Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Navigate Up
Skip navigation links
Study Here
About Us
Academic Departments
Student Services
News, Events & Blogs
Community & Business

Aspects of Victorian Leeds

Victorian Leeds was a vibrant rapidly-growing city, and the legacies of many of its innovations shape the city and indeed the country today.

 Food and Drink

The city of Leeds in the nineteenth century was a place with an interesting and varied selection of places to eat and drink, a tradition that continues today. The most interesting historic establishment is Whitelocks. Whitelocks is the oldest surviving public house in Leeds. It was granted its first licence in 1715, as The Turks Head. During the 18th and 19th Centuries it received much custom on Tuesdays and Saturdays when the market was held on Briggate. In 1867 a licence was granted to John Lupton Whitelock, who was followed as licensee by son William and grandson Percy. In 1880 John Lupton Whitelock began the ornate decorations that are still visible today such as the long marble topped bar the polished brass work and cast iron tables. From the mid-1890s the public house became known as Whitelocks First City Luncheon Bar and in 1897 John Lupton Whitelock installed electricity. It was a favourite place of visiting stage stars appearing at the Grand Theatre and City Varieties, and Prince George, later the Duke of Kent entertained a party here. Doormen were employed in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries to ensure dress codes were observed. Whitelocks had an admirer in poet John Betjeman who described it as “the very heart of Leeds.” Percy Whitelock sold the public house to a brewer in 1944. Whitelocks was the 100th recipient of a blue plaque from Leeds Civic Trust.

Leeds and its surrounding districts also saw the development in the nineteenth century of products and brands that would achieve international acclaim. Joshua Tetley, son to a family of Maltsters, acquired his first brewery for £400 in 1822, just yards from the current site of the Tetley’s Brewery Wharf Museum on the Waterfront. His aim was to remedy the problem of a lack of good quality ale in the North of England, his motto being ‘Quality Pays.’ In 1839 his son joined him as a business partner and in 1892 the company built one of the first bottling plants. The company merged with Scandinavian brewer Carlsberg in 1997. Today Tetley’s Cask is the number one selling cask ale in the UK and the company produces modern brands such as Smooth Flow and Extra Cold as well as the traditional Tetley’s Mild and Tetley’s Imperial, a ruby red bitter at 4.3% ABV. In 1897 Edward Chapman a corn and provisions merchant from Hawes, about 30 miles North of Leeds came up with the idea of buying as much local milk as possible in order to begin the first mass production of Wensleydale Cheese. Cheese had been produced in the area since 1150 by Cistercian monks, first at Fors, near Hawes, then at Jervaulx. With the Disillusion of the Monasteries in the 16th Century this special French recipe was passed to local housewives who continued to produce the cheese at home for the next 300 years. The business suffered as a result of the economic depression of the 1930s but rather than accept offers from the National Milk Board of contracts to sell their milk to the national dairy, local farmers, even though they were owed money by the Wensleydale creamery, wanted to keep production in the locality. In 1935 Kit Calvert rescued the dairy after attracting much support during a meeting at Hawes Town Hall. In 1966 Wensleydale Creamery was bought by the National Milk Board who subsequently sold the premises in May 1992 and transferred production to Lancashire. In November 1992 the ex managers of Wensleydale Creamery were able to restart production at the Hawes plant. A visitor centre was opened in 1994. Taylors of Harrogate was founded in 1886 in Harrogate, fifteen miles North of Leeds, by tea merchant Charles Taylor. A company name that is recognized across the world, Taylors were the first company to recognize regional variations in water quality and adapted their blends accordingly. Their principle brand was Yorkshire Tea, which is still immensely popular today. They also became involved in coffee production and are very much involved in the Fair Trade movement. Taylor’s are also the founders of Betty’s Tea rooms, a Yorkshire institution. The first Betty’s was opened in 1919 in Harrogate by Frederick Belmont and there are now seven tea rooms sharing the name and quest for quality.



