Holbeck Urban Village
Five neon signs

A series of site specific artworks that illuminated corners of Holbeck, Leeds with stories of its historic past. The work was commissioned by The Culture Company working in partnership with Leeds City Council and Holbeck Urban Village as part of Secrets and Light, a programme which aimed to encourage people to take an alternative way of exploring the area and to reintegrate it into the mental map of Leeds city centre.

Yarn is five short texts created as neon signs and sited at The Canal Office, The Round Foundry Media Centre, Temple Mill, The Commercial Pub and LA Bowl.

Each text was fictional but rooted in reality and functioned as an entry point into wider narratives about people who lived and worked in the area in the 19th century. Some of those people were great entrepreneurs, others unrecognised workers, but all the art works aimed to provide an insight into their everyday lives from romance to espionage. Each piece was in a handwritten font to personalise the history of the area and create connections between people and place. They are all sited in the same location the historic event happened in order to close the gap between past and present.

Yarn by definition is 1. a continuous twisted strand of wool, cotton, or synthetic fibres, usually used for knitting or weaving 2. a long or involved tale, especially one that relates exciting or incredible events. Thus the title of the work refers to the history of spinning and weaving in Holbeck but also to the narrative nature of each work.

Above and below: 'ALFRED SUPERVISES THE SOAP CARGO' on the Canal Office, Canal Wharf. Alfred Whitaker was the agent at the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Office at the end of the 19th century. The Canal opened in 1816 and connected with the Aire and Calder Navigation which already provided transport links with Hull and Europe. The new canal enabled Leeds merchants to trade with the port of Liverpool and the transatlantic market. In minutes taken at a company meeting held at The Midland Hotel in Bradford on 21 June 1900, Alfred reports that there is a mixed traffic carrying salt, grain, sugar, groceries and salt. ‘Getting Lever’s soap trade – 2 boats to Leeds and 2 to Bradford’ but ‘don’t get much of Liverpool wool’.
Above and below: 'MATTHEW LOCKS AWAY THE PLANING MACHINE' on the Round Foundry Media Centre. Matthew Murray was an engineer who was instrumental to the development of steam power in the 18th century. He set up the Round Foundry, a steam engine manufactory, in 1795 with David Wood and William Fenton where they designed and built locomotives and flax machinery. In 1802 Murray invented the planing machine. This machine was vital to the success of the D-slide valve used in many engines to control the admission of steam into the cylinder. Its design wasn’t patented and as such was open to theft by rival firm Boulton & Watt. One of Murray’s former employees recalled ‘The [planing] machine was not patented, and was kept as much a secret as possible, being locked up in a small room by itself, to which the ordinary workmen could not gain access.’
Above and below: 'FRANCES WELCOMES THOMAS' on the Commercial pub, Sweet Street. Miss Frances Pickersgill was the proprietor of the Commercial in 1881. That same year the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen formed in Leeds and held its first Annual Conference at the Commercial. It was there that it elected its first general secretary, Thomas Sunter, and national executive.
Above and below: 'JONUS MARRIES JOHN AND ALICE' on former Reality building, Marshall Street. Jonus Bynner was the minister at the Independent Chapel on Marshall Street (now demolished) near the junction with Sweet Street West in 1899. He married John Hebden who lived at 42 Malvern Road, Holbeck and Alice Lister of 5 Ingram Place on 28 June 1899.
Above and below: 'BILL TAKES A SWING AT JOSEPH' on the former LA Bowl building, Sweet Street. Joseph Bradberry was a beer retailer who lived and worked at 23 Spa Street off Sweet Street in 1881. William Hopton was a shopkeeper who lived in the neighbouring road at 28 Dudley Street. ‘The 1830 Beer Act allowed virtually any householder, who paid a small fee, to sell beer on his premises and not surprisingly the number of inns, beer-houses and gin shops increased rapidly… Temperance workers reported that national spending on drink rose from £67 million in 1830 to £81 million in 1850. Most of the families were spending twice as much each week on drink as they were paying for their rent. Needless to say, that in working class areas drunkenness and fighting became everyday occurrences.’