Hello, I’m Matt Edgar and I work in product
strategy and design management for a major
telco. But I’m here in a personal capacity to talk
about Leeds, it’s industrial heritage and why I
find it so inspiring.
This is an owl. This city’s 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?”
Bubbles! 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
A mint leaf! Priestley discovered that plants
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
A coffee cup! 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.
Spinning! I work in Marshall’s Mill, which was a
flax spinning mill. John Marshall employed
Matthew Murray, who didn’t have much
education, but did have a knack for fixing and
improving machines. Murray was so much in
demand that he set up on his own.
Murray built the Round Foundry. It was
probably the world’s first engineering works. No
one knows why it was round, but the fact that
later ones weren’t suggests Murray was
experimenting with the form, and round didn’t
work so well after all.
Murray built the engine for the world’s first
commercial steam railway at Middleton Colliery
in South Leeds. Murray’s rival was James Watt
of Birmingham, who even bought land next to
the Round Foundry to stop Murray expanding
Back to our flax spinner John Marshall. He built
Temple Works, a huge single storey factory
modelled on the Egyptian Temple of Edfu. This
is an aerial view showing the circular roof
lights. When it was built it was the biggest
room in he world.
Unfortunately, the roof currently looks like this,
because Temple Works has been neglected,
and few months ago, part of the roof and
Egyptian façade collapsed. This makes me
very angry. We should look after our industrial
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 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 in the mill buildings of
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. quot;Roundhay Garden
Scenequot; 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 in Park Row in Leeds.
The amber light means it’s nearly time to stop.
These are just some of my favourite stories
about why this is such an exciting city to live
and work in if like me you’re a history graduate
working in the technology sector.
I’d encourage you to look around the city, read
the blue plaques put up and maintained by
Leeds Civic Trust. The Trust has a bookshop
on Wharf Street where you can find out lots
more. They also run Heritage Open Days
across the city in September.
Read Steven Johnson’s excellent new book
about Joseph Priestley, called the Invention of
air. Visit some of the places I’ve mentioned.
Take a ride on the Middleton Colliery Railway
which is now maintained by volunteers.
And if you like you can find more of my
ramblings on my blog at matt.me63.com.