallons a day). After use the water was returned to the river which became polluted with the effluent from dye works, mills, tanneries, and with the ash and cinders from engineering works. It was also used for the disposal of all kinds of rubbish and the sewage from the town. Dead animals were also a problem; the River pollution commission of 1867 estimated that 50 dead animals were removed from the river each day.

The smell from the river was appalling, and Mr Tennant working at Bank Mills had to keep his window shut in summer because of it. Alfred Orage writing in 1894 described the river thus: 'the Aire is simply a huge sewer: it has the filth of Leeds in suspension'. The waterfront in the late 1800s, would not have been a pleasant place to be! The Ordnance Survey map of 1893 shows how the waterfront had developed since the beginning of the century.

The Railways
The most important change in the second half of the 19th century was the building of the railway and Wellington Station and New Station over the river, and the northern part of the Canal Basin. Wellington Station was built in 1846, and in 1866-69, the North Eastern Railway company constructed the New Station to connect lines from Bradford and the west to their station at Marsh Lane and lines to York, Selby and the North East.

The station was built over a series of arches, spanning the river, and the northern part of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Company's property. This magnificent structure the Dark Arches - is still there to-day. Originally the arches were used for storage, some of them by Joseph Watson & Sons, soap manufacturers, to store resin, oil and tallow. In 1892 these caught fire, and the bridge and railway line over the canal basin were destroyed. The bridge was rebuilt, and the line restored in only 5 days.

Click images to enlarge
Busy wharf, Warehouse Hill
Busy wharf, Warehouse Hill
Timber island, Crown Point
Timber island, Crown Point
Crown Point 1892
Crown Point 1892
Old Leeds Bridge, 1849
Old Leeds Bridge, 1849
New Leeds Bridge, 1898
New Leeds Bridge, 1898
Waterfront, west, Ordnance Survey map, 1893
Waterfront, west, Ordnance Survey map, 1893
Waterfront, east, Ordnance Survey map, 1893
Waterfront, east, Ordnance Survey map, 1893
Plan of New Station, 1864
Plan of New Station, 1864
Dark Arches
Dark Arches
Fire damage at New Station, 1892
Fire damage at New Station, 1892




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