ELHAS Meeting Report - February 2012

Meeting Report February 2012

A record audience of 56 people gathered at the end of February to hear an illustrated talk by Louiseanne Hand entitled 'A Pictorial History of Quarry Hill'.
Louiseanne is a librarian based in the Local and Family History Department of the Central Library in Leeds, a post she has held for the last eight years. Originally from Dublin, a fact reinforced for us by her delicious accent, Louiseanne came to Leeds ten years ago to study for a masters degree in history at Leeds Metropolitan University. Fortunately for us she has stayed ever since. She began her talk by explaining that she would show us how a particular area of the city, Quarry Hill, had evolved over the centuries using photographs and engravings, some dating as far back as the 18th or 19th centuries.

She explained that in the mid 17th century this area was known as Quarrel Hill, but nobody has been able to discover the reason for the name change. She also put forward the theory that it could have been the site of a roman settlement known as Cambodenum, though this has not been proven.

Louiseanne explained that during the 19th and early 20th centuries Quarry Hill had become known as an 'Unhealthy Area' and she showed many thought provoking images which clearly demonstrated this. An especially interesting image was of Cornhill the oldest inhabited street in Leeds. Some particularly fascinating photographs were of the Leeds Mission and St Peter's Medical Aid, as she described how the church influenced the lives of the inhabitants by providing practical help and access to medical care.

Moving on to the building of the famous Quarry Hill Flats during the 1930's she explained that these were the brainchild of the Rev Charles Jenkinson and Housing Chief R.A.H Livett.

They had travelled to Vienna to view the Karl Marx Hof flats and returned to Leeds determined to build similar flats here. Opened in 1938 they were the largest block of flats in Europe and boasted such innovations as the Garchey waste disposal system. This was a method of disposing of waste from the sinks in the flats to a central incinerator, thus taking away the need for dust bins in the flats area. However this system proved unreliable and was one of the reasons which lead to the eventual demolition of the flats.

When the flats first opened they were hailed as a solution to the housing of all the tenants who were displaced by the slum clearances of the 1930's, and Louiseanne showed one very evocative photo of queues of hundreds of potential tenants waiting to view show flats. The complex, with communal laundry rooms and safe play areas for children, must have been regarded Utopia by the first tenants. The dream was to be short lived. Plagued by structural faults and increasing vandalism they were demolished in 1978.

Louiseanne concluded her talk by describing the regeneration of this area into the cultural quarter of Leeds and showed us images of such buildings as the Playhouse, Leeds College of Music and BBC Television. After her talk there was a lively discussion amongst the audience sharing memories of the flats, and even telling Louiseanne snippets of information she wasn't aware of.

The next meeting on Monday 26th March 2012 will be an illustrated talk by John Gilleghan MBE entitled 'Leeds - The Story of a Great City'.