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Far Headingley

...and The Ridge.
People have a lot of pre-conceived ideas about the industrial north of England,they think it's all mean streets and endless red brick terraces. I'm hoping this post about the part of Leeds where I grew up will change some of those stereotypical ideas. Far Headingley has street after street of beautifully proportioned early Victorian houses and terraces and I took a nostalgic stroll around with my camera during a recent visit. 

This is the house where I spent my early childhood - we lived in the top half of it. Many will have heard of Headingley as home to a famous cricket ground, but Far Headingley is a different kettle of fish. Originally a separate village - and still with cottages dating from the 18th century or before - it became joined to the rest of Leeds by the construction of huge mansions and villas erected by the wealthy industrialists - mostly in the field of textile manufacture - who spear-headed the Industrial Revolution in this area of Yorkshire. 

In my (sadly) infrequent visits to Far Headingley, I am taken aback anew by how leafy and green it is. All the houses have gardens front and back with mature trees everywhere. 

As a child I was fascinated by this corner door - just down the road from our house - it seemed, and seems, a quite bizarre architectural quirk. But it's precisely this kind of detailing which makes the area so interesting - there are literally no two houses the same and that's a wonderful change from where I live in London with street after identical street of late Victorian terraces.

A classic Victorian villa. Far Headingly lies to the north west of the city and the rich built their house here out of the way of the prevailing wind which carried pollution from the factory chimneys miles across the town.
Note the beautiful profile of the garden wall.

Far Headingley has many wonderful terraces, each with its own character. They sometimes run at tangents to the main streets with their own private paths for access. The houses are large with cellars and attics (for the servants) and often have communal gardens at the front.

This is one of the very early cottages.

My friend Susanna lived here (an artist too - see her studio and house) so I spent a lot of time in this gorgeous house when I was a child.

In most of London no one has front gardens and if they do they just pave them over and park their cars or tip out a load of incongruous pebbles in the interests of 'fashion'. I really miss the Leeds front gardens with lawns and borders which people enjoy tending and which are a visual joy for neighbours and passers by.
Every terrace has its own distinctive character dependant on the whims of the Victorian architect - this one has elegant stone detailng over the front doors.

You can't really believe this is in a city!

More of the early 19th century cottages - these would have been for workers at the mills and tanneries in the area.

Classic Headingley terrace with a backdrop of trees.

This is what I mean by communal gardens, by not dividing the area with walls or fences it feels more spacious and is reminiscent of a grand country house garden - which I'm sure was the idea. The little sloping lawns with steps are absolutely typical.

This beautiful terrace is at a 90 degree angle to the street and has a little gated path for access running along the front. Front lawns are always a feature and provide a simple and perfect foil to the stone work and architectural detailing.

More communal gardens. And note the castellation on the roof line - this was popular in the mid-Victorian period and no doubt was another device to create a grand effect.

These bay windows are absolutely typical Far Headingley. The windows come low to the ground flooding the rooms with light. Drawing rooms are usually large and square with high ceilings and wonderful proportions. I wish, I wish I could move one of these houses to London!

.....The Ridge....
There's an unusual - but typically Leeds - piece of wild land running for about 2 miles between Far Headingley and Woodhouse Moor, near the centre of town. Leeds is a very hilly city - which of course makes the vistas really interesting - and The Ridge is a deeply wooded escarpment only accessible by footpaths which criss-cross it and run along the top. This house is perched on the highest part of the ridge and looks down over the trees to hills on the other side of Meanwood valley. What a place to live!

This incredibly long wall runs all along the top of the Ridge. Leeds is fantastic for walls, they are beautiful I think. This one always makes me think of the painting by 19th century Leeds artist Atkinson Grimshaw - 'Shadows on the Park Wall'. So atmospheric. Have a look at more of his paintings of Leeds and Yorkshire.  Atkinson Grimshaw lived on road just off the Ridge.

Leeds is riddled with ginnels!  A ginnel, as you can see, is a narrow footpath between buildings or gardens which connects various parts of a locale and gives access to places not accessible by car (or cart or carriage back in the day). I love ginnels!  You can thread your way into all kinds of hidden corners of Headingley and The Ridge via these fantastic arteries. I think modern town-planners should bring back the ginnel when laying out new developments, it's great to go on foot through human-scale passages rather than feel dwarfed an manipulated by huge out-of-scale urban environments.

The ginnel just shown cuts away out of the Ridge to the crest of a hill to which a number of streets climb from a main road below. This area was one of the most exclusive Victorian enclaves and the size of the houses is staggering.

I don't think there are any which are still occupied by a single family, most of them now belong to Leeds University and some are Halls of Residence - lucky students!

I would love this drawing room with two huge bay windows. Some of these terraces have no proper vehicular access as the roads are rough and semi-cobbled. They weren't built in the times when people had cars to park bang outside their front door. That's one of the reasons the terraces are so beautiful- no ugly cars to spoil the scene.

This is one of the roads where the massive villas are - they are all cul-de-sacs as they end in the woodland of the Ridge. When I stroll on these wide empty streets I like to imagine the clattering carriages bringing back the ladies of the house from visits to friends and the patriarch returning from a busy day at he factory! These guys made a lot of money it's plain to see!

You may have been wondering about the exact type and source of the special black stone from which the houses are built. Well here's the thing - they're all built from local yellow sandstone and it's more than a century of fierce pollution from the many factories which coloured them black. The one above has been cleaned but I much prefer them in 'Leeds grey'! 

This ginnel is truly amazing - it runs at a diagonal between two of the streets I was describing. Look at the little bridge which hops between communal terrace gardens on one side and the kitchen gardens on the other.

Faded glory.  Not in use any more but an evocative reminder of the very affluent  former times of this wonderfully preserved and beautiful area of Leeds.  
I'm very proud of my home town and I urge you to go and inspect this fantastic architecture for yourselves - get off the train at Leeds station and hop straight on to the No 1 bus to Far Headingley!


  1. Did you know all the House names by heart? I lived for most of my school days in a village outside Newcastle and the black stone cottages all had striking names, Sunnyside, Rayburn and there was probably a Montpellier but I can't remember, the indelible list was recited like a poem. Thrilling to see Chez Dalwood from all those years ago, we lived on the first floor of a huge stone mansion and that certainly set my standard for what you should call home. You don't say much about the dark satanic mills, there was something probably all gone now about life then in the industrial North and the architecture and nature of coal and iron.

  2. Anonymous26/10/15

    Thank you so much for these wonderful photos of Far Headingley! I grew up there in the 60s and 70s and I recognize the houses from Cumberland Road, the ginnels, the Ashwoods, the Ridge and that gate! (I always imagined what lay beyond, but never dared trespass. Even then the gate was never used) . It was a brilliant place to grow up. My mother bought our house for $2,000 in the 50s. It had been used as a brothel (she didn’t tell me that until I was in my 30s!) But the area started attracting artists, academics from the university,and a judge through the 60s. They tried to knock the church down in the 70s to widen Headingley Lane, but my mother started a residents association and got the area listed.

  3. Lovely photos of a beautiful area. I haven't been there for many years. These pictures brought back the quite unique atmosphere of a place where I have so often walked 'in me youth'. Thank you! Interested to see your fine bas reliefs too. You are endlessly inventive.


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