Historical Context

(The history and archaeology of the Country Park)

Early Prehistoric (Mesolithic – Neolithic)

It is likely that the first people to inhabit the Leeds area would have been nomadic Mesolithic hunter gatherers who crossed into Britain from Continental Europe some 6 000 years ago.

These migrants were followed by Neolithic settlers, who initiated an on-going clearance of woodland in order to make room to grow crops and keep livestock.

Late Prehistoric (Bronze Age – Iron Age)

By around 2000 BC Bronze Age migrants, also farmers, had arrived. However, these people also operated as traders, and were known to make regular use of the low-lying Aire Valley as a trade route between the Continent and Ireland, importing and exporting commodities such as jet, amber and gold. Cup and Ring carved stones found in Calverley Woods, Rawdon, Cookridge and on Hawksworth Moor are evidence of their presence, though the meaning of these carvings is not fully understood. Additionally, Bronze Age implements have been found at Hunslet, and a beaker at Tinshill.

Iron Age people, or Celts, were established by around 500 BC, bringing technological innovations such as the potter's wheel and rotary querns for grinding grain, examples of which have been found on the northern edge of the Aire Valley, above west Leeds, at Cookridge and Ireland Wood.

The Roman Period

In AD43 the Romans invaded. Finds, in west Leeds, of Roman coins and other artefacts suggests that whilst they were centrally garrisoned to the north of Leeds, there was also a Roman presence in the surrounding area, probably again making use of the Aire Valley for manoeuvring troops and supplies.

By AD 450 Roman troops returned to Rome defend their home turf. Following this, much of Yorkshire formed the territory of The Brigantes, a Celtic tribe who set up a number of Kingdoms, one of these was Elmet. This was centred on Leodis (Leeds), and although it incorporated much of present day west Leeds, the main defences appear to be around Aberford and Barwick-in-Elmet in the east of the district.

The Anglo Saxon Period

Edwin, Anglian King of Northumbria invaded in 617 AD, and Elmet was absorbed in to Northumbria. Leeds  became Edwin’s royal residence, Leodis, and it was here that the first Christian church was founded in the north. Many of today’s place names in west Leeds  were also established at this time. For example, an Anglo Saxon “ley”, was a clearing in a woodlands, hence Farnley was a clearing filled with fern; Bramley, a broom filled clearing and Armley, a clearing belonging to a farmer called Erme. In 633 AD, the township of  Leodis was taken by the pagan King Penda of Mercia.  Penda and his Mercians army was subsequently defeated in 655 AD and Leeds reverted back to the Northumbria.

The Viking Period

By 865 AD the Vikings had invaded, and were established in West Yorkshire having set up a wapentake (council) at Morley to administer the villages south of the Aire, including Armley, Beeston, Farnley, Hunslet. It is said they established a fortification at Armley, in an area still known as Giant's Hill, though no archaeological evidence is available to support this.

The Middle Ages

In 1066 William of Normandy landed in the south, defeated King Harold, and the Norman period had begun. For the first time we get a snapshot of everyday life in Leeds as documented by The Domesday Book, an audit set up by William to set taxes.

After the Conquest, Pudsey, Calverley, Farsley and Bramley, like the majority of Leeds, had been granted to Ilbert de Lacy, a Norman Baron. The Domesday Survey of 1086-7 described all of these land holdings as “waste” the result of the Harrying of the North in 1069. Prior to this, land at Podeschesaie (Pudsey) was valued at 40 shillings, while that at Caverleia (Calverley) and Ferselleia (Farsley) combined was worth only 20 shillings.  

Henry de Lacy, Ilbert’s grandson, provided the initial impetus for the founding of Kirkstall Abbey, though it was the Peitivin family who eventually gifted the land on which the Abbey was built. Work on the Abbey started in 1152 and took 30 years to complete, with millstone grit from nearby Bramley Fall being used in the construction.

At this time, the Medieval township of Pudsey was comprised of a number of small scattered settlements, Owlcote being one of the principal ones. Although this was occupied from at least the 12th Century it was abandoned in the 1930s. Today the site is registered as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

The Tudor and Stuart Period

In 1539 King Henry VIII fell out with the Catholic church and Dissolved all the monasteries, including Kirkstall. The monastery’s land and resources were seized by the Crown, and sold off, and over the ensuing centuries the Abbey was ransacked for building stone and the grounds used to graze livestock.

