Celebrating a year of culture in Leeds
Art, industry and culture in Yorkshire's capital city
Art, industry and culture in Yorkshire's capital city
What do you do when you really want something and then someone tells you no, you can't have it? Well, if you're the city of Leeds in the UK, and the thing you want is to be European Capital of Culture, but you had to cancel this when the UK left the European Union, then what you do is... you go ahead with your plans anyway!
In 2023, Leeds is celebrating its first Year of Culture, starting with an event called 'The Awakening', which is followed by a year-long programme of events including virtual tours, so you can join in from anywhere in the world.
The organisers say: 'The city of Leeds is bursting with culture. And it can change lives. But not everyone feels they have the freedom to access culture and creativity. Through our spirit, we'll all change that, together.'
The year also includes '1001 Stories' - a mass-participation project that will put the voices, histories and stories of older people centre-stage by gathering 1001 stories from those aged 60 and over and creating new artistic work based on these stories.
Leeds is the largest city in West Yorkshire, and competes with Manchester to potentially be the UK's third largest city (the second is either Manchester or Birmingham depending on how you measure it).
So, what is Leeds famous for and what can the world thank the city for?
Located at the heart of the industrial revolution, Leeds has long been known for its textile and manufacturing industries. By the 14th century, Leeds was already an important centre of wool trade. The industrial revolution brought major changes, and the city's textile and manufacturing industries flourished. Many mills and factories produced wool, clothing and other goods.
By the late 18th century, the city was home to the largest wool market in the world, Armley Mills, which has now been transformed into Leeds Industrial Museum.
In fact, Leeds' industry inspired art: Joseph Mallord William Turner painted the earliest known depiction of a British industrial landscape looking at Leeds.
Once dark and blackened by the grime and soot of its industrial success, Leeds has reinvented itself to become a thriving centre for arts and culture.
It boasts the longest running West Indian carnival in Europe and the Guinness World Record for the longest running music hall at the City Varieties. It is home to arts organisations such as Northern Ballet, Opera North and a music conservatoire and hosts a range of arts events, like Leeds Light Night - the UK's largest annual arts and light festival, which sees the city's indoor and outdoor spaces transformed by everything from large-scale light projections and interactive installations, to music, dance and street performances.
One thing Leeds is particularly renowned for in the arts world is sculpture, which has played an important role in the city's arts scene.
Celebrated sculptor Henry Moore was born in Yorkshire, in Castleford to the southeast of Leeds. From 1919 to 1921, he studied at the Leeds School of Art, which set up a sculpture studio, especially for him.
One of the most influential British artists of the 20th century and a pioneer of post-war modernism, Moore's sculptures can now be found in museums and public spaces across Europe and beyond.
In Leeds, the Henry Moore Institute now shows exhibitions as well as holding an extensive research library on Moore and sculpture in general.
Several of Moore's sculptures can also be seen at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield, around 30 kilometres southeast of Leeds. Founded in 1977, this is the first sculpture park in the UK and the largest in Europe.
Alongside Moore's sculptures, Yorkshire Sculpture Park displays sculpture by Barbara Hepworth. She was born in Wakefield in 1903 and also studied at Leeds School of Art. She was a leading modernist sculptor whose abstract artworks were inspired by the natural world.
As for literature, it is thought that JRR Tolkien came up with the idea for The Hobbit whilst studying at Leeds University. Another Leeds University alumni, Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka, went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986.
The city has also been home to leading playwright, screenwriter and actor Alan Bennett (The Madness of George III / The History Boys), and Helen Fielding who wrote Bridget Jones' Diary, while Joanne Harris who wrote Chocolat was a teacher at Leeds Grammar School.
Leeds has one of the largest recreational parks in Europe - Roundhay Park - with 700 acres (2.8 square kilometres) of parkland, lakes, woodland and gardens. It was created by William the Conqueror, and even has a song written about it.
And it was in a garden near Roundhay in 1888 that the first motion pictures were shot, by a Frenchman named Louis Le Prince.
Not long after this, the father of cinematography disappeared and no-one seems to know what happened to him. That might be why he doesn't get much credit - his working motion picture model preceded those by Thomas Edison and the Lumière brothers by some years, but his disappearance meant he wasn't around to promote his own.
So if you ever go to the cinema you have Leeds to thank for it. But that's not all. That soda you buy to slurp on throughout the film - thank Leeds for that too.
This was one of those happy accident type inventions. Joseph Priestley - chemist and inventor among many other things - discovered a way to infuse water with carbon dioxide when he suspended a bowl of water over a beer vat in a brewery in Leeds in 1767. He then wrote about the 'peculiar satisfaction' he felt when drinking it. And it was this invention that led to the creation of the soft drinks industry.
But if you’re staying in, then say thanks to Leeds again, because many of those board games that bring you and your family so much joy (and frustration!) may have their origins in a company called Waddingtons. John Waddington set up the company in Leeds initially as a printing firm then branched out into games in 1922.
Railways changed how we transported goods and people, and Leeds has the oldest continuously working railway in the world, founded in 1758. It was also the first commercial railway to use steam locomotives successfully. It's still running today as a heritage railway along its 1.6 kilometre track.