Meeting Report February 2019
In February we were fortunate to have as our speaker former Liberal MP Michael Meadowcroft. Michael was a Leeds MP from 1983 to 1987. After that he had various roles within the political arena whilst honing his skills as a historian and writer. It is in these roles that he is most well known in the city today. Michael brought us his illustrated talk "The fascinating Politics of Leeds - The men and women who changed the city". This was an informative look at the major political figures in Leeds from the early part of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century.
Michael began his talk by naming the first Leeds MP as Thomas Babington McCauley who became MP for Leeds in 1832. He was followed by members of the Baines family, owners of the Leeds Mercury newspaper, and a highly influential family in the city. Also worthy of mention was Herbert Gladstone son of William Gladstone who became MP for Leeds after his father, although being elected to serve as MP for Leeds, chose instead to represent Mid-Lothian.
Whilst it would be impossible to mention all the councillors and MPs Michael spoke about some stand out, such as John Hope Shaw three times mayor of Leeds and the man responsible for bringing clean drinking water to Leeds.
We were also pleased to hear about two female activists as it seemed that women in politics were in short supply until more recent years. However Michael did give us some information about Catherine Buckton, education and health reformer whose text books achieved national acclaim, and Isabella Ford, the Quaker suffragist who served as a parish councillor for Adel.
Other names Michael brought to life for us were James Kitson of the Kitson Locomotive Airedale Foundry who was a Liberal alderman and MP and Walter Harding, Lord mayor and great benefactor for Leeds. He was responsible for the Leeds Art Gallery and he also designed City Square, including the four naked lady figures which caused outrage to some in the city when they first appeared. Apparently, these statues had to be cleaned at night because the workmen doing the job were subject to abuse from the public.
What came across very clearly during Michael's talk was the fact that many of the men who held office in Leeds were successful business men who undoubtedly used their skills and talents to help manage the city. They also used their own money to benefit the city, as amply demonstrated by John Barran, well known clothing manufacturer and Lord Mayor, who bought Roundhay Park when the administration was unable to do so .
Michael ended his talk with information about two of the more well known Leeds Politicians, Charles Wilson and Charles Jenkinson.
Charles Wilson was a huge supporter of the city who famously said "I am Leeds" and was said to have hopes that Leeds would be able to control all the land between the Pennines and the North Sea. Regaling us with one of his anecdotes which he had been peppering his talk with, Michael told the story that on Wilson's death his second wife put her fist through his portrait declaring "That's what I thought of Charles Wilson".
There was no such tale to be told about Charles Jenkinson, former Anglican priest who, having asked his Bishop to send him to the worst parish in England was soon dispatched to Hunslet. However, seeing the appalling housing conditions in his parish he was inspired to campaign for a huge slum clearance programme for the area. His legacy though was that he was the person responsible for building Quarry Hill Flats, and although they came to a sad end in the mid 1970's, when they were built the concept was regarded as visionary and they provided modern safe housing for many thousands of Leeds people.
We thoroughly enjoyed Michael's interesting and informative talk and his relaxed style and throw away comments added to the enjoyment of the evening.
The next meeting on Monday 25th March 2019 will be an illustrated talk by Oliver Cooper, project manager Northern Archaeological Associates, entitled "Fifteen Years of Archaeological Investigation at Thorpe Park"
Images courtesy of Wikipedia and Secretlibraryleeds.net
1. Thomas Babington McCauley