ELHAS Meeting Report January 2009

In an intriguing start to our new year programme, local Leeds guide and author Ken Goor described the more sinister side of Leeds in his talk, 'The Darker side of Leeds'. Ken is a familiar figure in Leeds city centre where he delights in showing people areas and places in the city which they may not be familiar with. He is also well known on the speakers' circuit, and is honing his talents as an author by currently working on a book about his father's life, to be followed by a second volume of "Haunted Leeds".

Now one of the society's most popular speakers Ken entertained an audience of over 40 people with his thoroughly enjoyable talk, though it occasionally had them squirming in their seats. He started by describing the first recorded criminal in Leeds, Simon the Dyer, who in 1201 was convicted of selling wine without a licence. He then went on to describe various murders over the centuries and the fate of their perpetrators. Interestingly, Leeds did not have a police force until 1836, neither were the local magistrates able to pass the death sentence, though hangings could take place in the city. Sentences, however, had to passed in either Wakefield, York or Bradford.

One of the tales Ken described was the strange tale of Henry Robinson, Vicar of Leeds, who, during the English Civil War, took to delivering his sermons with a suit of armour under his cassock. One Sunday after delivering his sermon he jumped into the River Aire to avoid capture. One account states that he disappeared leaving a trail of bubbles, while the other states that the river at that time was so shallow he was able to cross and escape.

Another story was about Arthur Mangey, Leeds goldsmith, who made the Mayoral Mace still in use today. However, Arthur had a very lucrative sideline in 'coining' (cutting the edges of coins to make counterfeit coins from the clippings). This was a treasonable offence and in 1696 Arthur was hanged for his misdemeanour.

It was however, the story of the Leeds witch, Mary Bateman, which provoked the most amused reaction from the audience. Mary had many tricks up her sleeves, including reinserting a chickens egg from whence it came, having written on the egg the words 'Christ is coming'. She then sought witnesses to the 're-laying' of the egg claiming she had a magic hen. She also passed herself off as a nurse at the newly established Leeds Infirmary, thus allowing her to collect linen for the Infirmary from the more wealthy inhabitants of Leeds, only to pawn it in order to line her own pockets. Her downfall however, was her habit of administering arsenic to people who came to her seeking help from her supposed healing powers. After their deaths she helped herself to the contents of their homes. She was eventually caught and was sentenced to hang. This was not to be the end of Mary, since the worthies of Leeds felt obliged to extract their pound of flesh. The noted surgeon William Hay put her body on display and charged the local populace 3 pennies for a look, thus raising £30 for the Infirmary funds. He then proceeded to dissect her body, charging the spectators 10 shillings to watch proceedings.

Ken described many macabre incidents leaving his audience eager to hear more. The evening ended with tea and biscuits and plenty of chatter about the seamier side of Leeds