Leeds Industrial History
Leeds was a world centre for textiles and clothing during the latter part of the 18th through to 19th and 20th Centuries, and the city pays due homage to this heritage in a choice of acclaimed industrial museums. Centrepiece is The Leeds Industrial Museum set within the mammoth Armley Mills, once the largest woollen mill in Britain. More Leeds museums exploring particularly Leeds’ industrial heritage include the restored and fully working Thwaite Mills Watermill and the superb social history galleries at Abbey House Museum.
Leeds Industrial Museum and The Leeds Liverpool Canal
The stretch of the Leeds Liverpool Canal from the Aire & Calder at Leeds all the way to Gargrave was one of the first sections of this 127 mile long canal to open in 1777. The huge Armley Mills site, once the largest woollen mill in the world and now aptly home to the Leeds Industrial Museum, sits alongside both the Leeds Liverpool Canal and the River Aire. The mill building you see today, also known as Gott’s Mill, dates from 1805, but there have been mills on this site since at least 1559. Through the first half of the 19th century under Gott’s management, Armley Woollen Mills were not just one of the largest employers in Leeds but also one of the largest in Britain!
Textiles exhibitions cover the 18th and 19th Centuries, with working textile machinery demonstrations and explorations into heavy engineering, tanning, carding and the printing trades all on-site. Armley saw the change from waterwheel to steam power and this change is given due attention within the museum. Exhibits also dig deep into the history of the Leeds Clothing Industry with displays of machinery, sewing rooms and photography of some of England’s largest and most famous clothing ‘off the peg’ factories including Montague Burtons. Women workers were prevalent then and now in the textiles industry and the history of sweating – working from home was particular work by women often in dire conditions. Find out more at the Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills.
You’ll discover a few things about Leeds that you might not know here at Armley Mills – for example the fact that the world’s first ever moving image was filmed in the city! Armley Mills has a fascinating display of of old original cameras and one of the smallest still working 1920s cinemas where you can sit back, relax and enjoy and old black and white movie!
Abbey House Museum & Kirkstall Abbey
Family fun Abbey House Museum in Leeds is loca, you arrive at Kirkstall Lock and nearby Kirkstall Cistercian Abbey. Founded in 1152, Kirkstall’s Abbey ruins are spectacular, standing as one of the most complete Cistercian abbeys in the country (despite nearly facing demolition in the 19th century!). The White Monks, so called because of their distinctive white robes, handed the abbey over to Henry VIII in 1539.
The Abbey House Museum just across the road from the Kirkstall Abbey ruins is one of Leeds’ best family attractions. Explore the day to day lives of Leeds locals via the superb social history collection held here. Toys, costumes, photographs and recreated Victorian workshops, a chemist and blacksmiths are all on-site alongside a shop and cafe. Exhibits are interactive giving kids the opportunity to handle old toys, dress up, play games and get involved.
Thwaite Mills Watermill
Thwaite Mills Watermill situated just 2 miles south of Leeds city centre is one of the UK’s last remaining watermills. See demonstrations of the fully restored working water-powered mill. Guided tours need to be pre-booked at this riverside mill along the Aire and Calder surrounded by beautiful gardens and wooded grounds. Georgian Grade II Listed Thwaite House dating from 1823 and preserved to the period is also open for public tours.