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24 September 2014

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The history of Quarry Hill
The Quarry Hill Flats
The Quarry Hill Flats dominated the site from the late 1930s
Plague cabins, body snatchers and a witch. These are just a few of the surprises in the history of Leeds' Quarry Hill.

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The Phoenix of Leodis is a play telling the story of Quarry Hill in music and dance. It is showing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on Wednesday 16 July 2003.

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Mavis Simpson is one of the writers of The Phoenix of Leodis - a play about the history of Quarry Hill, where the West Yorkshire Playhouse stands today.

We asked her about some of the key dates and figures that tell the story of the area.

Plague cabins

In the 1600s plague cabins were built in Quarry Hill which was then well outside the city boundaries. Poor people who came down with the plague were bundled off to teh cabins so they couldn't infect anyone else.

Bubonic plague made repeated appearances in Leeds through the centuries. In 1645 the disease struck in Vicar Lane. It spread quickly through Leeds and between March and December over 1,300 people died.

Taking the waters

In Georgian times Quarry Hill was a fashionable spa area where people came to take the waters. Leeds had a number of spas owing to the frequency of sulphuric waters. Spas located on Quarry Hill were associated with Sheepscar Beck and included Spaw Well, Lady Well and St. Peter's Well. St Peter's Well was said to aid rheumatism and rickets.

The Yorkshire Witch

Mary Bateman (also known as The Yorkshire Witch) is one of Leeds' most notorious villains.

In 1803 Mary poisoned three people living in a draper's shop near St Peter's Square in Quarry Hill. As soon as they were dead she robbed the house and shop.

Six years later she was hanged at York for the murder, by poisoning, of Rebecca Perigo, the wife of a Bramley clothier.

Mary's body was dissected in public to raise funds for the Infirmary. Her skeleton is now kept in the Thackery Medical Museum.

Body snatchers

There were rumoured to be body snatchers in the area in the 1840s. Whenever there was a funeral at the Parish Church the body snatchers seemed to find out. The bodies often turned up in William Hayes' anatomy classes.

Adelaide Nelson

The famous actress Adelaide Nelson was born in Leeds near Quarry Hill in 1848. After she married she moved to London and became a star of the era, starring in a number of plays on the West End and even went to America. She died suddenly in Paris in 1880. Her ghost is rumoured to walk the area.

The National Portrait Gallery have a picture of Adelaide Nelson in their collection. Take a look on their website.


Quarry Hill is thought to have been one of the oldest inhabited areas of the city. During the 1780s extensive building took place, using back to back housing. By the 1830s the area was overcrowded and unsanitary, leading to frequent outbreaks of cholera and other diseases. The area was classed as 'unhealthy' and by 1910 it was proposed to clear the slum and rebuild.

See some photographs of the area as it was:

The Quarry Hill Flats

The area was cleared and the Quarry Hill Flats built. The building was ready for habitation in 1938 although work continued for a time after. The flats were apparently modelled on Karl Marx Hof flats in Vienna and built by Leeds City Council. It was the largest housing scheme in the country at the time and aimed to incorporate the latest housing ideas and techniques. Flats had solid fuel ranges, electric lighting, a state-of-the-art refuse disposal system and communal facilities. The steel frame and concrete clad construction was to prove disastrous and in 1978 the whole complex was demolished.

See some pictures of the Quarry Hill Flats

Second World War

On 1 September 1940, Quarry Hill Flats were damaged when a nearby goods yard was hit. A gas main was severed, and the fire burned so severely that the stained glass windows in St Peter's church melted. Another local church, St Margaret's, used to host jitterbugs during the war years.

Find out more about Leeds during WWII

Cultural Quarter

Another major redvelopment in the area has seen Quarry Hill become modern Leeds' cultural quarter. It is now the site for Leeds College of Music, The West Yorkshire Playhouse, Yorkshire Arts and BBC Leeds. It is also the home of Quarry House, the offices of the Social Security in the north of the country. Planning for the final stage of development in the area has just been granted.

See some pictures of more recent developments in Quarry Hill

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