A Walk Down Memory Lane with History Week Celebrations
To celebrate Wellington Place’s rich history, we hosted our very own dedicated History Week from 1st – 8th May 2019
Over the course of the week we hosted a series of events, including a History Walk and a History Talk, in addition to sharing some fascinating facts and images from years gone by, on our social media pages. One of the most popular events was the history walk, led by Urban Geographer Tour Guide and Director of Leeds City Walking Tours, Rachael Unsworth.
Rachael studied Geography BA and PhD in Land Economy at the University of Cambridge before entering into her first role as Head of Research in an international firm of surveyors in central London. She worked at the University of Leeds from 1994 – 2013 compiling research, lecturing and writing, in addition to developing policies and practices in the city. Today, she is a freelance tour leader, researcher, writer and tutor, focusing predominantly on urban regeneration, future cities and social justice.
For those who missed the tour, here Rachael gives you a glimpse into the fascinating history of Wellington Place…
So, what is the story behind the part of Leeds now known as Wellington Place?
In 1792, Benjamin Gott started to build his pioneering Park Mills on a field beside the River Aire, beyond the western edge of the old cloth trading town of Leeds. For centuries, the preparation, spinning and weaving of wool had all taken place in scattered villages and farmsteads across West Yorkshire with only the final processing and sales taking place in Leeds.
Gott, a wool merchant, had the bright idea of bringing together all the processes of cloth making and invested in a steam engine to improve efficiency. This was when the town began to play its part in the Industrial Revolution. Between Gott’s new ‘manufactory’ and the houses of the Georgian West End of Leeds, lay empty fields. The meadows remained for another 35 years until a surveyor and map-maker marked out proposed new streets on his map in 1821.
A new road was built in the 1820s but the main purpose of this was to connect Leeds and Halifax.
From Aire Street, the road headed south west across the fields, with Monk Bridge built to carry it over the River Aire. This became known as Whitehall Road and shortly after this Wellington Street was also laid out, making a proper connection to Gott’s mill.
Then came a huge new demand for land, with the first railway line reaching the other side of Leeds by 1834. Railway mania gripped Britain, with new routes being rolled out continuously. By 1848 the fields between Gott’s mill and the town centre were covered with railway lines and equipment, with Leeds Central Station being completed in 1854.
All remained in place for over 100 years, but the radical pruning of the railway system in the 1960s resulted in Leeds Central Station being closed in May 1967. The site was cleared, a new tower block was built for the Post Office, and behind it a retail warehouse park was created.
After the turn of the Millennium, with the Post Office building and the 1860s hotel both converted to apartments and many other developments on nearby sites underway or proposed, MEPC saw the opportunity to create an extensive new quarter of the city. Plans for offices, apartments and an array of facilities, including green space, were drawn up; planning permission was granted and work on the site was started.
Along came the recession and the proposals came to a halt in 2008. Whilst MEPC could have hidden the whole site behind hoardings and waited until demand picked up, the development instead decided to create green space and bring activity to the vacant land. The biggest lawn in central Leeds was created, along with beds to grow fruits and vegetables, trees were also planted, and a 5-a-side football pitch was provided.
MEPC held charity events in marquees on the grass and created offices made from several reclaimed shipping containers, which acted as a meeting place for discussions about the future shaping of the city.
By 2013, economic prospects across the UK were improving and MEPC decided to start a new development era; construction of the first office building began. By the mid-2020s, Wellington Place will be complete.
If you’re wondering what happened to Gott’s mill, it was completely demolished 175 years later and was replaced by The Yorkshire Post. This site is now being redeveloped once again.