Category: Non-Fiction/Leeds – Paperback: 96 pages – Publisher: The History Press – Source: Kindly offered by the publisher
First published: February 2013
It’s been a little while since I reviewed a Leeds related book on here but as some of you might know (and others will suspect) – an interest in local history does go hand-in-hand with my work as a genealogist. I have a rather tall stack of books on the people and history of Leeds and am always interested when a new one is published.
Bloody British History is a series of books put out by The History Press focusing on various series around the UK and the Leeds title was written by Richard Smyth, a local freelance writer.
Focusing on the grimmer, murkier side of Leeds history it’s a nicely produced little paperback which will appeal to kids (and adults) brought up on Horrible Histories style books. Each chapter is two or three pages long and shares a tale of murder, madness or rioting that shaped the city’s history or sheds some light on what living here in earlier eras might have been like.
There are dozens of overview books of Leeds but this is a decent look at the city’s history, covering everything from the Roman fort at nearby Ilkley (known as Olicana to the Romans) to the possible medieval castle (which documents hint at but has never been properly investigated) through witchcraft trials, the part Leeds played in the English Civil War, bodysnatchers (Leeds was on the main route north for ‘resurrection men’ in the 19th century) and finally to the impact of WWII bombing which destroyed the city’s museum and blew up a couple of Egyptian mummies in the process.
The macabre will always fascinate and this is a great little introduction for those who don’t already know some of our darker local urban legends – the child murderer who inspired a fake Shakespeare play or the poisoner known as The Yorkshire Witch for example. Though those interested in local history might already know the details of the most famous (or rather infamous) incidents featured in here, Smyth’s bloggish-sized summaries are interesting throughout and even I found snippets and details I didn’t know, especially in the more modern chapters.
Further Reading: The Yorkshire Evening Post’s interview with Smyth
Buy the book: Direct from The History Press