Leeds – a magical city in a majestic county. Heritage Corner’s Leeds Black History Walk is a fascinating revelation of historic Yorkshire links to the ancient continent of Africa, highlighting a shared and intertwined heritage which is hidden in plain sight.
We begin at the bottom of the steps to the iconic Parkinson Building, which many great feet continue to ascend as they make their way to the entrance of the University of Leeds on Woodhouse Lane. Incidentally, whilst world-renowned author JRR Tolkien once taught here, this building arose in 1951 after his tenure.
Standing in front of the Parkinson building, you’ll find yourself impressed by its imposing height and Greek revival architecture. The classical shape and columns declare confidence and stature. We ponder where the Greeks and Romans got their ideas and how much we know about these older influences, where they too learned by degrees.
If you’re lucky, you might see the nesting peregrine falcons who have made their home on top of the Parkinson clock tower. Here you can find a natural reference to Ancient Egypt, where the god of the sky Horus was depicted with the head of a falcon. You can also find this design on another iconic building in the south of the city, Temple Works.
To Textile Court
From facing the Parkinson steps, turn left and then right beneath an archway. As we continue past impressive neo-Gothic buildings to Textile Court, we get the opportunity to appreciate how nature blends with simple red brick. Immediately after the Great Hall, we enter the gate to Textile Court. It’s worth pausing inside here to take in the combined splendour of the gardens, building, sculpture and unfamiliar symbols.
Professor Cyril Ransome took a post in this building as one of the first lecturers at the then Yorkshire Textile College in 1879. Cyril is the father of the Leeds-born writer Arthur Ransome, author of Swallows and Amazons. Interesting connections in history evolve on the guided walk, best experienced to be appreciated. The coincidental facts are every bit as engaging as the African connections to the surrounding beauty that we share.
The evocative Textile Court boasts a menagerie of botanical plants, all related to cloth dyes, with a nod to botanical trade. The misleading architecture suggests an older existence, with its medieval ambience articulated by mock castle turrets, impressive arches and mysterious symbols.
A campus awash with sculptures
There are many amazing sculptures on campus. In Textile Court, choose a bench and admire Quentin Bell’s ‘Levitating Woman’. While her stability relies on fibreglass, she deceives us with her bronze exterior. This spot, beautiful throughout the seasons, is a perfect location for a daydream. Tune in to busy birds in the canopy of trees and block out the world.
Leaving the courtyard, we head for the School of Performance and Cultural Industries. On this walk, we can take time to notice once more the harmony between man-made creativity and nature’s blessings. Here we encounter sculptures, friezes, and an abundance of reeds reminiscent of the banks of the River Nile.
Take time to appreciate the sublime aesthetic of Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Dual Form’ sculpture, an artist influenced by African art techniques. Passing the iconic student union building, we reach one of the oldest buildings on campus. Lyddon Hall, now a student hall of residence, is a building with plentiful tales of trade. These feature ocean economies, railways, resistance and progress. This is a great spot for reflection: during lockdown, we witnessed rabbits and squirrels staging a defiant reclamation.
On to the Clarendons
Now we weave our way past Lyddon Hall. We wander up cobbled paths, crossing paved streets of Victorian terraces with impressive Georgian architecture on the edges. In the Clarendons, we discover further links and connections. We reflect on transatlantic feet walking these very cobbled streets, in centuries before war veterans and Windrush suitcases arrived to settle. Tales of migration, hard work and hardship mingle with uplifting acts of kindness, humour and resilience.
At the end of Clarendon Place, you have a choice. Turning left will take you across Clarendon Road to the joys of Woodhouse Moor. Turning right, you can complete a circular campus route, heading straight ahead. On this route, take time to admire the clean lines of the Clothworkers building. Look up high to spot another sculpture, Mitzi Cunliffe’s ‘Man-Made Fibres’.
Our guided walk doesn’t end here. It’s the cherry on a rich cake, to be experienced with all the senses. A hidden place, it is unknown to many and fitting for the end of a magical mystery tour. Full of positivity, resplendent with character, architecture and more Beatles references.
On the LBHW guided tour, walkers find that two hours pass quickly. At the end, many just linger, seeing a city they thought they knew in a completely different way…
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By Joe Williams and Vanessa Mudd