Leeds is an unlikely place to find a three-thousand year old Egyptian mummy. But the coffin containing the embalmed remains of Nesyamun, a priest of the ancient god Amun, was brought to Leeds in 1823 having been unearthed near Thebes in Egypt. It became the star exhibit in the newly formed Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society’s museum on Park Row (“The Philosophical Hall”) which also housed rooms for the society’s meetings, a hall for lectures and recitals, and an extensive library.
Although his coffin bears an inscription praying for Nesyamun’s freedom of movement in an eternal afterlife, it was probably not anticipated by the tomb-scribes that his soul’s wanderings would bring him to West Yorkshire. His mummified remains, however, have not since been allowed to rest in peace.
Park Row, Leeds, 1882, by Leeds artist John Atkinson Grimshaw. Public domain
The Philosophical Hall, built in 1821 to a neo-classical design by Leeds architect R. D. Chantrell, appears in the left-foreground of Atkinson Grimshaw’s wonderfully moody, and appropriately spooky, evocation of late-Victorian Park Row (above). So successful was the Philosophical and Literary Society, and its museum, that the hall was substantially enlarged and renovated in 1862 by architects Dobson & Chorley, who gave it the impressive porch we see in the painting. The splendid Italian-gothic Beckett’s Bank appears opposite (designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, who also built the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station in London).
On visiting Leeds in 1896, The Builder magazine praised Park Row “for its remarkable succession of large and dignified buildings”, adding, “…it is not often that one meets with a modern city street which can show so large a proportion of buildings that are worth notice.” For almost 150 years Park Row was home to the earthly remains of Nesyamun, the “Leeds Mummy”, but, inevitably, few of the street’s buildings “worth notice”, now remain.
By the time of its renovation in the eighteen-sixties, the Philosophical Hall’s museum (according to its historian, E. Kitson Clark) “…was equal, if not superior, to that of any other provincial institution. It comprised 7,000 geological, 1,300 Mineralogical, 6,000 Zoological specimens, and the most remarkable Mummy in the kingdom.”
Other notable exhibits were the skeleton of a female elephant, late of Wombwell’s traveling Menagerie, and those of an Irish elk, an Ichthyosaurus and a Plesiosaurus, plus the stuffed bodies of a young lion, an armadillo and a boa constrictor, also acquired from Wombwell’s. The bones and teeth of a “Great Northern Hippopotamus”, discovered in a brick-yard at Wortley, were featured, as were two skulls of extinct bears, a slab of Breccia with prehistoric flint implements from the Dordogne Valley, and mummies of crocodiles, plus implements and bones from a tumulus on Esketh Moor, near Thirsk. The Archaeological Room displayed a magnificent collection of Greek Marbles, Roman Altars and Querns, together with a tessellated Roman pavement from Isurium (Aldborough, Yorkshire).
Entry was cheap and, “The Museum attracted thousands of visitors, many of whom were in the humbler walk of life, whose decorous conduct…deserved commendation” (presumably their “decorous conduct” was not normally to be relied upon!). A photo of the Zoological Room shows an impressive space well-lit by skylights, with large exhibits in the middle, surrounded by a good many (now terminally old-fashioned) glass display cases at floor level, and a further course of collections running along a gallery above.
It may seem perverse to bomb someone who has already been dead for three-thousand years, but on 15th March 1941 a German air-raid shell exploded in the Philosophical Hall and disturbed Nesyamun’s slumbers. The building’s frontage was destroyed and three floors towards the front collapsed, so that the curator found himself conducting an archaeological dig in the wreckage of his own museum.
Although the glass case surrounding Nesyamun’s coffin was shattered, the coffin and the mummy within were largely undamaged. Rubble was swiftly cleared, exhibits were recovered, and damage done to taxonomic figures (such as that of Mok the Gorilla, late of London zoo) was repaired. Much of the building, and its essential structure, remained intact, so that the museum’s lunch-time music recitals in the lecture hall were resumed after just a few months’ work, and the whole building was reopened by the Lord Mayor in June 1942.
