Temple Works is a one-off. Its construction as a flax mill in 1840 must have made a powerful statement about Leeds’ status as global pioneer of industry. At the time it was said to be the “largest single room in the world,” with innovative air conditioning under the floor and sheep grazing on a grass-covered roof above.
In the 1950s Yorkshire’s textile manufacture began to shrink, but the mill found a new use as the northern warehouse for mail order company Kays, a kind of Amazon.com of Britain’s post-war consumer culture.
Just imagine what this building has seen over half a dozen generations: the rhythms of working life for thousands of people, materials brought in and out, linking with the world’s most exotic and mundane places. I reckon Temple Works should qualify for preservation on the strength of this rich social history alone.
But in reality this sprawling single storey stone shed in an unprepossessing edge-of-city-centre location must owe its Grade I listed status to the fact that it’s the spitting image of the Temple of Horus at Edfu, Egypt. Those 19th Century industrialists knew how to make an impact! I work in a nearby building, another former mill converted to offices, and am both inspired and humbled by the scale of our predecessors’ ambitions.
Sadly the 21st Century has not been kind to Temple Works. Vacant since 2004, the building is subject to plans to convert it to a “cultural and retail facility“, but in the mean time its condition is becoming more perilous.
This week, thankfully in the early hours when the street outside was deserted, one of the works’ massive stone pillars crumbled, bringing down a section of the roof. Marshall Street, the road on which it stands, has been closed in case of further collapse. This picture shows the damage…
It is particularly cruel that Temple Works was allowed to decline at a time when Leeds was going through another building boom, with new offices, hotels and flats being thrown up at a startling pace. Yet the wake-up call of the column collapse comes just when that boom is crashing to a halt.
It’s too early to say what caused the collapse or what happens next to Temple Works. (The Yorkshire Evening Post story is here.) But I really hope it can be the stimulus to a happier chapter in the life of a remarkable piece of our industrial heritage.
Sort it out, Leeds, or else – the Falcon God is watching.