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What Holbeck Used to Look Like…

· Joseph Sheerin

Temple Works

Take a wander through the rollercoaster history of Holbeck, one of the most important suburbs in Leeds’ past and future.

Holbeck has been a part of the Leeds landscape since the 13th century, and while the first four hundred years were relatively uneventful, the last 400 have been vital to Leeds’ development into a major city. From a spa town through the industrial revolution and into today’s urban village, Holbeck has many a story to tell.

Old Holbeck

Old Holbeck

For hundreds of years Holbeck was just a small village on the outskirts of Leeds, more renowned for its famous spa water, similar to that of Harrogate, than what it is today. When the spa was bottled off, John Scholey became owner of much of the village and helped to grow it, like these streets on Water Lane and set it on its way to importance.

The Start of the Industrial Revolution

Industrial Holbeck

It’s thanks however to water once again that Holbeck was able to become such a vital point of the industrial revolution. Lying just south of the River Aire, it was in a prime position for the mills and factories to get to work at the start of the 19th century.

At the Hub of It All

Holbeck Mill Workers

As a result, Holbeck’s importance over the next 100 years grew immeasurably. As the likes of Marshall’s Mill, Temple Works and Midland Mills all shot up, Leeds became the centre of the flax milling world, helping to push the UK’s global influence as the centre of production

A Bustling Town


You might struggle town notice it now but Holbeck had its own bustling high street that was packed with shops and pubs with classic Leeds terraced housing shooting off down side streets helping to house local workers. These started to clear as the 20th century rolled on, but they still played a pivotal role in the development of Leeds.

The Story of the Viaduct

Holbeck Viaduct

Such was Holbeck’s growing influence, that it became home to one of Victorian Leeds’ finest structures. The Holbeck viaduct may be disused today, but in 1869 it entertained the world’s gaze as the finest of its kind. There are talks to turn it into a raised walkway into the city which we think is a grand idea.

Stunning Architecture

Holbeck Public Library

Its population and business allowed Holbeck to pop up some hugely attractive buildings that might not get the attention they deserve. The Volunteer pub above, and Holbeck Public Library are just two examples that show it wasn’t just about industry.

A Century of Regression

Holbeck Town Street

As the changing times of post-war Britain meant industrial labour dwindled as the economy rerouted, Holbeck was unsurprisingly one of the areas that suffered. Over much of the 20th century, it experienced a huge decrease in population, whole areas were flattened and repurposed or even just left to waste.

Making Use of a Legacy

Tower Works, Holbeck, Best and Worst Places to Live in Leeds

The Holbeck Urban Village was the idea, and set about turning some iconic buildings of the past into important places once again. Granary Wharf continues to be a city centre hotspot, Northern Monk have taken over Marshall’s Mill, Round Foundry is now a hub for digital and new media and Tower Works has been developed into desirable office space.

Holbeck in the Future

Temple Works

The regeneration will continue with Temple Works and Midland Mills hopeful of worthwhile tenants, while the introduction of a new school, as well as plans for new housing as part of wider plans or Leeds’ South Bank, Holbeck’s renaissance is set to continue well into the future.

Images kindly provided by Leodis, apart from feature image of Temple Works copyright Jim Moran licensed under creative commons for commercial use.