Given this, it is maddening that the Philosophical Hall was closed in 1965, and demolished the year after, to make way for the atrocious HSBC building that now occupies its spot. The hall had been transferred into the ownership of Leeds Corporation in 1921 and that body never properly restored the frontage, settling for a temporary concrete render that gave it a “makeshift appearance” (according to the Yorkshire Post in 1953). The glorious Beckett’s Bank building, opposite, was demolished around the same time to make way for an anonymous NatWest Bank.
Today’s City Museum (including Nesyamun, and the Great Stuffed Bengal Tiger) was opened in the Mechanics Institute building on Cookridge Street in 2008. Good effort though this is, it only displays a tiny fraction of the collections on show in the old building (the rest is in storage), which could claim to be a natural and local history museum of national importance. Also lost is the architectural quality of the Philosophical Hall itself, and its quality as a centre of municipal cultural and intellectual life. Meanwhile Nesyamun slumbers on – indifferently and indestructibly – as the millennia roll past.
A reconstruction of how the coffin of Nesyamun might originally have appeared. By Tomohawk (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Books: The History of 100 Years of Life of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, E. Kitson Clark (1924); The Coffin of Nesyamun, the “Leeds mummy, Belinda Wassell (2008); Building a Great Victorian City, Leeds Architects and Architecture, 1790-1914; West Yorkshire Architects and Architecture, D. Linstrum (1978).
Newspapers: The Builder, 12/12/1896; Leeds Mercury, 17/12/1862; Yorkshire Evening Post, 27/3/1941, 2/3/1942; Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 24/3/1941, 28/3/1941, 24/6/1942, 7/7/1941, 3/8/1944, 15/7/1953
The Cardigan Arms, on Kirkstall Road, is the last of Tetley’s once much-vaunted Victorian “Big Three” Burley pubs to still be in business. Along with the Rising Sun (now derelict) and the Queen Hotel (now a supermarket) the Grade II listed Cardigan was described as “superb” in a 1988 survey of old Leeds pubs. With its five rooms, each of individual character, and its fine original tiling, woodwork, glasswork and brasswork, the place remains a tremendous (and rare) example of the late Victorian gin-palace.
It is, however, unlikely to last long in its current shabby and unloved condition, exacerbated by the flooding it suffered when the River Aire burst its banks on Boxing Day, 2015. Its closure would be a frightful loss, especially so since the Cardigan name features prominently in Leeds’s history. Indeed, the failings of the 7th Earl of Cardigan (famous for leading the charge of the light brigade and known to some as the “Homicidal Earl”) were indirectly responsible for the present building’s existence.
The Cardigan Arms by Tim Green, taken 20th January, 2017: https://www.flickr.com/photos/atoach/31617447153
An earlier “Cardigan Arms” stood on the same spot from about 1806, when a turnpike road was laid from Leeds to Kirkstall (Kirkstall Road). This was probably a coaching inn, as it was then surrounded by fields and the nearest village (Burley) was some way distant. Despite the building of the Leeds-Harrogate railway line viaduct nearby in the 1840s, the inn stayed beyond the reach of urbanisation for a long while. Whilst Leeds was advancing rapidly towards it by the late 1880s, its setting was still predominantly countrified in character. “Cardigan Field” opposite then housed sports recreation grounds, and horse-drawn omnibuses trundled sedately past.
Up to then this had all been Brudenell land. The Brudenell family, hereditary earls of Cardigan, owned over half of what was then termed the township of “Headingley cum Burley”, as part of the vast former Kirkstall Abbey estates they had inherited in 1671. This accounts for the many appearances of “Brudenell” and “Cardigan” in local place-names, though their family seat was actually at Deene Park in Northamptonshire and they had extensive further lands there and elsewhere.
