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The History of Headingley

Headingley can claim to be 'Leeds Number One Suburb.' And its residents are committed to sustaining that claim.

Headingley has risen to its present position at an accelerating rate. In the Domesday Book (and doubtless long before) it was an isolated rural hamlet. As such, it fell within the lands of one of the Conqueror's barons, and then became part of the Kirkstall Abbey estates.

In the seventeenth century, Leeds became a Borough, and Headingley passed into the hands of the Brudenell family, Earls of Cardigan. By the nineteenth century, Leeds was a burgeoning industrial town, and increasingly its residents looked further afield to settle. The seventh Earl of Cardigan (of Light Brigade fame) saw the opportunity, and steadily sold his estates in Headingley for development as the city's first suburb. Early in the century, Leeds' first omnibus route ran to Headingley - and the No 1 bus still follows this route. As the century closed, densely-packed terraces spread up the slopes of the Aire valley, below Headingley Hill.

In the twentieth century, the remaining open fields were in-filled by inter-war developments. By the end of the century then, Headingley was an amazingly diverse neighbourhood, with eighteenth-century cottages, Victorian villas, industrial terraces, thirties semis - not to mention an internationally-famous Stadium. The architectural diversity was matched by the diversity of the population, in terms of age and class and ethnicity - including a small population of students.

In the last decade of the twentieth century, however, Headingley entered its second phase of upheaval. In the space of just ten years, its population profile saw a rapid, broad and deep transformation. Throughout the century, twenty-year-olds comprised a fifth of the population (as usual). But by the 1991 Census, this had risen to a third; by 2001, it was 40%. And in 2006, it was half of the population. Meanwhile, newly-arrived people were below 15% till late in the century. Then in 1991, this rose to 22%, and by 2001, it was 42%. (Demographic changes in the '90s can be tracked through the Electoral Register: see over page.) Diversity was replaced by uniformity.

This transformation covered Headingley and neighbouring communities, some two square miles in all. Settled residents saw their community change before their eyes. And the transformation affected all aspects of community life. First homes for families became second homes for students, schools closed, nights were disturbed, burglary, rubbish and rats became the worst in the city, the economy was transformed, the population changed continually, the young and the old became isolated. Not surprisingly, residents have found these profound changes deeply distressing - not simply the unbalanced population profile and sense of marginalisation, nor the loss of amenity, but more deeply, the feeling of disempowerment.

The remaining residents have invested a lot in their community and worked hard to sustain it. Most of the area is covered by community associations. Together, these have set up a Headingley Community website and a quarterly newsletter, Headway, as well as a campaigning group, Leeds HMO Lobby. As a result, the area has dedicated planning and housing policies, a Shared Housing Action Plan, as well as numerous other local policies. Meanwhile, collectively residents have formed Headingley Development Trust, to intervene directly in local developments (including community, retail, business and housing projects). And a series of Neighbourhood Design Statements is intended to maintain for future residents the heritage of Headingley, the city's premier suburb.

For more, see Eveleigh Bradford, Headingley, Northern Heritage Publications (2008), and Social & Spatial Inequalities Research Group, Changing UK: the way we live now, Department of Geography, University of Sheffield (2008).

Leeds HMO Lobby, Spring 2009


Leeds HMO Lobby
email: hmolobby@hotmail.com website: www.hmolobby.org.uk/leeds