A flat iron. There’s a building shaped like this on Meadow Lane. There’s a bigger one in New York, considered to be the world’s first skyscraper. Those New York skyscrapers depended on metal-framed construction that was pioneered by John Marshall in the mill buildings of northern England.
Three towers. Colonel Thomas Harding modelled the chimneys for his factory on belltowers in Florence and Verona. He thought Leeds in the Industrial Revolution should be equal to the Italian cities in the Rennaissance. But what did he make in his factory?
Pins! Not dressmakers pins, but gill pins used in the textile industry. On a £20 note under Adam Smith it says “division of labour in pin manufacturing.” Colonel Harding’s factory was a textbook example. The international classification standard for pin sizes was called the Harding Gauge.
A lens. Louis le Prince was a Frenchman living in Leeds who shot the world’s first moving pictures – a street scene of people and carts crossing Leeds Bridge. “Roundhay Garden Scene” is in the Guinness Book of Records as the earliest surviving motion picture.
Traffic lights! Were invented in Cleveland USA by an African American named Garrett Morgan. But the first traffic lights in the United Kingdom were on Park Row in Leeds. Traffic lights also mean it’s time to stop.
If you find this stuff remotely as interesting as I do, there’s lots more you can see and do:
- visit the museums, notably Armley Mills and the new Leeds City Museum in Millennium Square
- notice the blue plaques around the city, put up and maintained by Leeds Civic Trust
- visit the civic trust’s online bookshop or the bricks and mortar shop on Wharf Street
- visit some fascinating buildings in Heritage Open Days in September
- take a ride on the Middleton Steam Railway, now run by volunteers
- read ‘The Invention of Air,’ Steven Johnson’s excellent new book about Joseph Priestley
- … and please tell me what you think in the comments below.