In 1837, James Thomas Brudenell came into his inheritance as the 7th Earl of Cardigan. Tall, lean, golden-haired and luxuriantly be-whiskered, his likenesses in portraiture offer a caricature of the dashing Victorian cavalry officer. But the man himself seems to have been a caricature of the arrogant, aristocratic cad. As a serial adulterer and philanderer he was often the subject of high-society scandal, and, as an acrimonious bully with a bad temper he often attracted the hatred of brother army officers. And it was his penchant for duelling that earned him the sobriquet “the Homicidal earl”.
James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan by Sir Francis Grant
Even the 7th earl’s one moment of glory, when he led the charge of the light brigade at the Crimean War battle of Balaclava in 1854, was tempered by the fact that the enterprise was a suicidal disaster. Of the 673 men and horses who began the charge, 113 men and 475 horses were killed and many more badly injured. Cardigan, who was undoubtedly brave, maintained that he acted correctly, though the debate about who was at fault continues.
And the earl had a similarly cavalier attitude to financial prudence, since his excessive gambling and extravagant high-living saddled the family with huge debts on his death in 1868. The Yorkshire lands were by then heavily mortgaged. His highly eccentric widow Lady Adeline Cardigan, to whom he left a life-interest, set out to match him in excess and dissipation, which landed the estate in ever-deeper financial trouble.
This occasioned a sale by auction of all the Cardigan lands in Leeds, which took place over four days in December 1888 at the Albert Hall (the lecture theatre at the Mechanics Institute, Cookridge Street– now Leeds City Museum). The old Cardigan Arms, together with a substantial building plot behind it, was sold to Mr William Child for £6,250. Another notable lot, offered for sale the same day, included the ruins of Kirkstall Abbey. In truth it was a good time to sell, because agricultural land was depressed in price but land released for house-building was at a premium. And Leeds was on the verge of a huge building boom.
Within a few short years, the old Cardigan Arms found itself within a newly developed quarter (described in 1897 as “a rather superior residential neighbourhood” by Jackson’s Leeds guide) and had electric trams running to-and-fro outside. The sports grounds of Cardigan Fields opposite disappeared under acreages of terraced housing (now demolished and replaced by shopping and leisure facilities). The ramshackle old inn had become dilapidated, however, and was not up to catering for an urban population, and the magnificent replacement we see today was built in 1895. The architect was Thomas Winn, of Albion Street, and the licensee was Mr Benjamin Greaves.
I remember many jolly evenings spent in the “Cardy”, in the days when it was warming and well-patronised and welcoming. I re-visited it one recent lunchtime to find myself one of only two customers, and no real ales on tap. A couple of other people were there doing some redecorating, apparently in preparation for the pub to be closed for a while for use as a film set. This historic building should surely be refurbished to act as a living entity, not relegated to being an occasional museum-piece film backdrop. The Adelphi in town shows just what can be done with such places.
(There is an initiative afoot to buy the Cardigan Arms and turn it into a community owned pub: https://www.cardiganarms.coop/)
Books: “Jackson’s Guide to Leeds” (1897); “The Brudenells of Deene”, Joan Wake (1953); “The Homicidal Earl: the life of Lord Cardigan”, Saul David (1966); “The Rise of Suburbia” ed., F.M.L Thompson (1982); “Old Inns and Pubs of Leeds”, Barrie Pepper (1988); “Chapters in Headingley History”, Michael Collinson; DNB entry on “Brudenell, James Thomas”.
Newspapers: Leeds Mercury, 12/12/1888, 25/8/1894, 8/9/1894; Yorkshire Post & Leeds Intelligencer, 15/12/1888; Yorkshire Evening Post, 23/8/1894.
Maps: Lands belonging to the earl of Cardigan (J Dickinson, 1711); Ordnance Survey Maps (Leeds, 1852, 1893 & 1908).
The North Street area of Leeds is a bit of an inner city nowhere-land these days. Few people live there, and a recent visit one afternoon finds it largely bereft of pedestrians. Very little of the original nineteenth-century built environment remains, though one curious survivor does still stand. With its elegant classical frontage cleaned and restored the building in question looks prim, almost sterile. One can imagine it having been a high-class drapery shop, or an insurance office, or even a non-conformist chapel. But it actually started out life as a pub, and it appears to have been a very lively one at that.
