Industrial History

The Leeds industrial collections are largely based at Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills, and have been designated as of national and international significance.

The collections represent the industries of Leeds and the working life of Leeds people through the companies, products and personalities involved. The collections also aim to reflect the working life of Leeds people through their jobs and working environments.

The industrial collections comprise tools, machinery, industrial products, archive ephemera, photographs and other personal records, but do not include substantial company archives. Leeds Industrial Museum holds material from John Fowler & Co., Vickers PLC, A. Kershaw & Sons, Benjamin Gott, Burtons, Kirkstall Forge and the Hunslet Engine Co. and a wealth of other firms.

Several items from our collections are available to view online on our Google Arts & Culture page.

We continue to collect Leeds-related industrial material to reflect the “City of 1000 Trades”, including building up contemporary collections to reflect modern industry and manufacturing.

Collection Highlight – Cast Iron Middleton Railway Rack Rail by Gothard & Salt, Leeds, circa 1812.

The Middleton Railway is widely accepted as having run the world’s first commercially successful steam locomotives from 1812. These lightweight locos needed special ‘toothed’ or rack rail to provide enough grip for pulling heavy loads of coal.

The rail – apparently the last one of its kind – was donated by a Miss Maude, through Colonel Kitson Clark and the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society in 1924.

In 1929 the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer reported that Leeds City Council had granted Henry Ford, of the Ford Motor Co. fame, permission to make a copy of this rail for his new ‘Museum of Physical Science’ in Detroit. A cast of the rail was made and a copy given to Ford’s museum and three other museums in 1930.