The North Bar Plaque – A Medieval Gateway to Leeds
Step back in time with us to medieval Leeds, as today we unveil plaque number 164 for the ‘North Bar’.
THE MEDIEVAL BARS OF LEEDS
In the Middle Ages the boundaries of the built-up area of the town of Leeds were marked by bars. Leeds was not a heavily defended city like York, and so did not have large stone fortified entrances similar to Bootham Bar and Micklegate Bar. John Cossins’ Plan of Leeds published in 1726 indicates that, some, if not all the Leeds bars were wooden gates designed to; keep out stray cattle, delay unwanted visitors and as barriers at which tolls could be collected on market days.
Originally, there were six town bars. Moving in a clockwise direction they were; the North Bar on Vicar Lane, between Lady Lane and Templar Street; the East Bar, or York Bar, at the end of Kirkgate by the Parish Church; the South Bar on the south side of Leeds Bridge; the West Bar towards the City Square end of Boar Lane; Burley Bar on the Headrow by Albion Street; and Woodhouse Bar sited at the bottom of Woodhouse Lane, in Dortmund Square.
As the eighteenth century progressed the gates were no longer required but the bars continued to mark important administrative boundaries; their position was thereafter marked by Bar Stones. Three Bar Stones survive today; Burley Bar Stone, now in the reception area of the Leeds Building Society’s Headquarters on Albion Street; the East Bar Stone in the wall of Leeds Parish Church precinct; and the North Bar Stone concealed behind the fascia of a shop on the east side of North Street.
In 1755 the Leeds Improvement Act empowered a commission consisting of fourteen principal inhabitants living within the town bars, nominated by the ratepayers, plus the mayor, recorder and Justices of the Peace for the borough to provide street lighting and paving for the streets within the bars and to ensure that the town was properly cleansed. Under the Act residents within the town bars were required to ‘cease throwing ashes, rubbish, dust, timber, dirt, dung, filth, tubs or other annoyances into the streets’. Occupants of houses fronting the street were obliged to ‘sweep and clean the street in front of their property between one and three o’clock every Saturday afternoon.’
It is interesting to note that the boundaries denoted by the bars in the early eighteenth century conform very closely to the boundaries of the Leeds city centre shopping area today. The siting of the West Bar and Burley Bar are readily explained because they marked the boundary between the town and the manorial park. Even when trees had been cut down, the park area remained open fields well into the eighteenth century until the development of the Park Estate began. Park Row was the first of the streets to be built. The river to the south created a very natural boundary. While, as Cossins’ Plan of 1726 showed, going much beyond the Parish Church to the east or beyond St John’s and the Grammar School to the north, you would soon have been out into fields.
The rapid growth of the town after 1755 made it necessary to extend street lighting, paving and the authority of the street cleaning by-laws beyond the bars. The 1790 Improvements Act, which included provisions to do with water supply, extended the commissioners’ jurisdiction to areas within 1000 yards of the town bars.
OTHER BARS WITH BLUE PLAQUES
In November 1987 our first Blue Plaque was erected on the premises of the Leeds Building Society on the corner of the Headrow and Albion Street to commemorate Burley Bar (the stone is on display in a glass case inside the premises).
In September 1989 a plaque was erected at the west end of Boar Lane to commemorate The West Bar, sponsored by the Bond Street Shopping Centre Merchants Association, marking the Western boundary of the built up area of the medieval town.
In May 1995 a plaque was erected on the churchyard wall of Leeds Parish Church, Kirkgate, sponsored by Professor Neville Rowell, to mark the East Bar – the eastern boundary of the medieval town of Leeds. The Bar Stone can still be seen in the churchyard wall.
In June 2015 a plaque was erected at the southern end of Leeds Bridge to commemorate the South Bar.