Originally, Leeds started out as a Saxon Village. The population was a mere 200 people. Around this time this was considered a large village.
Leeds continued to grow its population over the 16th, 17th and 18th century due to the growth in various industries such as wool / cloth. The wool industry boomed during the 17th-18th century which made Leeds a large and wealthy town. Whilst this was the main industry in Leeds at the time, other trades began to surface such as Bakers, Butchers, Carpenters, Innkeepers and Blacksmiths.
During the 19th Century Leeds changed from a small town to a large manufacturing city. As the factories grew up across the city, the sky was covered by smoke and fumes from the chimneys.
By the time Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837, many better off families in Leeds had moved out of the smoky, polluted city centre. They bought newly built houses in leafy areas to the north of Leeds, like Headingly, Chapel Allerton and Potternewton. The really wealthy moved even further out into the countryside, and built themselves huge mansions at Weetwood, Roundhay or Adel. The population had grown to around 30,000, peaking at 101,000 by 1851. This was a rapid growth resulting in overcrowding, dirty streets and the birth of the Cholera epidemic in 1931 where over 700 people were killed. As the population grew, so did the number of poor.
Soon new ways of caring for these people were needed. A new Moral and Industrial Training School, and a new Workhouse were built to try to solve the problem. As more and more factories opened in Leeds more and more workers were needed, and they all had to find somewhere to live. At first workers’ cottages were built in the yards and courts behind buildings on the main streets, then on the outskirts of the town.
Workers had little money, if any, left over to spend on luxuries. If they were too poorly to work, they would not be paid and might lose their jobs. Some paid a small fee each month to join Friendly Societies, who would provide members with sick pay and free medical treatment if they became ill.