The former Smithfield Hotel, North Street. By Tim Green
Built in 1861, the Smithfield Hotel was named after the Smithfield Cattle Market which then occupied the land opposite that is now called Lovell Park. In those days it was commonplace for livestock to be driven through city streets, and the market held a Cattle Fair twice a week when some 500 heads of cattle, and 4,000 sheep and lambs might be displayed. There was also a General Fair half-yearly and the Great Show of the Smithfield Club annually.
The Smithfield’s bars must have regularly been thronged with farmers and drovers and dealers and auctioneers. The densely populated surrounding area provided a large potential customer-pool too, accommodating as it did the maze of overcrowded dwellings and tailoring sweatshops that constituted the Leylands. And the hotel backed onto the extensive Smithfield Ironworks of engineering firm Thomas Green & Sons.
Smithfield Hotel 15th April 1897. By kind permission of Leeds Library and Information Services, www.leodis.net subject to broadcaster agreement
Surmounted by a tower, fitted with an illuminated clock, the place was a sizable and imposing establishment. On the ground floor it had a vaults, a taproom, a snug, a main bar and a kitchen. The first floor had a billiard room, three sitting rooms, and a bathroom. Spacious ale, spirit and coal cellars were in the basement, and outside was a brew-house, a coach house and a stable block. On the second floor were six bedrooms, though the hotel does not seem to have been primarily residential. No paying guests are recorded as staying there on census night in 1871, when John Maude, the Hotel Keeper, was in residence with his wife Bessy and their daughters Polly, Annie, Isabel and Emily. A cook, a house maid, a groom and a waiter also lived-in.
Sufficient event occurred there from time-to-time to involve the courts and to excite press interest. One evening in 1866, a knife changed hands in the taproom that was later-on used to desecrate St. Matthew’s Church in nearby Little London. In 1868, a tramp who loitered about “that excellent hostelry” and was given to sleeping in its brew-house, fell into a beer-vat of boiling water and was scalded to death. In 1876, a drover enjoying a glass of beer there trod on the paw of a retriever lying under his settle and was badly bitten by the dog, which turned out to have rabies. He contracted “the usual symptoms of madness [hydrophobia] and he died in great agony”.
In 1885 the then landlord, Councillor William Metcalfe, was attacked with a stick in his own bar by an obscenity-spouting drunk. In court the offender quoted extensively from the Psalms, which did not prevent him being jailed for three months. In 1894 William Fawcett, who succeeded Metcalfe as publican, was summoned for having permitted music to be played on the premises without a licence. In 1903, Fawcett endured a night-time kitchen fire at the hotel that caused significant damage.
Of course, the place was not wholly subject to untoward happenings. It also hosted a wide range of social activities. A Four-in-hand club met there, before setting off on country outings. Messrs Oliver & Appleton, auctioneers of Albion Place, regularly held land sales by auction in one of the upstairs sittings rooms, and sales of all kinds of property were advertised to take place on the premises. Public meetings on contentious issues of the day were conducted there, as were political debates at election times. Billiard competitions were popular, and the Smithfield Club conducted its general proceedings and planned its livestock shows there.
By 1886, having such a noisome facility as a cattle market in the central area come to be considered an inconvenient nuisance by the city fathers and it was closed, its home being transferred to Gelderd Road. The five-acre site was then converted into the Recreation Ground that is now Lovell Park. The Smithfield Hotel had been much frequented by those having business at the market, and it is likely that the place was never the same again. It was finally closed as licensed premises in 1927, probably suffering from a further loss of clientele as more prosperous elements moved northwards out of the Leylands into Chapeltown.
Later, it was for long the entrance block to Thomas Green & Son’s Ironworks which, in turn, closed down in 1975. Despite its striking appearance, the former hive of local life seems strangely invisible in its present incarnation as offices. It sits there rather forlornly, unnoticed by passing motorists and bus passengers and largely unremarked upon in folk memory.
