Saturday afternoon. I’m waiting for the bus, right outside the Armley Mills museum I’ve just been in, and a middle age English women arrived. Very Yorkshire, very difficult to understand for me. She told me she was at the museum too, she was at the Saturday’s knitting group, from 1 to 4 pm, I confessed that I’m not able to knit, “You should come darling, we will teach you!” (I’m getting used to all that “sweety” and “honey”). But she didn’t know who she was talking to.
Know how. Inventions. Improvements.
The museum tells the story of Leeds in the last three centuries showing sewing machines, water mills, locomotives, clocks and printers. All togethers. Actually for a visitors it’s quite a mess but a fil rouge still exists.
The first section of the museum holds the textile and tailoring galleries, that tell the history of the industrial revolution that started from the textile manufacturer sectors and in Leeds this basically means wool. You can see changing and improvements of working techniques and machines from big water wheels to Singer sewing machines. And that what I was expecting. But then I came across a room full of perfectly working clocks (I was almost freaking out with that tic-tac noise) from the William Potts & Sons Limited, that was a major British manufacturer of public clocks, based in Leeds. And then I went ahed in a big room with: printers, monopoly games, projector and old cameras.
So I discovered that some of these old printers are by the John Waddington Ltd, which started life printing posters for the theatre around 1900 and then diversified into games and packaging, for example: Monopoly. Leeds was once home to some of the best known printing companies and most skilled printing engineers in Britain.
And that’s not all. In the big areas reserved to cinema (in which a old cinema hall has also been recreated) among big projectors, magic lanterns and a zoetrope with running horses, I discovered a deep link between Leeds, the art of capturing moving images and the mysterious disappearance of a certain Louis Le Prince, but maybe it will deserve a special post.
And go forward. The museum is quite dark and a bit disorganized but it seems to be never-ending! There’ s also an outside section with more machines, more engines and a chimney, because in 1788 Armley Mills was turned into the world’s largest woollen mill by Colonel Thomas Lloyd, a Leeds cloth merchant.
I went away quite confused, wondering that I should come back in a sunnier day for a better visit of the outside but while I was on the bus with the “knitting lady” I imagined the 18th-19th centuries Leeds, smoky, foggy, with chimneys and factories everywhere, with people in the roads struggling again hard work conditions… but it should have been also so vibrant and full of inventions and engineering experimentations, a place of practice and improvements. A place where things were made. A place of know how.
Is that the Leeds heritage? And how is that linked with the today Leeds?