Cradle on Air(e)

Co-author, Rachael Unsworth, was interviewed on BBC Radio Leeds on Saturday 19th January 2019. So much to say about the book, and so little time … But presenter Andrew Edwards admires our work.

Rachael Unsworth on Radio Leeds

The tour on Sunday 20th January was blessed with glorious winter sunshine and the almost-full moon rising as we reached the famous half square mile of the loco-making part of Hunslet.

The next tour on this route will be on Sunday 10th March. More information to follow.


Walking tour of ‘The Cradle’ Sunday 20th January

Author Rachael Unsworth will guide you on a walking tour of Holbeck and Hunslet. The route takes in sites that have links to a couple of dozen of the innovators featured in the book.

Photo taken at The Round Foundry, Holbeck, on a tour in September 2018. This is where engineer Matthew Murray developed his steam engine technology, including the first ever successful locomotive that enabled the Middleton Colliery to bring coal into the town centre more efficiently. In turn, this was an important ingredient in enabling Leeds to produce cloth and other products at competitive prices.

Rachael was in Cradle ‘uniform’, of course.

An ecosystem of innovation

From its beginnings as a textile trading town, Leeds became an early manufacturing location: first textile factories, then engineering. Many more products followed to make it a city of 1,000 trades. The contemporary economy, now so strong in services, has deep roots.

Survival and thriving depend on constant reassessment of how an organisation works and how it relates to the changing operating environment. There are some intriguing stories of ‘Leeds Legends’ – ingenious long-term survivors – as well as some salutary tales of ‘Giants of the past’.

From engineering to behavioural research

Guy Redwood’s ‘ruthless open-mindedness’ led him from studying electrical engineering to founding SimpleUsability. Principles of neuroscience are applied to improve the effectiveness of websites, mobile apps and packaging. Attracted by the already thriving digital sector in Leeds, Guy moved the business in 2005, taking a floor in a converted flax spinning mill  built in the early nineteenth century by industrial pioneer John Marshall (also featured in the book). Participants in special workshops view recordings of their own eye movements and are questioned carefully about thoughts, emotions and motivations that influenced their engagement with the screen.

Slumber not

Harrison Spinks have been making beds since 1840. Their vertical integration includes the whole chain of activities from sheep-rearing to hand sewing of mattresses.

A lesson from looking at a wide range of companies over the long term is that while continuity is wonderful, innovation is vital. In 2018 the company invested in further innovation.

Can’t build? Grow veg …

MEPC was about to start developing the former railway land between Whitehall Road and Wellington Place when the recession forced a halt. Research amongst people working and living nearby showed strong support for temporary greening of the site. The biggest lawn in central Leeds, vegetable beds, a 5-a-side football pitch and bee hives brought life to the site during the years of delay. It was one of the earliest examples of ‘meanwhile use’. (By the way: that old brick wall marks the boundary of the site of Gott’s Mill, started in 1792 and demolished in the 1960s. The Yorkshire Post building  stood on the site 1970-2014).

This is an example of innovation that we’ve added since finishing the book.

AW Hainsworth – Legendary Woollen Mill

The firm has its roots in the traditional economy of pre-industrial West Yorkshire with the forebears of the mill-owning dynasty earning a living as makers and merchants of cloth. As sources of power, production methods, modes of transport and markets evolved, the firm invested in machinery, buildings and staff. For more than 200 years, shares in the firm have been spread amongst a few members of the family, with managing partners bringing different skills to the business. Resilience was boosted from the 1970s by adding specialist products, often through acquiring small businesses that were struggling to maintain viability. AW Hainsworth has survived despite adversities of mill fires and a flood, premature death of members of the family in positions of responsibility and market fluctuations. Exports have always been important and sixty per cent of their varied output now goes abroad. The aspiration is for the firm to continue as a family business, providing unique products for world markets and employment for local people.

Making enterprises agile through digital transformation

BJSS is the kind of business that the early entrepreneurs of Leeds would find surprising. Founded in Leeds in 1993, the skilled technologists have an award-winning track record in taking organisations through changes in culture, tooling and people. Using their ‘Enterprise Agile’ approach they have delivered transformations in financial services, media, retail and the NHS.

Understanding the importance of bringing out potential in the workforce of tomorrow, the company is involved in several initiatives. For example, it partners with Turinglab to provide free coding lessons to children from less-advantaged backgrounds (and their teachers) in Leeds and other cities. Turinglab has also benefited from BJSS help in significantly upgrading their own systems, including introducing cutting-edge automated student assessment.


Cooking up a digital storm

Leeds Digital Festival is a celebration of the digital sector, a chance to showcase achievements and the people making it all happen. The 2018 festival was three times the size of the first one in 2016. The total of 170 seminars, panels, conferences and socials, taking place in venues across the city, makes it the biggest such event in the North. Digital is no longer seen as a separate sector; it’s the latest driver of the operation of the whole economy, just as steam technology was from the dawn of the industrial period.

Platform, the completely refitted office building above Leeds Station, is at the heart of the city’s digital activity. The dramatic artwork on the end wall is part of a creative effort to make the city even more remarkable.