Books: “The Changing Face of Leeds”, B. Godward; “Jackson’s Guide to Leeds”, R. Jackson; “Leeds. A Historical Dictionary of People, Places and Events”, D. Thornton; “A History of Modern Leeds”, ed., D. Fraser; “Images of Leeds (1850-1960)”, P. Brears.
Newspapers: Leeds Intelligencer: 23/6/1866. Yorkshire Post & Leeds Intelligencer: 31/10/1874; 31/11/ 1874; 6/4/1875; 25/6/1886; 16/7/1927. Leeds Times: 21/9/1861; 28/9/1861; 4/7/1868; 7/2/1885. Yorkshire Evening Post: 30/5/1894; 10/11/1903. Leeds Mercury: 31/8/1861; 25/9/1862; 4/7/1868; 12/6/1876; 7/11/1903; 31/12/1903.
Leeds Directories: White’s (1866); Porter’s (1872); Kelly’s (1881, 1900, 1904, 1927, 1929).
I am not the first idler on his way into the Adelphi pub to notice that Leeds Bridge House bears a striking resemblance to the (rather more famous!) Flatiron Building in New York City, albeit on a more modest scale. Both are wedge-shaped and built in pleasingly Italianate styles on triangular corner sites between busy thoroughfares. The Leeds version is Grade II listed and was completed in 1881, preceding the arrival of its sky-scraping Manhattan counterpart by twenty years. Perhaps the latter’s American architect, Daniel Burnham, paid a covert visit to Yorkshire in search of some old-world inspiration? Perhaps not, but there is an interesting tale to tell about the early years of Leeds Bridge House as a landmark of Victorian moral paternalism.
I am grateful to Jon Howe and Jeffrey Zeldman for this composite image
The site for the building, bounded by Hunslet Road, Hunslet Lane and Waterloo Street, was acquired from Leeds Corporation by local banker John James Cousins on 6th October 1879. It was one lot in a general sale by auction of development land south of Leeds Bridge, and it cost him £1,338. Cousins, who lived at Allerton Park, north of the city, was manager of the Exchange and Discount bank on Park Row, and he hired architects Messrs. Adams & Kelly, also of Park Row, to design a building to fit the unusual shape of the plot. The conveyance to Cousins stipulated that the construction was to be at least forty feet in height, and the site invited something out of the ordinary since it is in the centre of one’s eye-line at the south end of Leeds Bridge.
In his inaugural address to the Leeds Architectural Society in 1881, its president, Mr J.B. Fraser F.R.I.B.A., welcomed the result as “a noteworthy and handsome addition to our public buildings, and very creditable to the architects”. He mentioned it in the context of “the increasing demand for better provision for the bodily comfort and for the improvement of the mental and moral status of the poorer classes.” This is because Cousins conceived the building as a so-called “People’s Café”.
The People’s Café movement, now apparently forgotten, was formed in 1874 “to establish places of resort and recreation for working men, conducted on temperance principles, but sufficiently attractive to compete with the beershop and the gin-palace.” Its promoters included the great nineteenth century Tory social reformer, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, prominent church temperance campaigner Canon Ellison, and hard-line Victorian self-help moralist Sir Charles Trevelyan. The idea was that financial support would be given to suitable men to start such businesses, who would then be left to manage them on a commercial, but strictly temperance basis.
The Leeds “People’s Café” was announced open by an advertisement in the Yorkshire Post of 3rd September 1881, where it was stressed that its “Breakfasts, Diners, Teas and Suppers of the best quality are supplied at prices within the reach of everyone.” It also offered overnight accommodation in the shape of thirty “excellent bedrooms from 4s per week, or 1s per night,” and “Hot and Cold Private Baths, 3d”. The initial manager was a Mr C. Dilly, who had given way by 1886 to a Mr J. Walker.
