British Towns and Cities: The City of Leeds

Arnold N. Shimmin pays an historical visit to the inventive Yorkshire city.

Experts in place-names are still divided about the meaning of the name of this city. The late Professor Moorman accepted “the place of the prince”, but research has failed to identify the prince. More recent investigations favour the meaning “the place of swamps” and the flat spread of the city is compatible with this interpretation. The discussion runs on and, in the meantime, Leeds has come to cover sixty square miles containing a population of 505,400 people. Within a radius of fifty miles there are approximately thirteen million inhabitants, a local market for a business venture as tightly packed as any in the Kingdom.

Geographers point out that the city is a typical market town at the foot of the Pennines, but they are quick to add that its importance is the result of the Industrial Age. When Industry developed apace, the situation of Leeds conferred peculiar advantages for the conduct of the trade that accompanied the spread of manufacture. It is comforting to read that we are situated “near the middle of the habitable parts of Great Britain, approximately half-way between the South coast of England and the highlands of Scotland, and midway between London and Glasgow, as well as between the North and the Irish seas”. This explains the feeling among the population that they are at the centre of things. Eut a favourable geographical situation is not the whole story. Such places as Beverley, York and Halifax were prominent before Leeds rose to fame. More comfort may be taken, therefore, from the assurance that “the standing of Leeds is the result of human energy and intelligence” applied to local conditions.

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