The history of Leeds: What every geek should know – part 1

Hello! The following is loosely based on a presentation I gave to GeekUp Leeds on 18 February 2009, and again at Barcamp Leeds on 30 May 2009. I wanted to show why I find Leeds such an inspiring place to work and tell a few of my favourite stories about the city’s rich history of innovation.

It starts with an owl. Leeds’ coat of arms has three of them. In Greek mythology the owl is linked with Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom. Native Americans thought an owl was a curious creature. Leeds has a history of people who asked “what if?”

Joseph Priestley lived near a brewery on Meadow Lane. He studied the gas in vats of beer and he invented a process for carbonating water. Fizzy pop! Priestley open-sourced the method, and a chap called Johann Schweppe cleaned up.

Priestley discovered that plants like this mint leaf could restore the bad air created by burning a flame in a jar. This led to the discoveries of oxygen, photosynthesis, and the interdependence of plants and animals on our planet.

Priestley met new people and shared ideas in coffee houses. He was friends with Benjamin Franklin, Josiah Wedgwood and many others. Their social network spanned the UK, France and the USA.

Another kind of network: canals. Leeds’ links by water enabled import and export. The rain that filled the canals also contributed to our damp Yorkshire climate which was ideal for spinning and weaving cloth.

onward to part 2 >

8 thoughts on “The history of Leeds: What every geek should know – part 1

  1. Thanks for a wonderful collection of insights on Leeds the city I was born in, but has taken me 40 years to learn to really appreciate. One extra detail you might like to know is that the money from Mr Marshall passed down his family to his son, who spent a large sum on buying bog land in the north of Coniston in the Lake District, to relandscape it to become Tarn Hows. The land was then later bought by Beatrix Potter in her later years. The land then passed on to the National Trust… A strange story to discover when you work at Marshall’s Mill and find yourself holidaying at Tarn Hows!

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