There’s a newly built ingress to and from Leeds Railway Station, it’s like a golden pod that reflects its own hue, simmering and shimmering with sunlight and optimism. Not only is it an entrance that ‘entrances’ you but it’s also a portal built upon the sure steady confidence that’s quite literally brewing in Holbeck and its surrounds. So how did Leeds Council, Metro and Network Rail find themselves drawn to opening up Holbeck in such a visionary space-age way?
Kudos must go to their choice of architects Bauman Lyons who’ve already helped to shape the area, not just with cold blue-prints and bricks and mortar but with warm collaborations and consultations with everyone from locals, small businesses, musicians and artists.
This golden doorway opens up into Holbeck and gives us a glimpse into the past, present and future of the area. Within the hot-spot of listed buildings (33 in total) is a history that, like the magical new entrance, is rich in connections and idea’s that seem to suggest a strange, listless pull throughout the ages, that as we’ll explain further, has branched out beyond its mere geographical locale.
Over the last few years it’s attracted the attention of some of Leeds entrepreneurial and industrious folks, like Northern Monk, deciding to set up a working brewery to compliment the many pubs and bars that have decided to make their homes in the area. It’s no secret that the area’s vast industrial roots and buildings are now being used by hi-tech industries and modern businesses, once more bringing life and jobs into the area. So as we’ve seen the grains and hops of the beer world and the seeds of ideas of modern business take root, we should look at how the old Holbeck used seeds of another kind to change the area.
Flax seeds throughout the ages have been used to make clothes, broken down into fibres and used to make linen. There is evidence they’ve been in use for at least 30,000 years but in Leeds in during the Industrial Revolution, an industrious fellow named John Marshall purchased the rights to use a recently patented flax spinning machine and set about building to house factories to make linen.
One of the most impressive buildings he created (Grade 1 listed) is Temple Works, designed in the ancient Egyptian style and based upon the Temple of Edfu (which honoured Horus, an ancient patron God that was supposed to look after an area and its people). The architecture is quite the eye-opener in contrast to its surroundings, with powerful columns and an almost mystical style.
Flax seeds were harvested and spun in Ancient Egypt and regarded as sacred too (It may not come as a surprise that Mummies were wrapped in linen), so it seems that the ancient past may have influenced John Marshall as he looked to the future and built up his fortune manufacturing material. But within present day Holbeck we see its magical pull at work again, this time attracting Burberry to move into Temple Works to begin a new era of manufacturing, making its iconic trench coats and bringing the clothes industry back into the heart of South Leeds.
When traveling into Leeds by train you may spy elaborate towers to the south which seem almost the polar opposite of the dark satanic mill towers seen around the rest of Yorkshire. It’s as if they come from another era, another country even, which all makes sense after a little research reveals they’re based on classic Italian architecture, specifically Giotto’s Campanile in Florence and Torre dei Lamberti in Verona.
They were part of a massive steel works set up to make steel pins for the textile industry but today, Tower Works has attracted a different type of industry, with everyone from Digital start-up’s, to costume designers, artists and PR companies all spinning a creative web that’s capturing more and more of the countries talent.
This thriving creativity may seem a million miles away from an industrious past but when you consider the very first steam railway foundry was built in Holbeck, as was the very first centrally heated house in England, It seems that the area has always had that creative aura in its various industrious guises.
Just like the new golden entrance, Holbeck also has a golden future, not just as the latest hip destination for great craft beers and food, or even the exciting businesses that are popping up all over the place, but for its potential for re-inventing and re-discovering itself. As you research, you become aware that Leeds seems to have a canny ability to spot the potential in areas like Holbeck, and all it takes are a few visionary types and a bit of the old industrious gumption to turn once glorious past lives into prosperous futures.