Leeds 1757 - 1776 - Putting the figures into context


Table G-1
Broad and Narrow Cloth milled in the West Riding of Yorkshire 1756-1776 from Wilson [1971 p40

Broad Cloth
(1000 pieces)
Narrow Cloth
(1000 pieces)
1756 33.6 79.3
1757 55.8 77.1
1758 60.4 66.4
1759 51.9 65.5
1760 49.4 69.6
1761 48.9 75.5
1762 48.6 72.9
1763 48.0 72.1
1764 54.9 79.5
1765 54.7 77.4
1766 72.6 78.9
1767 102.4 78.8
1768 90.0 74.5
1769 92.5 87.8
1770 93.1 85.4
1771 92.8 89.9
1772 112.4 95.5
1773 120.2 89.9
1774 87.2 88.3
1775 95.9 96.8
1776 99.7 99.6

In 1757 the national depression 'had reached its nadir' in Leeds [Wilson 1971 p47] with high unemployment and high food prices although Table G-1 [Wilson 1971 p40] shows 1756 to have the lowest production of broad cloth in the West Riding. Production remained quiet until 1766 when there was a sudden improvement rising to a peak in 1773 before dropping slightly as another depression was encountered. This was partly caused by the loss of the American market during the Revolution and by the loss of European markets when France joined the war.

The period of this study is, therefore, a lull between the storms. A time of relative prosperity, with better employment prospects for the poorer members of society. The merchants were doing good trade and starting the move to the 'West End' of Leeds, with Park Lane already built for the 1770 map by Jeffery. At this point most of them still lived in large houses in and around the centre of Leeds but had so adapted them to business needs that they were moving out. From the number of burials it would seem that Kirkgate had already been abandoned to masses of dwellings and industry, Boar Lane, Hunslet Lane, Meadow Land and Briggate were deteriorating in the same way [Wilson 1971 p196]

Marsh Lane, Quarry Hill, The Leylands and Mabgate were an ugly urban sprawl 'where the cottages, dyehouses, weaving sheds and press shops were jumbled together' [Wilson 1971 p196] as many more people crammed themselves into the same area that far less had lived in not many years previously. It would seem that the greatest number of deaths ought to occur in these areas, but they are surpassed by Kirkgate and Bank, perhaps because at this point the dreadful failure in sanitation, which caused massive epidemics in later years, had not yet occurred.

Entertainment was provided by the Assembly Rooms, at this point in the original White Cloth Hall in Kirkgate and there was a theatre in Vicar Lane until 1771 when Tate Wilkinson opened his purpose-built theatre in Hunslet Lane. This explains the burial of Thomas Achurch, a comedian, on 31st August, 1771 from apoplexy. The new Assembly Rooms were not opened until 1777.

This study starts the month after a near riot over the high cost of corn noted by the curate of Hunslet in his diary for May 3 1757. [Burt and Grady 1994 p81] The first six months from June 1757 to December 1757 do not show an unusually high rate of burials although 1758 does start badly. [Table A-6 and Figure A-2 ] The price of wheat was 3/4d more than at the start of Table B-3, at 266.67 pence per quarter, a lot of money at a time when the men were only earning between 5/- and 12/- per week over a decade later in much better circumstances. [Arthur Young in Heap and Brears 1993 p25]

We can see from the number of soldiers, and their families, buried that several regiments were in residence at the time. The 37th Regiment has most mentions up to May, 1771 and is then replaced by the 15th Regiment. The children of both these regiments are present in the burial register. Other regiments mentioned are the 36th and the 3rd. However it would seem that the wives and families of soldiers were often abandoned to seek refuge in the Workhouse [Anderson 1777] and that recruitment for the militia was so fierce that they would recruit men from the Workhouse, even when they were unfit.

Despite rabies being a great problem [Burt and Grady 1994 p 82] at the time there is not a single death attributed to it. It must be assumed that this was one of the causes which were omitted from the register.

William Hey achieved political respectability, despite his being a non-conformist, by his involvement with the project to build the infirmary which was launched in May 1767 and started in a rented house in Kirkgate. This was a year after his father, Mr Richard Hey of Pudsey died of consumption and was buried on 24th February, 1766. Presumably the Mrs Hey of Pudsey who died of consumption and was buried on 21st May, 1768, was his mother or the wife of one of his brothers.

This all means that period under discussion is remarkable for little other than the opening of the Infirmary. There were no events capable of disturbing the fairly even progress of life. Life was not too easy but not too terrible either. Disease was rife, but not as bad as it would be. It is after one depression and finishes with another, just before the boom that was to cause the population to increase dramatically.

In fact it is probably the worst possible period to demonstrate crisis mortality, but a relatively pleasant time for the people who did not die to appear in the burial register.


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