The people of Victorian Leeds were very enthusiastic about live entertainment and the theatrical arts and the city saw the development of institutions cater for every taste and social class. City Varieties opened in 1865 as Thornton’s Fashionable Lounge. Built on Swan Street near the White Swan public houses it has also being known as White Swan Varieties and Stansfield’s Varieties. A Grade II listed building it is a rare surviving example of a music hall of the mid 19th Century. City Varieties is recognised in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest continuously used music hall in Great Britain. Charlie Chaplin and Houdini both performed at City Varieties and between 1953 and 1983 BBC Television’s ‘The Good Old Days’ was staged here. The hall is also used as a church on Sunday mornings. Leeds based architect George Corson was heavily influenced by his chief assistant James Robinson Watson regarding his design for the Grand Theatre. Watson had travelled Europe studying theatres and churches. Opened on 18th November 1878, the exterior is a combination of Romanesque and Scottish baronial styles while the interior contains gothic motifs such as fan vaulting and clustered columns. Built on ¾ of an acre of land on New Briggate it took 13 months to build at a cost of £62,000. The idea to build the Grand Theatre came about as a backlash against the Music Hall tradition which it was claimed debased the performing arts. The first performance at the Grand was of Much Ado About Nothing and the theatre has subsequently played host to the likes of Felicity Kendal, Morecambe and Wise and Laurence Olivier. Only guests occupying the best seats were allowed to use the front entrance, the rest being ushered in at the side. There was a ‘transfer staircase’ inside to enable people to buy their way to a better seat. The theatre employed ‘packers’ to get as many people onto the wooden benches in the cheaper areas as possible. The theatre was refurbished in the early 21st Century and currently has capacity for 1,550.



Sporting developments in Leeds during the Victorian era would result in clubs that would go on to be at the forefront of their respective sports for well over a century. Cricket had been played in Yorkshire since the mid eighteenth century. Yorkshire County Cricket Club was founded in 1861 and was initially based at Bramall Lane in Sheffield but it was after the club moved its headquarters to the new Headingley stadium in 1893 that Yorkshire began to dominate the sport. Yorkshire won the first post war County Championship in 1919 and would go on to repeat that success an unchallenged nineteen times over the next century, albeit with only one of those victories coming between 1968 and 2001. Many legendary players emerged through Yorkshire County Cricket Club including the original ‘Captain Marvel’ Lord Hawke and the legendary Len Hutton who scored the then highest-ever test score against Australia in the 1938 Ashes Test at The Oval aged only 22.

The sport of choice for the people of Victorian Leeds however was rugby. Leeds Rugby Club began life as Leeds St. Johns who began playing their home matches at Cardigan Fields, which would be developed to become Headingley Stadium, in 1864. Known colloquially as the ‘Old Blue and Ambers’, St. Johns were known simply as Leeds Rugby Club from 1890 following the fruition of plans made in 1888 to create a top class rugby side in the city. After the breakaway formation of Northern Rugby League, Leeds develop into one of the major forces in the sport and play a vital part in the success and development of the new league. They won the Challenge Cup in its various guises a total of ten times over the next century. Leeds reached the Championship final in 1915 losing 35-2 to West Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield but in wasn’t until 1961 that the club would finally win the League Championship. They won the title again in 1969 and 1972 but then it would be another 32 years before they did so again, lifting the trophy under the current name of the Leeds Rhinos in 2004 with a victory over the Bradford Bulls in the Grand Final at Old Trafford.

Leeds also has a proud, if less well known, tradition in Rugby Union. Headingley Rugby Club was formed in 1877 when a group of youngsters became interested in the sport after watching St. Johns. Reforming in 1901 after disbanding in 1889 they thrived at their own level and even played a fixture against the famous Blackheath Rugby Club. Headingley were joined in the Rugby Football Union in 1924 by Roundhay who from 1930 played their home matches at Chandos Park. The two clubs merged in 1991 to become Leeds Rugby Union Football Club and changed their name to the Leeds Tykes in 1998. The Tykes spent four seasons in the Zurich Premiership in the early twenty-first century and appeared in the Powergen Cup Final against Bath in 2005. While not achieving significant fame in their own right, Headingley and Roundhay played an important role in the development of the careers of great players who would go on to play at international level. Brian Moore played at one time for Roundhay while Chris Rea, Ian Mcgeechan and Peter Winterbottom all at one time played for Headingley.

