Stepping Back In Time

A brief history of Far Headingley and the Spinning Acres site

We have already mentioned that Far Headingley has been a fashionable address for 200 years, yet  its origins were as a rural, agricultural village of cottages.  So, what changed?

Leeds City Council’s Neighbourhood Design Statement, reports that until 1829, the land bounded by Otley Road, Shaw Lane and Hollin Lane, and extending down to Meanwood Beck, was common land, known as Headingley Moor, Headingley itself being an out-of-township quite separate to Leeds.

By the late 18th century, a few encroachment cottages had appeared on the Moor, but it was only after its enclosure in 1829 by an Act of Parliament that development of Headingley Moor village, started in earnest. In 1868 the village became known as Far Headingley with the creation of Far Headingley Parish on completion of St Chad’s Parish Church.

Within the next 20 years, most of the core of the village had been built by a variety of occupiers and speculators, to suit a range of pockets with small cottages and gentlemen’s residences springing from the ground, juxtaposed with larger villas on either side of Moor Road, including Moorfield Lodge and Moor Grange (latterly part of Leeds University’s Tetley Hall Campus and accommodation) and now part of the Spinning Acres site.

So, by the mid-19th century, Far Headingley had become a sizeable community of houses and small businesses, north of Headingley on the way from Leeds to Otley.  It was still a predominantly rural area well away from Leeds but with access to clean water from Eccup reservoir and on the lee side of the prevailing winds which swept over Meanwoodside and its many mills.

Records indicate that by 1821 there were 19 mills operating in Leeds and this figure had risen to 37 by 1855.

Once the wealthy industrialists who were responsible for spearheading the industrial growth in this part of the world began seeking homes on higher ground away from the city smog, they commissioned many opulent houses, building huge mansions and villas with landscaped grounds to reflect their aspirations and achievements. The most significant of these houses was Kirsktall Grange, the home of William Beckett, now incorporated into Becketts Park and Leeds Beckett University campus  Many remain today in the old Far Headingley village area, the tree-lined roads and stone boundary walls forming an important part of Far Headingley’s character.

Burton Crescent comes to life

Part of the Moor had been occupied by the Headingley Parsonage and glebelands since 1770, separating Far Headingley from Headingley itself.  When this land was eventually sold at auction in 1874, to Thomas Simpson, the land was divided into building plots on a new road of some 57 feet in width and so Burton Crescent was named – in all likelihood in honour of the Burton family, a local family of Methodists.

By 1878 one of the building plots was purchased for the Headingley Methodist Minister’s house (‘The Manse’ at 9 Burton Crescent)  and two other houses in Burton Crescent (which later passed to the university for incorporation into the Tetley Hall campus) – Burton Lea (19 Burton Crescent) and Burton Grange (17 Burton Crescent) – which are now part of Spinning Acres latter phases.

Both were built to designs by the renowned local Far Headingley architect, William Hill (1827-1889), whose Leeds practice designed Meanwood Methodist Church along with several other notable civic buildings including Bolton Town Hall, Yeadon Town Hall, Hertford Corn Exchange and Portsmouth Guildhall.

Neighbouring villas, Moorfield Grange and Moor Lodge are particularly interesting because of the personal memories left to us by one of  the early residents at Moorfield Lodge. Moor Grange was owned by William Hall, who was prominent in the affairs of the Leeds School of Medicine. In 1895 the villa briefly became the home of Arthur Mayo-Robson, Professor of Surgery at the Yorkshire College (forerunner to Leeds University).  The Professor died in 1899, and in 1902, both properties came into the possession of the Middleton family (Leeds solicitors) and as history will show, relatives of the family, better known these days, as the forebears of our own Kate Middleton, HRH Duchess of Cambridge.

Granny Lamb’s Memoirs

It was at this time that a family moved into Moorfield Lodge, who had by all accounts ‘gone up in the world’.  Latterly a book of memoirs has been unearthed, unpublished, and written by one, ‘Granny Lamb’, which vividly recalled memories of living there in the early years of the last century and written for her ‘grandchildren and anyone else who cares to read it’. 

The self-styled Granny Lamb was born in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, a suburb of Manchester in 1899. Her father was a bank accountant in the National Provincial Bank and his role involved travel to different branches to check the accounts.  When she was three, they moved to Leeds, where her father had been made manager of the National Provincial Bank – a great step up the career ladder for him.