The woods and village of Calverley take their names from the Calverley family who lived in the area for some 600 years. Most notorious was Walter Calverley, who lived in the Old Hall, and, in 1604 killed his two young sons. Hauled off to York, Sir Walter was found guilty and pressed to death. However, his restless ghost it was said, still walked the Old Hall carrying a bloodstained knife, or sometimes  terrified the locals as it rode the area on a headless horse. Fortunately a Calverley Vicar finally laid the malevolent spirit to rest, and local legend dictates that  whilst there is holly growing in Calverley woods, Sir Walter will not reappear.

The Farnley Wood Plot was a gathering of 26 men in Farnley Woods in late 1663. Led by Captain Oates their aim was revolt against the Restoration Government of Charles II - “to reform all orders and degrees of men, especially lawyers, clergy and magistracy, to restore the Long Parliament, to take York and generally upset the order of things.”

In the event the group disbanded before taking any action, but the 26 participants paid for their actions with their lives.

The Industrial Revolution

By the middle of the 1700's, Leeds was a well-established woollen manufacturing area, with a reputation for cheap good quality cloths known as 'Northern Dozens' or 'Yorkshire Broadcloths' produced by small scale cottage industry. It was this industry however which spurred on the growth of Leeds in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century.

Merchants, hoping to expand the market for their cloth by exporting it to America and Africa, needed access to the port of Liverpool. This, and the need to improve the supply of lime and limestone from the Craven district, was the impetus required to initiate the building of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in 1765, though it wasn’t completed until 1816.

Around the same time, the first steam woollen mill was introduced at Union Bridge Mill on Roker Lane, to the south east of Pudsey, and Benjamin Gott saw the advantages of bringing all the manufacturing processes together under one roof, which he did in 1792 at his new factory, Park Mills.

In Armley too, woollen textiles formed the mainstay of industry in the 18th and 19th centuries. By 1788 the area had five waterwheels powering eighteen fulling stocks. Fulling is one of the final processes in cloth production, and involved wool being pounded, or felted, with large hammers.

By the middle of the 19th century the textile industry had begun to decline, and engineering, chemical and leather industries were expanding, as were clothing and footwear manufacture and printing.

Thomas Smith & Sons Crane and Excavator works, at Rodley, were one of the best respected manufacturers of cranes and excavators in the world, providing machinery for projects such as the building of the London Underground and the Aswan Dam in Egypt.

In 1890 Kirkstall Abbey was purchased by Colonel J North, and gifted to Leeds Corporation, who opened it to the public as a tourist attraction.

Armley Gaol was built in 1847.

20th Century

The engineering industry continued to thrive into the 20th Century, and Leeds firms were engaged in manufacturing armaments for use in the 1914-18 war.

The clothing industry became increasingly important, but between the wars the engineering industry dipped, leaving the clothing industry, and the new distribution and service industries to ensure that Leeds survived the worst of the depression.

During the Second World War many of the clothing and engineering factories across Leeds, including those west Leeds area, concentrated on producing uniforms and machinery, such as Cohen’s and sons in Stanningley, where 14 000 women were employed building Anson aircraft engines.

A Prisoner of War camp was built at Post Hill and at Armley Park, communal trench shelters were dug as protection against air raids. Across west Leeds, areas such as Bramley, Swinnow, Armley and Farnley sustained bomb damage and fatalities, and buildings such as Kirkstall Forge and Kirkstall power station were identified as bombing targets by the Luftwaffe, with the forge being hit in 1942.   

After the war although traditional manufacturing industries continued to decline, engineering, printing, chemicals and food production picked up.

21st Century

The service industry in particular has flourished, and 21st Century Leeds is one of the UK’s largest centres, outside London, for financial and business services, with the  service sector as a whole accounting for over 80 % of total employment.

There are 30 national and international banks, and a similar number of call centres, based in the city, accounting for 25% of the city’s GDP.

The city is also a centre for media and communications industries, including major regional companies and organisations.

In addition, with two Universities; one of the largest teaching hospitals in Europe; the Department of Health and several other government departments, the public sector is also a major employer in Leeds.

West Leeds Country Park and Green Gateways


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