Elizabeth Beecroft was that rarest of things, an 18th century woman in sole charge of an industrial enterprise.
Kirkstall Forge was a long-established iron works, established by Cistercian Monks in 1151 and which became an important supplier of raw materials for the growing industries of Leeds. Elizabeth persuaded her husband George Beecroft and his brother-in-law Thomas Butler to raise funds to take over the lease of the declining Forge in 1779. Once in charge, Elizabeth – or ‘Betty’ – quickly turned around the fortunes of the previously ailing business.
‘Now we fully applied ourselves to our business. My husband undertook the care of the farm and works and I undertook the care of the trade, the books, the buying and selling and also the engagements of the men ‘til March 31st 1786.’
‘I took in large quantities of metal and scraps at Leeds besides taking care of my own business.’
Kirkstall Forge closed in 2003. The site is being redeveloped as office space and housing. With parking for 200 cars and twice hourly trains to and from Leeds, Kirkstall Forge railway station plays an important role in reducing traffic pollution and congestion in the city.