Granny Lamb’s memoirs provide candid observations about life in those days and she writes with great transparency and candour about her very happy times spent at Moorfield Lodge as a child.  She recalls:  “Moorfield Lodge, Moor Road, Headingley, Leeds was the address of our new and to me always beloved home. … I don’t know how to write of Moorfield Lodge without going into such rapturous detail that no-one but myself could ever be bothered to read it.”

Moorfield Lodge

For one so young, she remembers the house in detail, which was run by two servants – a cook and a house parlour maid – plus, of course, her nursery nurse and a gardener.

The passage contained what she supposes was an early attempt at central heating with a stove fitted into the wall  between the passage and morning room. Half-way up the stairs was a wide landing lit by a large stained-glass window.  She recalls that even to her childish eyes, the window was ugly, but ‘stained glass’ was then a status symbol, something that a house of any pretensions should have.

She talks fondly about the only indoor lavatory the house possessed, which was of course only used by ‘the gentry’.  The servants had their own, approached from a side door across a little yard and it was considered unthinkable, ‘even in extremis’ that the children of the houses should use the servants’ WC.  She goes on:  ‘And WC we called these places, with pride, for it was within living memory that even ‘good’ houses possessed only ECs (earth closets). The water was a grand and glorious substitute and one was proud of it’. *

The house in detail

She continues:  ‘And “sitting on the throne”, another euphemism, was quite descriptive, for our actual water closet was framed in mahogany, a step above the floor, and a very well made impressive, handsome object.  The china pan in Moorfield Lodge, was plain, no picture’ – (the bowls of others at the time sometimes featured handsome pictures).

While “the offices” – the kitchen, back kitchen , pantries and passages – were located behind the main three front rooms, she describes the bedrooms leading off the half landing – ‘my mother’s, a large, Iight room above the dining room; my father’s above the morning room, smaller, but with two doors (one to the landing and one to her mother’s room) and rendered unique by a washbasin with hot and cold taps; then the bathroom, above the hall, had a fitted bath with a mahogany surround and basin; then up two steps to the large ‘spare room’ above the drawing room and with a similar large round bay; and then the nursery, an odd L-shaped room with window overlooking the laurel planted bed that edged the entrance to the stable yard and beyond the nursery the servants’ room; finally, the only other solitary bedroom which formed “the tower”’.

The garden, she remembers, was a paradise for a young child with its great sweep of gravelled drive, a round bed of rhododendrons edged with ivy and in front of the door, the lawn with flower beds planted in spring with Hyacinths and the lawn beyond the drive with the big sycamore where her mother fed the birds in winter.  There was a tennis court, shrubberies and a line of trees and shrubs dividing the kitchen garden, which was quite substantial with a green house, cold frames  and grapevines.

Brougham, the gardener, built her a house at the top of the garden and she was able to cultivate the garden around it with penny packets of flower seeds. 

Recalling her neighbours, she says:  ‘Though the hay cart never carried hay, we had a small field at the bottom of the garden, which was otherwise surrounded by the gardens of other houses – the “Middletons” who were our landlords (Mr Middleton, before his sudden death, having bought Moorfield Lodge to ‘protect his money’ as the phrase then went) on the left, and on the right, a much smaller house, lived in by a middle aged couple’.

The Middletons as landlords

She regarded the Middletons as both friends and enemies because they were their landlords.  She remembers them after Mr Middleton’s death as three women, widow and spinster daughters, who  were always dressed in black, sallow faced and very formal.  When she had Mono the monkey for a pet, he often escaped into their house through a skylight from the yard and when she was sent to fetch him recalls that the Misses Middletons were, perhaps understandably, somewhat acid.  She also reflects on the fact that although they led quiet, retired lives, they were somehow socially above her family  – they were never invited to the tennis parties or even to the rare formal dinners because of their aloofness. 

She returned to see the house in her thirties, when her mother was visiting a friend during the Second World War, and noted that while the gates, stable yard and landing and staircase windows that overlooked the street were still there, the great wooden painted doors, decorated with various knobs and curlicues that gave access to the drive and garden had disappeared and their successors, double iron-work gates , were padlocked and obviously never intended to be opened. 

