The city of Leeds offers a wide variety of historical sites that chronicles its evolution through the ages. From ancient abbeys to opulent Victorian edifices and museums showcasing items of interest, Leeds’ history is truly colourful. Whether you’re an avid historian or a casual tourist, these sites will transport you back in time and provide a deeper appreciation for local history in the largest city in West Yorkshire.
Here are some historic sites in Leeds that should be on every visitor’s itinerary:
Temple Newsam Manor
As one of our historical sites in Leeds, Temple Newsam has history predating the Tudor-Jacobian country house it is famous for today.
At the time of the Norman conquest in 1066, buildings already existed on the historic site and was listed as “Neuhusam” in the Domesday Book of 1086, owned by Ilbert de Lancy. Prior to this, little is documented, with some sources suggesting that the land was owned and worked by Anglo-Saxon thanes.
The land was gifted to Templar Knights and, upon their suppression in 1307, came back into the ownership of private gentry. The Tudor manor house was built in around 1510 and was seized by the crown in 1537. King Henry VIII gifted the property to his niece, eventually passing to Mary Queen of Scots and King James I, despite not being an official “royal” residence.
The site has hosted multiple music events including Leeds Festival in the early 00s, and now Slam Dunk Festival is hosted on the estate during summer.
Ancient History at Kirkstall Abbey
Kirkstall Abbey, located on the banks of the river Aire, is a ruined Cistercian monastery that offers a glimpse into the region’s medieval past. The history of Leeds can be traced to the early middle ages, when the area was but a forested oasis occupied by hermits. Kirkstall Abbey was eventually built as a dedication to the Virgin Mary after the Lord of Pontefract, Henry De Lancy (great-grandson of Ilbert de Lancy who owned Temple Newsam) survived a heavy illness. Despite much of Kirkstall Abbey being demolished during the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII, it stands today as one of the best-preserved abbey ruins in the UK.
The abbey, founded in the 12th century, boasts a rich history that’s still tangible, even amidst its crumbling ruins.
Operating for nearly 350 years, the ruins of the abbey have provided insight into the lives of the monks that resided there. As you wander through the abbey’s imposing arches and ivy-covered walls, you can’t help but feel a sense of awe. The remains of the towering presbytery towers defiantly over the surrounding walls — it’s easy to imagine how grand the abbey would have been during its prime.
Entry to the abbey is free-of-charge to Leeds residents, and up to £5.50 for those visiting from out of town. The site is popular at all times of year, with guided tours, weddings and beer festivals during summer and Halloween hauntings to keep visitors entertained as the nights draw in closer.
Lost to Nature — Harewood Castle on Harewood Estate
Whilst the lavishly grand Harewood House can be considered the jewel in the Harewood Estate’s crown, Harewood Castle predates it by over 400 years. There were smaller buildings on the site which the now-gutted castle occupies, however none remain; only the 14th century ruin survives.
The overgrown forestry reinforces the feeling of “age” around the building — at the time it was lived-in, the panoramic views of river Wharfe and the surrounding valley could have been astounding. A “license to crenelate” was granted in 1366, meaning that whatever settlement existed before could be fortified. The relatively small stone castle has a certain charm, perhaps even because of its dilapidated state; the imagination is allowed to wander as the mind grapples as to how the building could have appeared almost 650 years ago.
The castle was lived in for a comparably short period of time until its final resident left in 1630. Shortly thereafter, it was bequeathed again and again and again until it was eventually sold by executors to Henry Lascelles, whose son Edwin would go on to build Harewood House.
The derelict stone hall house is a Grade I listed building and has been left to the elements since its abandonment, with the exception of emergency structural works in the early 00s.
Visiting the castle will mean purchasing a ticket to the grounds and gardens from the Harewood Estate — priced up to £13.75.
Unveiling the History of Warfare at Royal Armouries Museum
Just outside Leeds city centre on Leeds Dock, the Royal Armouries Museum is one of the must-see landmarks for history enthusiasts and curious minds alike. With a collection spanning over 8,000 objects, the museum offers an in-depth exploration of the art and science of warfare throughout the ages.
How much does entry cost at Royal Armouries Museum?
Entry to the Royal Armouries Museum is free of charge.
What is there to see at the museum?
As you wander through the corridors, you’ll come face to face with majestic suits of armour, intricate weaponry, and artefacts that all have their own stories. From the armour of Elizabethan knights to samurai warriors, each exhibit unveils a different chapter in the evolution of warfare.
But it’s not just about the exhibits; the Royal Armouries Museum also hosts thrilling displays and live demonstrations that bring history to life. The Daily Combats allow visitors to witness expert swordsmen showcasing their mastery with time-accurate blades. These interactive experiences add an extra layer of excitement to your visit, making it truly unforgettable.
One of the most fascinating exhibits at the Royal Armouries is the collection of medieval armour. As you walk through the dimly lit room, you can almost hear the clanking of metal and the heavy footsteps of knights in battle. The horned helmet gifted to King Henry VIII in 1511 is displayed proudly and has been adopted as the museum’s emblem, whilst numerous Greenwich armours are laid out for all to enjoy.
Another highlight of the museum is the section dedicated to samurai warriors. Step into a world of honour and discipline as you admire the beautifully crafted katanas and suits of armour worn by these legendary soldiers.
For those interested in more recent history, the Royal Armouries also showcases weaponry and artefacts from World War I and II. The museum provides a comprehensive look at the impact of war on society and the individuals who fought bravely.
As you make your way through the museum, you should take a moment to appreciate the stunning architecture that houses these historical treasures. The Royal Armouries is located in a beautifully restored waterfront building, blending old with new.
Before you leave, don’t forget to visit the museum shop, where you can find a wide range of souvenirs and books to further explore the world of warfare — there’s something for every history enthusiast to take home as a memento of their visit.