An impression of their character and facilities comes from a description of a People’s Café newly opened in May 1875 at Whitechapel in London’s East End (this was the second such establishment, the first being in London’s Whitecross Street): “It is bright and cheerful within, and well ventilated. On the ground floor is a good-sized coffee-room, well supplied with little marble-top tables, and upstairs are a reading-room, where also is to be collected a small library, a room where chess, draughts, dominoes, and the like may be played; a room for billiards and also for bagatelle.” It was anticipated that the basement of the Whitechapel café would become an American bowling alley.
The scheme’s initial promoters were sure that people would flock “to make use of such places when the places are ready for them”, but the fortunes of the Leeds establishment suggest otherwise. The Leeds Mercury of 26th September 1888 reported that (after only seven years of trading) the business’s name had been altered to the “Cobden Temperance Hotel”. Taken over by the St James’s Hall Committee and “fitted up” on the same plan as the St James’s Hall (presumably the concert hall in the West End of London), it seems that the premises had, in modern parlance, been “rebranded”.
These new promoters were reported as expecting it to “prove an equally successful venture” as the St James’s Hall itself, and its reopening was graced with a recital of songs by the Temperance Choral Society performed to an assembly of worthies including the manager of St James’s Hall, Mr A. E. Brayshaw. But such high hopes were soon dashed. By June 1895, the ground floor had been converted into shops and the upper stories had fallen into disuse. Cousins died on 1st December 1897, when the main body of the building was still unoccupied. So it remained in November 1901, when his executors sold it to Nelson & Co Ltd (tea merchants of Louth in Lincolnshire). But the cycle of failure persisted, as that company was put into liquidation by creditors’ petition on 7th February 1905.
Thereafter the building was given over to commercial or office use, and eventually dereliction when it narrowly escaped demolition. It has never been returned to the hospitality trade, with or without an alcohol licence. Most likely it was simply built in the wrong place to serve a significant temperance market. Jackson’s city guide of 1889 describes what it quaintly calls “transpontine Leeds” (that is to say the working class suburbs of Hunslet and Holbeck stretching south from Leeds bridge) as “not famous for many of the charms which attract the eye of the beholder…now one vastness of toiling humanity”. Perhaps the citizenry south of the river did not care to be patronised by a dry venue aiming at their moral improvement, when there were any number of wet pubs close at hand.
And however cultured the later Cobden Temperance Hotel may have been, abstaining visitors would surely have preferred to stay at one of several more convenient temperance hotels in the city centre (over twenty are listed as trading there in the eighteen-nineties) rather than venturing into a noisy, dirty and probably rough part of town. Nowadays there is virtually no sign of its initial incarnation inside, apart from a dumb-waiter shaft which runs the full height of the building, presumably from what was originally a basement kitchen, with service hatches on each of its five floors. It is currently tenanted by charitable organisations, so in a way the place has returned to its philanthropic roots.
Sources & Acknowledgments:
Revised Listed Buildings, City of Leeds, Vol. 2 (The entry for Leeds Bridge House wrongly gives its time of construction as c.1875); West Yorkshire Architects and Architecture, Derek Linstrum, 1978, pp. 370, 379; Leeds The Architectural Heritage, G. Sheeran & I. Beesley, 1993, pp. 40-1; Kelly’s, Post Office and Robinson’s Leeds Street Directories; The Builder, 1874 pp. 225-6, 1875 p. 472, 1881 pp. 676-7; Yorkshire Post and Leeds Mercury for the dates appearing in the text; Jackson’s Guide to Leeds, 1889, p. 207.
I am grateful to the current owner of Leeds Bridge House for giving me sight of the title deeds and for showing me around the building; I am also grateful to the staff at Leeds Central Library Local and Family History Services for their willing help.
Posted in Historical, London | Tagged A E Brayshaw, Adams & Kelly, Cobden Temperance Hotel, Daniel Burnham, Exchange and Discount Bank Park Row, Hunslet, John James Cousins, Leeds Architectural Society, Leeds Bridge House, New York Flatiron Building, Temperence Choral Society, Victorian morality |