OLD ALWOODLEY - in Photographs

Today the name 'Alwoodley' may be used to describe the substantial rectangular tract of land five miles to the north of Leeds which, from at least the Norman period, has been surrounded by the townships of Harewood, Adel, Chapel Allerton and Wigton. Its ancient boundaries stretch from the Seven Arches, up Adel Beck to Stair Foot Bridge, skirt the bottom of the northern scarp slope, which is now edged by Eccup Reservoir, to Alwoodley Gates, down the eastern side of Harrogate Road to the Belvederes, then along Nursery Lane in a westerly direction and back to the starting point. A.M.Smith, in his book The place-names of the West Riding of Yorkshire', suggests that 'Alwoodley' is Saxon in origin and refers to 'the clearing belonging to Aethelward.' If this derivation is correct it indicates that the area has been farmed for well over a thousand years. Yet today only a relatively small percentage of the area is devoted to agriculture, the vast majority is covered with high quality private housing or land devoted to leisure pursuits - golf, cricket, rugby or walking.

From its entry in the Domesday Book of 1086 through to the nineteenth century people used the natural resources of the district to eke out a living. For centuries the focal point of the township was Alwoodley Old Hall where the landlord resided. This changed in 1638 when the Frank family sold the estate to Sir Gervase Clifton, an absentee landlord. Nevertheless, farming continued to be the main source of income for the majority of the inhabitants, who regularly attended the parish church at Harewood.

This pattern of life continued unchanged until 1832 when Leeds suffered ' a dreadful visitation of the cholera.' Until that date no one from that burgeoning town had taken any notice of this isolated farming community just outside its boundaries.

Doctor Robert Baker's damning report on the state of Leeds highlighted the fact that many of its inhabitants lacked easy access to clean water. Most relied on bore-holes, wells, water carriers and even water from the River Aire, which T.J. Maslem graphically described as 'a reservoir of poison, carefully kept for the purpose of breeding pestilence in the town'. Something radical had to be done to improve supplies. The Earl of Harewood felt a moral responsibility to help, and quickly offered his land at Eccup for the creation of a sizeable reservoir. However, it was not until 1841, after numerous disputes and technical difficulties had been overcome, that water eventually flowed from Eccup, through underground pipes, across the Seven Arches to Weetwood and eventually on to Leeds. The story surrounding the political battles fought over the Leeds water supply and the construction of the waterworks was rarely out of the newspapers and press coverage quickly raised people's awareness of the beauties of the district. Alwoodley soon became a favourite Sunday haunt of the middle classes, who wandered up the Meanwood Valley and along Adel Beck, to gaze in awe at the remarkable new aqueduct and the stunning rock formations of Alwoodley Crags.

The local inhabitants exploited this situation by opening tea-shops to cater for the thirsty walkers who travelled up the valley in increasing numbers. The more adventurous started to camp out overnight on the moors or paid a small amount to enterprising farmers who allowed them to set up their tents in nearby fields. At the beginning of the twentieth century this kind of outdoor activity was positively encouraged by Baden Powell's Scouting Association. The Lane Fox family of Bramham Park had owned all the land in this part of Alwoodley for over two centuries and had proved to be tolerant landlords who in no way discouraged visitors to the area.

Unfortunately by 1913 many of the wealthier residents of the district had grown tired of 'the repeated acts of vandalism, horse-play from well-dressed hooligans, and unseemly conduct on the part of some campers', the final straw being the bugles of the Boy Scouts which 'made an unholy din.' Dr. Eddison, a local worthy, offered to purchase the land on the Alwoodley side of Adel Beck from Lane Fox but made it clear that, if successful, the inevitable consequence would be the banning of all visitors to the district. There was a huge public outcry but the onset of the First World War quickly diverted people's attention to the conflict with Germany, and unrestricted public access continued. As a novel alternative to camping, in the inter-war period many people began to lease parcels of land on which they erected wooden huts or adapted disused railway carriages to become permanent 'holiday homes.'

When Alwoodley became part of Leeds in 1927 it was the insanitary nature of this accommodation that immediately became a major cause of concern for the council. Not only was there no systematic method for the disposal of household refuse but the toilet facilities were of the most primitive kind! Leeds Corporation was keen to encourage the development of the area and thereby increase income from the rates. The elite had already started to move into elegant detached accommodation in the Sand Moor area and semi-detached housing of a more modest scale was also being built on the Alwoodley Park Estate, however, it was not until thirty years later that the council eventually gained the power to demolish the much despised temporary accommodation. Nevertheless, the inter-war period laid the foundations for the creation of a 'leafy suburb.' The willingness of the Lane Fox family to sell its land, the presence of several notable golf courses and easy access to beautiful countryside were all factors in encouraging people to move into the area.

Despite this development the area remained remote and it was only with marked improvements in public transport that the 'housing boom' began in earnest. The vast increase in car ownership in the Sixties meant that Alwoodley became easily accessible to thousands of middle class people and was no longer viewed as being 'in the country.'

It is a remarkable stroke of luck that the camera was available to record the transformation of Alwoodley from a once remote agricultural community into one of the premier suburbs of Leeds. It has been a fascinating process to collect together a vast array of pictorial material on the district and to select the most interesting shots to chart the radical changes that occurred to the landscape during this period. From 1888 to 1958 professional photographers, skilled enthusiasts and unskilled amateurs captured views of Alwoodley that today bring feelings of nostalgia to the reader. The earliest, and arguably the most beautifully executed shots, were those by Godfrey Bingley, the Victorian photographer who specialised in capturing particularly beautiful sylvan scenes for his exhibitions and talks on the district. These contrast nicely with the 'family snap' taken by a proud aunt to remind her of a cherished visit by her relatives to their remote farm. The skill of the expert is again apparent in the superb quality of the aerial photographs extracted from a two-volume pre Second World War survey of the district. Press photographers, postcard salesmen and estate agents have also left the historian a rich bank of material to choose from. But it is the photographs taken for Leeds City Council that form the backbone of the collection, a testimony to the Corporation's role in transforming the appearance of the district. This booklet forms a unique visual record of the development of Alwoodley.


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