The people of nineteenth century Leeds were very much rugby fans and many saw the sport of Association Football as being the preserve of the upper classes.  There was little to suggest in the nineteenth century that Leeds would emerge as one of the major centres of soccer in the second half of the twentieth. Leeds City Football Club originated when Hunslet F.C quickly reformed after disbanding in 1902 and moved to secure the rights to the Elland Road ground where Holbeck Rugby Club had previously played their matches. City were perhaps most notable for launching the career in League management of the legendary manager of Huddersfield Town and Arsenal, Herbert Chapman. After investigations into financial irregularities at Leeds City in 1919, the club was expelled from the League eight games into the season, followed by the selling off of all Leeds City’s assets at an auction. However that was not the end of League football in the City. A handful of the more honest directors of Leeds City decided to create a new football club in Leeds. On a cold, windswept November day in 1919 in the innocuous Midland League, the handful of spectators who braved the cold that fateful day inadvertently witnessed the birth of a legend. The legend in question, Leeds United. United would for the following half a century be one of football's better sides without especially achieving greatness.

Leeds United played their first match in the Football League at the start of the 1920-21 season, and within four years they were plahying in the first division. For the next three decades United were very much a yoyo club, being promoted and relegated between the First and Second Divisions with seeming regularity. United’s ascent to greatest can really be dated to  the appointment as player-manager of Don Revie in 1961. During his 13 years in charge Revie turned United into a team that were feared across England and Europe. Building a side around the likes of Billy Bremner and Jack Charlton, the Revie era got off to a slow start taking three years to win the Second Division title. However once in the top flight they finished second in their first season, losing out only on goal difference to Manchester United and reached the F.A Cup Final, losing 2-1 to Liverpool after extra time. The United side that would go on to dominate English and European football in the late 60s and early 70s had started to take shape. United won the First Division title twice, in the 1968-69 and 1973-74 seasons as well as being runners-up five times, the F.A Cup final in 1972 with a 53rd minute Allan Clarke goal at Wembley against Arsenal. They also won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, the precursor to the UEFA Cup, twice, defeating Hungary's Ferencvaros 1-0 on aggregate in the 1967-68 season and Juventus on away goals in 1970-71 following a 3-3 aggregate draw as well as losing in the 1972-73 final of the UEFA Cup Winners Cup to AC Milan in Salonika, Greece. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the Don Revie era was reaching the final of the European Cup Final in 1974-75 even though Bayern Munich ran out 2-0 winners. Following the departure of Don Revie , United suffered a period of decline starting with the ill fated appointment of the tempestuous genius Brian Clough as Revie’s successor, relegation to the Second Division in 1982. However the first of two renaissances for Leeds United since the glory days of the early 70s was to begin with the appointment of Sheffield Wednesday boss Howard Wilkinson as the new United manager in 1988 which saw the League Championship return to Elland Road. The second came with the appointment of David O’Leary which saw the emergence of a team of young local players and the return of regular appearances in the latter stages of European competition. From very humble beginnings in the nineteenth century in a city where the people were more interested in other sporting activities came a team that played a vital role in the development of soccer both on a national and continental level.


Why LeedsAspects of Victorian Leeds

Skip navigation links
LCVS Seminars
LCVS Conferences
The Annual LCVS Colloquia
Public Lecture by the LCVS Visiting Professor
Research Degrees
The Northern Nineteenth-Century Network
Journal of Victorian Culture
Centre Staff
Contact Us
Why Leeds
Educational Resources
Leeds and its History
Aspects of Victorian Leeds