ELHAS Meeting Report - November 2012

Meeting Report - November 2012

For the final meeting of 2012 an audience of 45 members and guests were treated to an illustrated talk on Medieval Leeds by Emeritus Professor Joyce Hill. Before retiring, Professor Hill was Director of Medieval Studies and Head of the School of English at Leeds University. During her tenure at the university she became the first female Pro-Vice Chancellor. She has been an active member of Leeds Civic Trust for many years and regularly leads many of their summer programme of walks around Leeds.

Joyce began her talk by saying that many people would think that the only remnant of Medieval Leeds visible today would be Kirkstall Abbey. This is in part true although Kirkstall was not even part of Leeds during medieval times. But Joyce insisted that the footprint of medieval Leeds is still visible today, particularly in the main shopping street of Briggate, if one knows where to look.

Leeds is listed in the Domesday book of 1086 as a small settlement around the road we know as Kirkgate, and was home to 35 tenants and their families and dependants, possibly a population of about 200. It was mainly an agricultural area although it supported a small number of trades and crafts. The Domesday book also lists the taxable value of the settlement in 1066 as £6 and in 1086 it had grown to £7.

Joyce explained that it is a matter of some contention as to whether or not Leeds was the site of the Roman settlement of Campodunum. Certainly there was a Roman marching camp at Adel, evidence of which can still be seen today. It is believed the first written reference to the area known as Leodis was in 731 by the Venerable Bede although a writer called Nennius also makes reference to it in a manuscript from the 11th century which may be a copy of an earlier document from the 8th century.

We were fascinated to hear that Leeds had been given away during the 11th century. Joyce described how William the Conqueror gave the living of Leeds to Ilbert de lacy, who passed it on in 1086 to Ralph Peynel. He proceeded to asset strip the hamlet and gave all the income to Holy Trinity York. His son carried on this tradition passing the assets from Leeds to Drax Priory which he had founded. Eventually some 100 years later another member of the Peynel family, Maurice, realising he wasn't making any income from Leeds decided on a 'property development' plan and so started Leeds most famous shopping street Briggate. He developed 30 burgess plots either side of Briggate and let these to merchants and businesses. Each plot was three perches wide (49 feet 6 inches). This area of Leeds began to thrive and Leeds obtained its first charter in 1207. Here is the interesting bit though. All the modern shop fronts in Briggate are still 3 perches wide although some larger premises, for example, Marks and Spencer's, may be multiples of this. And so we see the footprint of Medieval Leeds not only in street names such as Briggate and Eastgate which derive from old norse, but also in the shop frontages which we pass today on our shopping trips to the vibrant modern city which is Leeds today.

Joyce's fact filled talk was accompanied by engravings of medieval buildings and maps and proved a thoroughly entertaining end to the 2012 programme.
The evening ended with hot drinks and mince pies.

The next meeting on Monday 28th January 2013 will be an illustrated talk by Patrick Hadley from York University entitled 'Star Carr, Past, Present and Future'. The story of the excavation of the oldest house in Britain.


Photographs courtesy of Leeds Library & Information Service, leodis.net.