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1900-1980
Decline of the Waterfront.
At the beginning of the 20th century the waterways were still very busy, though by this time mainly used for heavy goods such as stone, timber, hides, grain and potatoes. Coal was delivered by barge to the new power stations at Kirkstall, Whitehall Road, and Crown Point. But the importance of the waterways as a transport system had been in decline since the early 19th century.  

There were two main reasons for this.
First, road transport became easier. New turnpike roads were built, and new bridges had been built over the river at Whitehall Road (1818), Newlay (1819),Monk Bridge (1827), South Accommodation Road (1828), and Crown Point (1840). During the latter part of the century existing bridges at Leeds, Kirkstall, Canal Road, Monk Bridge and South Accommodation Road were rebuilt. The river was no longer a barrier to north-south road transport.

Second, expansion of the railways provided more efficient transport than the waterways. The Leeds Bradford railway built in the 1840s, was followed in 1866-69 by the building of the New Station, and a viaduct, which cut through the town centre north of the river, linking Marsh Lane station with the western lines. Many of the larger firms built their own branch lines so that they could move products around the factory site, and have a direct link with the railway system.

Roads and railways provided serious competition to the Navigation and Canal companies. The situation was made worse by the decline in heavy industries, the mainstay of the waterways system. This began in Leeds in the 1920s and 1930s, and as manufacturing industry continued to decline through the 1940's, 50's and 60's, and the waterways were superceded by roads and railways, the waterfront buildings were no longer needed. Many fell into disrepair, and the whole waterfront area became neglected and derelict. The boat yard on the canal basin still repaired barges, but no longer built them.

In 1946 Tom Rolt and Robert Aickman together with other enthusiasts  founded the Inland Waterways Association, and in 1948 under the provision of the 1947 Transport Act the waterways were brought into public ownership. The Transport Act of 1962 created the British Waterways Board. However, long term underfunding led to continued decline.

By the 1970s there was almost no commercial traffic on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. However the Aire and Calder Navigation continued in operation. British Waterways built a new depot at Knostrop in 1950, and companies such as Sellers Sand and Gravel continued to use the waterway until 1990. At the end of the 1970s many of the buildings along the waterfront were derelict, the towpaths were overgrown, and the river still heavily polluted. Sewage and industrial effluent were still discharged into the river. Bridges and buildings were black with industrial pollution accumulated over two hundred years. Waterside streets like the Calls were gloomy and unsavoury.

The photograph of the waterfront in 1981 shows that many of the buildings, though some are still in use, are in a poor state of repair. The old Aire and Calder warehouse, built in 1827, has been demolished, except for the stone arches at the base of the building which are still there. The wharves are used as car parks, and there is not a boat in sight on the river. But the potential of the waterfront for recreation, as a place to live and as a tourist attraction were beginning to be realised.



Click images to enlarge
Co-op Wharf, c.1916
Co-op Wharf, c.1916
Victoria Coal Wharfe and Boatyard c.1935
Victoria Coal Wharfe and Boatyard c.1935
Warehouse Hill Wharf, 1913
Warehouse Hill Wharf, 1913
Warehouse Hill Wharf, 1948
Warehouse Hill Wharf, 1948
Coal Basin, 1951
Coal Basin, 1951
Boatyard, c.1930
Boatyard, c.1930
River Aire, 1950
River Aire, 1950
Low Fold Mills, 1950
Low Fold Mills, 1950
Discharge pipe, 1950
Discharge pipe, 1950
View from Leeds Bridge, 1981
View from Leeds Bridge, 1981




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