Eurotrip Destination #5: Leeds

Posted in Travel Log (N. America & Europe) at 10:20 am by Benjamin Ross

This is the 3rd entry from my 2011 Europe Trip.

Leeds is a classic English Rust Belt city.  Though smaller than Birmingham and Manchester, Leeds also played a key role in England’s industrialization.  Today it’s the UK’s largest English financial center outside of London, but much of the character of Leeds’ industrial past remains intact.

Leeds is the primary urban center for the region known as West Yorkshire.  A small market town until the 17th Century, Leeds became a major trade and manufacturing center during the Industrial Revolution.
Best known as the center of England’s wool industry, a wide variety of industrial activity thrived in Leeds, especially after the opening of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in 1816.
Leeds is a pleasantly gritty town, with much of its architecture still showing a working class/industrial aesthetic.
Here’s the market in the center of town.
another shot of the market
and some more typical Leeds-esque steetscape
the pedestrian shopping district in the center of town
a cleaver way to use an overhanging to adjoin two old buildings and turn the street between them into an indoor mall
You can’t tell from this picture, but this street in the city centre is what appears to be the former Leeds Chinatown, now in the process of evaporating.  Roughly every other storefront is a Chinese business, and it seemed as if the process of neighborhood succession was already well-advanced, with non-ethnic businesses on their way in and Chinese businesses trickling out.  If anybody has more detailed info on the history of this area, please share in the comments section.
Leeds has a well-defined architectural style with wide usage of brick, and most of the buildings in the city centre look something like this.
Like Birmingham, Leeds is also traversed by a web of canals.  Many of the old mill buildings along the canals have been converted into apartment spaces.
An old friend of mine from Kansas City lives in Leeds with his British wife and children.  This is their neighborhood, where I stayed.  The neighborhood was uniformly laid out in these almost surreal brick housing blocks which extend for several hundred feet in each direction.
I’m not sure on the date exactly, but I’m guessing they’re probably mid-19th Century and were built for middle class families looking to get away from the city centre.
Leeds is small and compact, even by British standards, and the bus system is efficient for getting around.  An extensie commuter rail network connects the city centre with suburban and outlying towns across West Yorkshire and beyond.
Just a 15 minute train ride from the Leeds City Centre is the town of Saltaire.  Founded in 1853, Saltaire claims to be the most well-intact 19th Century planned industrial village in the UK.
Planned industrial villages such as these were built in both the UK and the US during the later phases of the Industrial Revolution.  Typically a large company would build a production plant in a distant suburban area far from the city centre in order to take advantage of cheaper land and/or favorable transportation routes.  Since workers were out of reach of most city amenities, the company would construct an entire town from scratch, including markets, schools, churches, and hospitals.  The workers would then be able to carry out most regular activities without ever leaving the village.  In many ways, these British industrial villages form the prototypes for those currently operating in China in which large companies (particularly in the Southeast) build all-inclusive factory campuses for their employees.
Saltaire was built to house workers of Salt’s Mill (above).  A major textile producing mill in its heyday, Salt’s Mill originally consisted of five separate mills which were consolidated to this site in the 1850’s.
The mill remained active until it was closed in 1986, and a plan to convert it into a shopping center was begun.
Today, the town of Saltaire stands in pristine condition, with the former homes of mill workers preserved and occupied by local residents, many of whom commute daily to Leeds for work.
Saltaire and its uniformity have been preserved impeccably over the years.
For folks on the other side of the Atlantic, a similarly planned industrial village can be found in the Pullman district of Chicago (not pictured).
Although Saltaire has been weaved into the fabric of modern technology, the architectural integrity of its period of construction remains well intact.
Saltaire is graced by a lush, green, backdrop of West Yorkshire hills.
Considering the train ride from Leeds to Saltaire is shorter than an average inner-city trip on the London Tube, I’d recommend a visit to Saltaire for any Leeds itinerary.
The following set of images are all more shots from Saltaire.
What trip to England would be complete without watching a proper English football (soccer) match?  It was just my luck that Manchester United was in town during my stay, playing a Carling Cup match against Leeds at Elland Road Stadium.
This was my first time seeing British football live and the cultural experience in the crowd was as interesting as the game itself (Manchester obliterated Leeds 3-0 by the way).  Growing up going to NFL games, I was used to the typical rabid antagonism which happens among spectators at a sporting event.  But what I wasn’t totally prepared for was the authentic sense of hatred and desire to inflict bodily harm on opposing fans that permeates a British football match.
The Leeds fans in my section were hurling obscenities and threats of physical violence to the players and fans of Manchester United (as well as female members of their families) throughout most of the match.
Tickets to each match are purchased through the club to which one is a fan.  For example, if you’re a Manchester United fan, and you want to see the match in Leeds, you buy tickets directly through Manchester United.  This is because there are separate seating sections for the opposing fans, in order to prevent all-out brawls.  As you can see above, the Manchester fans were seated in their own section, cordoned off by a veritable mechitza of police in full riot gear.  When the match concludes, the home fans leave first.  The visiting fans must stay in their corral until all the home fans have left in another measure to prevent an all out war between the fans of the opposing squads.
Additionally, alcohol is not allowed into the viewing area of the stadium.  Beer can be purchased at concession stands, but has to be finished before going back to the seating area.  (I assume this is a further measure to decrease the likelihood of soccer-related violence).  I was also surprised at how cheap concessions were compared with sporting events in the US.
In my last few hours in Leeds, my friend Melech drove me out to this pasture just outside of Leeds.  In the far distance is an old manor house, which I am guessing belongs to the owner of the land and the sheep.
Leeds may no longer be the center of world wool production, but it’s still the home to lots of sheep.
One of the beauties of English (compared with American) cities is that there is very little urban sprawl.  On our way to these pasturelands, we were driving through city neighborhoods when all of a sudden we reached the country…no suburban “subdivisions,” no strip centers, and no office parks…just town and country.
From Leeds I headed off to my final destination in the UK, Manchester.  Leeds has a beaming, modern train station, and I thought I’d include a few shots.
From Leeds Station, you can get just about anywhere in England in under 3 hours.
For tourists interested in England’s industrial past, Leeds is a fascinating little city.  Much of what I had expected to find in Birmingham, I ended up discovering in Leeds.  With its central location, Leeds is within day-trip distance of both London and Manchester, but warrants more than a day of exploration, and for architecture and industrial history buffs, Saltaire is a must.  Next, (and final) stop on the industrial tour through England:  Manchester.

1 Comment »

  1. FOARP Poland said,

    June 4, 2012 at 2:33 am

    As a Lancastrian, it boggles the mind that anyone would wish to visit Yorkshire, but in as much as there is anything resembling culture on the Wrong Side Of The Pennines, it is in Leeds. Leeds University isn’t bad either.

    RE: The footie – yeah, I can’t claim what you saw isn’t fairly representative of the way football is in some UK cities, Glasgow especially. That said, Leeds United are actually pretty famous for being one of the worst clubs for this ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leeds_United_Service_Crew – almost as bad as Cardiff’s infamous Soul Crew http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soul_Crew ) and Manchester United are the team with which they have the greatest rivalry. Fortunately there are at least a few teams at which this kind of behaviour is not so common – as a Liverpool fan I’m grateful that our local derby with Everton (AKA “The Friendly Derby) is actually one where fans from either team can and do sit together.

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