Photo: RU

Translation innovation

thebigword, founded by Leeds man, Larry Gould, successfully patented its Highly Secure Translation Editor connecting its expert linguists to commercially-sensitive work. Linguists can securely carry out translation and audio transcription tasks as well as annotate scanned documents. The system handles both storage during the task and deletion once the translation is complete. This appeals to customers, protects and strengthens the company’s market position and could generate significant new licensing revenues from other firms buying the rights. Patenting is notoriously difficult in the digital realm where every new development inevitably shares some substantial elements with other applications.


Pioneers in filming and temperance

Louis le Prince came to Leeds in 1866 and experimented in cinematography. In 1888 he patented a one-lens camera and filmed activity on Leeds Bridge – probably the world’s first successful moving pictures. Also commemorated on the former Aire & Calder Navigation building is Jabez Tunnicliffe, in the forefront of the temperance movement to encourage people to give up alcohol.

21st century businessmen

Jonathan Straight and Chris Black attended the book launch. Jonathan’s company, featured in the ‘green’ section of the book, dominated the market in recycling bins. Chris Black’s father, Alan, started making jukeboxes in east Leeds in the 1970s. Today’s Sound Leisure products include a return to machines playing vinyl discs. Picture © Alan Black’s grandson, Alex.

The art of moving on

Tetley’s Brewery, owned by ‘Leeds Legend’ Joshua Tetley from 1822, pioneered high quality beer. After the last barrel was brewed in 2011, art and education charity Project Space Leeds took over the Art Deco office building to create an independent gallery for contemporary art. Opened in 2013, this was an early element of the remaking of Leeds South Bank.

Flaming bad luck for ace printer

When Alf Cooke’s printworks near Crown Point Bridge burned down he built again on Hunslet Road and continued to run a flourishing business. Fire destroyed this too but Cooke pressed on: he commissioned a third building, this time from renowned architect Thomas Ambler. This successful and courageous entrepreneur also cared for local people suffering hardship and served as Lord Mayor of Leeds in 1890. Printing of a wide range of products continued on the site until 2006 and shortly afterwards the impressive premises were adapted to become the main site of Leeds City College.


Trading legends

Vickers Oils started making mineral oil preparations for the woollen industry in the mid-19th century. This bill was made out to fellow Leeds Legend, AW Hainsworth, in 1859. These ‘Living Legends’ have made many changes over the generations but there is strong continuity too – in products, methods and values.



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Some early innovators had little formal education, yet they managed to acquire learning, some of them via the Mechanics’ Institute. Tony Harrison, graduate of the University of Leeds, poet and playwright, drew attention to his journey away from his family background in his 1985 poem ‘v’. His education meant that he didn’t have to follow the professions of relatives, some of whom are buried in Holbeck Cemetery.

Harrison, born in 1938, is one of eight innovators featured in the book who attended Leeds Grammar School between the 17th and 20th centuries. The others are:

Ralph Thoresby 1658-1725 – historian;

John Smeaton 1724-1792 – engineer;

John Hawkshaw (later Sir John) 1811-1891 – engineer;

T W Harding 1843-1927 – owner of Tower Works, instigator of the Leeds Art Gallery, benefactor of the original City Square;

Wordsworth Donisthorpe 1847-1914 – pioneer in photography;

Sir Gary Verity b.1964 – tourism promotion;

Jonathan Straight b.1965 – entrepreneur

One of the earliest factories anywhere in the world

Benjamin Gott’s Bean Ing Mill, started in 1792, was the first and largest of the Leeds woollen mills, famous throughout Europe in its day. Gott revolutionised the production of woollen cloth by bringing all the processes together on one site. He wasn’t an inventor; he was a merchant who could see that the woollen textile sector was woefully inefficient. Over thirty different activities were involved in turning a sheep’s fleece into a piece of finished cloth. Small businesses were scattered across the countryside and much time was wasted taking the outputs of one process to someone else along the chain. Co-location of all the different elements, which were gradually mechanised, made it possible to increase output and reduce costs. By the turn of the nineteenth century, Gott employed over 1,000 people.

The mill was demolished in the 1960s and Yorkshire Post was here from 1970 until 2012. The site was cleared again in 2014 and Stirling Investments is developing flats.

Culture is all around us

Compass Festival brings original live art and interactive encounters by local, national and international artists to cultural venues, civic buildings, local businesses and out on the city streets. Artists invite passers-by to join in playful enquiry, silent contemplation, astonishing feats of madness, hospitality and communality.

Multi-coloured green business

Since 2001 this environmental social enterprise has been gathering in and reselling unwanted paint – up to 200 tonnes a year.

This is an example of innovation that we’ve added since finishing the book.

Reinventing the Cradle

Innovations came thick and fast through the 19th century and continued into the 20th century. There was something of a lull when British industry lost out to foreign competition and UK cities started to lose momentum and population. From the late 1980s far-sighted people started to take action to turn the city round. Adapting old buildings for new uses was a vital element in urban renaissance. Local developer Rushbond, is one of the companies that has successfully transformed Leeds landmarks.

Park here and play

Sponsors DLA Architecture contributed towards enlivening Victoria Gardens beside the Art Gallery. Leeds aims to be a child-friendly city.