With a bustling hub of restaurants, shops and businesses nestled into the ever-growing city; it’s easy to forget about the long history that built Leeds into the exciting setting it has become today.
Here are the uncovered seven secrets of Leeds you never knew.
Hippos once roamed our streets
It’s strange to think hippos were once wandering around Leeds, but a discovery in 1851 found the bones of three hippopotami, thought to be over 130,000 years old.
Now displayed in Leeds City Museum, it is thought they roamed close to Armley Gyratory, one of the busiest road intersections today…
We once had a zoo where you could feed bananas to bears (and still have the bear pit to prove it)
Anyone who’s driven down Cardigan Road will be familiar with the sight of a peculiar castle-like structure. However, the now listed building was once home to a bear pit as part of Leeds Zoological and Botanical Garden.
Opened in 1840, the gardens held a number of specimens brought back from far off places in the fast-expanding British Empire. Housing monkeys, eagles and swans, the Victorians were fascinated by the new creatures, but the bears were the main attraction – especially as visitors were able to feed them bananas if they climbed to the top of the pit!
Despite closing in 1848, the remains of the Victorian bear pit are still visible to passersby today.
The Light is named after a now-discontinued newspaper
Although it’s often seen as one of Leeds newer destinations, The Light is actually made from not one but two listed buildings: Permanent House and The Headrow Buildings. And before it’s £100m redevelopment, The Light was formerly home to the headquarters of Leeds Permanent Building Society, with Browns Restaurant now occupying the former banking hall.
Despite re-opening as a retail and leisure centre in 2001, The Light keeps some of its original features to this day, including its name inspired by a newspaper published for staff.
Sheep used to live on the roof of Temple Works
This unusual structure in Holbeck may appear to stem from Ancient Egypt with its out-of-place design, but it was actually built by engineer James Combe in 1836.
The Grade I listed building was once a flax mill, built with a surprising feature: sheep. As the mill needed to retain humidity to prevent the linen thread drying out, grass was grown to cover the roof.
To prevent the grass from becoming overgrown, it was maintained by a herd of grazing sheep. However, as the sheep could not use the stairs, the first hydraulic lift was created to move them onto the mill roof.
Temple Newsam has a secret servant’s tunnel
Visitors looking to explore over 500 years of history in Leeds often turn to Temple Newsam House. Home to plenty of treasures and with rich links to British royalty, including the notorious husband of Mary Queen of Scots, visitors are fascinated by the life of blue-bloods.
However, buried under the house remain a maze of corridors linking to one giant tunnel, holding secret insights into how the rest of the household lived. It is still able to be visited today on special tours for those seeking to venture into the dimly-lit lives of past servants.
There are WW2 bunkers underneath Woodhouse Moor
Ever noticed a few strangely raised concrete patches in the grass on Woodhouse Moor? They actually hold a lot more history than you may realise.
With war looming over Leeds, work began to prepare for aerial attacks in 1938 through a series of bunkers, but not all of them were built to shelter people.
The most secure bunker was commissioned by Leeds Permanent Building Society (the same company whose headquarters were at The Light), as a secure storage unit for valuable documents and some of the city’s treasures well away from the city centre.
Left empty and sealed off to prevent trespassers, the bunkers are still visible today.
Leeds Town Hall is home to Victorian prison cells
Built in 1858, Leeds Town Hall is a famous reminder of Victorian architecture and its history, especially as its opening ceremony was performed by Queen Victoria.
With such a long history, the building has seen many changes yet still holds a number of secrets, including many hidden cells from when the Hall once housed Bridewell Police Station.