Published On: Mon, Nov 3rd, 2014 on 3:47 pm

10 things you probably didn’t know about Leeds

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Leeds, one of the largest cities in the UK, is full of interesting facts that are seldom talked about.

Here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about Leeds, which range from fascinating to the obscure.

10. Leeds was once known as Loidis

Venerable Bede

Leeds district was first known as Loidis, and was first mentioned in about 730 by the Anglo-Saxon theologian Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History.

He gave the following quote about the region known as Loidis, saying: “In the place of which the later kings built themselves a country-seat in the Country called Loidis [Leeds]. But the altar, being of stone, escaped the fire and is still preserved in the monastery of the most reverend abbot and priest, Thridwulf, which is in Elsiete wood.”

The Domesday book also mentioned the district in 1086, but referred to it as Ledes.

9. The oldest surviving film was filmed in Leeds

The oldest surviving film, and the first moving images ever recorded, were filmed in Leeds.

Louis Le Prince, who moved from France to Leeds to work in 1866, recorded the first moving images at Roundhay Park and on Leeds Bridge in 1888.

He filmed the “Roundhay Garden Scene” and the “Leeds Bridge Scene” whilst recording on a single-lens camera made in the same year. The “Roundhay Garden Scene” is also noted by the Guinness Book of Records.

Le Prince disappeared in France and his body and luggage were never found. It has been speculated that he may have been murdered because of his work.

8. Leeds market was the origin of Marks & Spencer

The multinational retailer we know as Marks & Spencer began as a penny bazaar in Kirkgate market in the 1880s.

Michael Marks, a Russian-born Polish refugee, then formed a partnership in 1894 with Yorkshireman Tom Spencer who was a former cashier in another retail firm.

In 2013, Marks & Spencer returned to its roots by opening a stall where it established just over 130 years ago.

7. Armley Mills was once the largest woollen mill in the world

Armley Mills

The earliest record of Armley Mills dates from the middle of the sixteenth century when local clothier Richard Booth leased ‘Armley Millnes’ from Henry Saville.

In 1788, Armley Mills was bought by Colonel Thomas Lloyd, a Leeds cloth merchant, who turned it into the largest woollen mill in the world.

By the 1900s, the mill provided jobs for hundreds of people from Armley and its surrounding areas.

6. A New-York gangster nicknamed “the Killer” was born in Leeds

Owney Madden

Above: “The Killer” as seen in the middle on the top row leaning forward.

Owney Madden was born in 1891 to Irish parents living in Leeds.

In the 1900s, he sailed from Liverpool and settled in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. He later joined the Gopher Gang, a gang associated with gang warfare, burglary, armed robbery, assault and illegal gambling.

He was known to his comrades as the “banty little rooster from hell”, because of his fierce fighting, skills with a lead pipe and gunfights against rivals.

Earning the nickname as “the Killer,” Madden became a leading underworld figure in Manhattan.

5. Harry Houdini nearly drowned in Leeds

Harry Houdini

Tetley’s Brewery was founded in 1822 in Leeds. In 1911, it challenged great escapologist Harry Houdini to escape from a padlocked metal cask full of ale.

Houdini accepted but failed the challenge, being rescued by his assistant named Franz Kokol who was disturbed by the silence behind the curtain.

Kokol found Houdini in the ale partly conscious and saved his life by rushing to his aid.

4. A Sherlock Holmes world record was beaten in Leeds

In 2014, 443 people broke the Guinness World Record for the Most People Dressed as Sherlock Holmes.

Hundreds gathered at Temple Newsam dressed in deerstalker hats, cloaks, with pipe and magnifying glasses.

They danced to the theme tune of the BBC Sherlock series and also did a collective mob dance to Bee Gee’s hit ‘Staying Alive’.

3. A mass water-fight broke out in Leeds city centre

In 2008, a mass water-fight broke out at the city’s Millenium Square.

Over 300 people, armed with water pistols and buckets, took part in the fight that was initially arranged on social networking website Facebook.

They also caused thousands of pounds worth of damage by destroying the award-winning garden that was built in honour of Nelson Mandela.

2. Hippos once roamed Leeds

In 1851, workmen digging clay in a brick field in Armley discovered several huge bones that belonged to the Great Northern Hippopotamus, a hippo that flourished over 100,000 years ago.

It is believed that the animals perished in some sort of natural disaster, possibly a flood during the last interglacial period.

The bones are now kept at Leeds City Museum.

1. Leeds has a Quidditch team

Leeds Quidditch

Students from Leeds University regularly meet up and play Quidditch, the famous sport of the wizarding world associated with Harry Potter.

Known as the ‘Leeds Griffins’, students train, discuss skills and tactics and take part in friendly games and tournaments. They also host sorting hat ceremonies and Yule Balls as part of their student society.

Image courtesy: Leeds Industrial Museum, JohnShep, Leeds University Quidditch and Harry Potter Society.

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