What's so Special about Grade I Temple Works in Leeds?

It has recently been announced that England’s most unusual mill is to be sold.

The exceptional significance of the building, in terms of its architectural, engineering and social historic importance, is recognised today in its Grade I listed status.

This is the highest level of listing and reflects the fact that Temple Works is certainly of national but arguably of international importance for the role it played in the development of the textile industry.

What make's it special?

Temple Works was built as a 'new mill' to the rapidly expanding Marshall’s Flax Mills in Holbeck, Leeds between 1838-43. It caused quite a stir at the time due to the sheer size of the spinning room and the extravagant Egyptian-revival facades, particularly to the office building (photo above). A magazine article written in 1843 described the experience of entering the spinning room;

here the eye takes in at a glance an amount of space which, we believe, no room devoted to manufacture anywhere else exhibits. Indeed this is one of the largest rooms in the world.

A Day at a Leeds Flax Mill, The Penny Magazine Supplement, December 1843

One of a kind

The innovative engineering that allowed this marvel of manufacturing to be achieved was unique in Yorkshire. The groined brick vaults of Temple Mill, each lit by a circular lantern, were never copied, no doubt because of the cost of their construction (RCHME Mills Book, p.42). Instead, spinning continued to occupy multi-storey buildings, with single-storey weaving sheds adopting the characteristic ‘saw-tooth’ profile seen across the Pennines. Temple Mill remained as an extravagant experiment and testament to the ingenuity of engineers working in the textile industry at this time.

Roof of the Flax Mill
Roof of the Flax Mill

Grass covered roof

One final quirk of the building was the fact that the roof was originally covered in grass (legend has it that sheep grazed up there to keep the growth in check). This was another example of the forward-thinking nature of the building, the earth and grass being used to regulate the fluctuations in temperature within the structure, thus protecting the combination of cast-iron columns, brick vaults and lime plaster from cracking.

Interior at Temple Works, Leeds
Interior at Temple Works, Leeds

Vital employment

At its peak the works employed around 3,000 people, making it vitally important to the lives of many of the people of Leeds and the surrounding areas.


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