The entrance by the curving, gravelled drive through the garden had been done away with and the entrance to the house was through a door made in the wall, which in the old days, would have given access to the butler’s pantry…

Granny Lamb’s memoirs are well worth a read and not only provide a very candid insight into her life growing up at that time in a middle-class family with all its pride and prejudices, but also, the original design, landscaping and workings of Moorfield Lodge.

Tetley Hall and the Far Headingley Village Society

In 1950, Moorfield Lodge and Moorfield Grange were acquired by the University and appear in its 1949-1950 Annual Report as occupying a site of almost four acres. It was the University’s intention that they should be incorporated into a large hall of residence and named Tetley Hall in recognition of the longstanding association between the Tetley brewing family of Leeds and the University.

Burton Grange, which became Phase 3 of Spinning Acres was bought as an annexe to Tetley Hall in 1953 and Burton Lea, by 1954, and with this, the enlargement of the site got underway – the first stage being a new dining room block to accommodate 895-100 students.  This was later opened in 1958 by HRH Princess Royal and by 1962 the new Woodhouse and Heathfield wings were completed.  

The university planned to demolish Moorfield Lodge and Moor Grange and replace them by a further purpose-built block but a timely conservation order placed on both by Leeds City Council prevented this from happening and they were effectively united with the new blocks built by the university to create a single community.   

Tetley’s location close to Headingley proved popular but Tetley Hall closed in 2006 and was then sold for redevelopment to Pickard Properties.

Turning the clock back slightly, by the end of the 1960s many of the old cottages and houses which make up the core of Far Headingley village, had begun to fall into disrepair largely due to local authority clearance proposals and because mortgage loans were not available on properties considered to have reached the end of their lives. In 1971 sixty-six properties were condemned as unfit and scheduled for clearance.  It looked as if wholesale demolition was likely but by this time, the charm and character of older properties was also beginning to be appreciated and its importance to preserving Britain’s heritage.

In response to these proposals, a group of concerned local residents got together to form the Far Headingley Village Society (FHVS)  and came forward with counter proposals for a Conservation Area which would acknowledge the historic character of Far Headingley Village  offer protection against inappropriate redevelopment  and qualify owners of heritage buildings for renovation grants.

The Council agreed to designate the area Cottage Road Conservation Area but did not immediately agree to withdraw plans to demolish the sixty-six properties which they had identified as being no longer fit for habitation.  Undeterred, in November of that year, the Far Headingley Village Society (FHVS) was established

‘to promote the conservation and improvement of Far Headingley Village and districts adjoining for the benefit of the inhabitants and all of those who make use of its amenities.’’ 

The FHVS immediately set to, challenging the demolition plan, which resulted in the Council concluding that twenty-one of the sixty-six houses were capable of improvement with the aid of grants. The twenty-one came off the list and by 1974 nearly all the remaining 45 “unfit” houses had been reprieved by the Council and offered grants. In 2005 the Conservation Area was extended and designated Far Headingley Conservation Area.

Since this successful outcome, the Society takes a continuing interest in researching local history and in this respect has worked very closely with Pickard Properties as further development work to the Spinning Acres site gets underway.  We greatly value the relationship we have with its members and the ongoing contribution they make to the detailed planning of the site.

Through the intervention of the FHVS, residents at Spinning Acres can enjoy the leafy splendour of this conservation site, only three miles from the city centre, yet within a tranquil, wooded setting and regarded as one of the most exclusive residential areas of Leeds.   

Bibliography And Thanks

*Granny Lamb’s memoirs can be read by contacting The Thoresby Society which is part of the Leeds Historical Society and it is a wealth of information as well as providing an engaging account of life in those days.

Thanks to the following sources of information which have informed this short history:

David Hall, local historian, member of the Far Headingley Village Society and author of Far Headingley, Weetwood and West Park who has provided a unique insight into the history of the area and the site in particular, and has given his time to review this short history for accuracy,

Wikipedia – The Tetley family and Tetley Hall

Wikipedia – William Hill, architect – Discovering Leeds – Industrial Leeds

The Thoresby Society, Patrick Gillett

Far Headingley Village Society

Far Headingley, Weetwood and West Park Neighbourhood Design Statement, Leeds City Council

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