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The Middle Classes

Income and Lifestyle
Middle class incomes covered a wide range from about £150 per year, to those comfortably off on £300 to £400 to some of the new factory owners like Benjamin Gott and John Marshall who became extremely wealthy, and set the leading example, in their houses and lifestyle, to others of the upper middle class.

In 1804 Gott purchased the Armley House Estate, near to his woollen mills, and with views across the Kirkstall Valley. In 1810 he could afford to employ the leading landscape architect Humphrey Repton to draw up plans for extending the house and landscaping the grounds. Robert Smirke the architect of the British Museum was commissioned to redesign the house in the style of a Greek Revival Villa. The interior of the house was designed in the latest style and there was room for Gott to display his collection of sculptures and other works of art.

John Marshall lived in Meadow Lane, until in 1795 he could afford to move to New Grange in Headingley. There he employed 12 servants to look after himself, his wife and their children. However he did not stay in Leeds, but moved to Hallsteads, a house in the Lake District. He also bought Headingley House in 1819 for use in winter and in 1825 a house in Grosvenor Square in London.

Gott and Marshall were the wealthiest of the middle class in Leeds; most people, did not have such an affluent lifestyle. However the merchants and professionals, like those living in the houses of the Park Estate could afford to move away from the smoke pollution and disease ridden slums to the outskirts of the town.

Not all middle class families were wealthy; most lived on modest incomes, and could not afford to move to the fashionable suburbs. Some needed to remain near to their business, and many shopkeepers moved from rooms above the shop to nearby houses, such as those in St.Peter’s Square. Some, like the bookseller, John Heaton who lived beside his shop at No.7 Briggate, wanted to remain in the town centre.

By the time Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837, many of the wealthier middle class families had moved out to mansions and villas in Headingley, Chapel Allerton or Potternewton. Land was cheap, and they built themselves impressive villas with large grounds, like Dunearn, built by the architect George Corson in 1871 for his own occupation.  Local landscape gardeners like Joshua Major produced elaborate designs for the gardens.

Other 'commodious and respectable dwelling houses' with large gardens, were also being built, and rented out to those less well off, earning perhaps £300 per year. Genteel and respectable terraces of middle class houses were also built, like those at Reginald Terrace.  These had gardens and room to accommodate one or two servants. They were the homes of professional men and tradesmen who had offices or businesses in Leeds. From 1838 travel between home and work was made easier as omnibuses ran from the suburbs to the centre of Leeds.

The number and quality of possessions owned by the middle classes depended on their income, but generally middle class houses were elegantly furnished, and there were carpets, curtains, and fine china and glass. An example is the drawing room at 43, Reginald Terrace.

As landowners and builders turned the villages to the north of Leeds into suburbs, the really wealthy upper classes moved even further away, and built themselves huge mansions at Weetwood, Roundhay or Adel. These were houses built on a grand scale, set in their own grounds, for example, in 1861 'The Elms' was built at Weetwood for the banker Henry Oxley, and in 1862 F W Tetley the brewer built 'Foxhill.' In 1865 James Kitson commissioned architects John Dobson and Charles Chorley to build Elmete Hall. He later moved to Gledhow Hall; a print shows the magnificent bathroom there.

Increasingly, the middle classes had money to spend on luxury goods, and the shopkeepers of Leeds responded to this by providing a wide range of items for them to buy. The Misses Taylor of the Lower Head Row supplied fashionable headdresses, dress caps, widow's caps, ribbons, flowers, feathers, etc. The Grand Pygmalion, opened on Boar Lane in the 1880s by Alexander Monteith, was the first department store in Leeds, and would have been a haven for Victorian shoppers. A huge variety of foods were available to those who could afford them, as two advertisements from trade directories show.

To be middle class in the first half of the nineteenth century required an income of at least £150 per year. This allowed the employment of domestic help; one of the main factors, which distinguished the working classes from the middle classes, was that the latter could afford to employ domestic help. In 1840 a family on an income of £150 would have been able to employ a servant for occasional work at £3 per year. An income of £200 per year allowed the employment of a resident servant girl at £9 per year, and with £250 would provide for a maid at £16 per year. The wealthier the household the more servants were employed. James Kitson, living at Gledhow Hall, is listed on the 1891 census as having 8 servants.

Education
The children of the middle classes continued to benefit from an education, which was denied to working class children. There were private schools like Kemplay's Academy for Young Gentlemen; a page from an exercise book shows 'specimens of penmanship' written by William Holgate in 1822. It also shows the contemporary attitude to the rich and poor. In 1858 a new Grammar School was built on Woodhouse Moor, in 1852 a Mathematics and Commercial School was opened in the Mechanics Institute, and in 1854 the Leeds Educational Institute for the Education of Girls was founded. These were all schools where middle class parents could send their children. Private tutors were also employed to teach the children of the wealthy.

Leisure
With servants to do the cooking and housework, the lady of the house was left with time on her hands. She would probably have been involved with one or more of the 'self-improvement' societies, or with running a society whose aim was to 'improve' the lot of the poor. The General Infirmary, the Mechanics Institute, and the Girls Charity School all benefited from the fund raising activities of the middle classes.

Many societies flourished in Leeds, their membership drawn from the middle classes. For the musical there were the Leeds Madrigal and Motet Society, and the Leeds Choral Society. Musical concerts were popular, at the Music Hall in Albion Street, and later at the Town Hall. The elite Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society was founded in 1819, and it gained an international reputation. For the Victorian gentleman who could afford the 20 guinea joining fee and an annual subscription of 5 guineas there was the exclusive Leeds Club in Albion Place. Fenteman's guide of 1858 says: 'This institution is found to be very convenient to the gentry of the neighbourhood who have occasion to visit Leeds, and is also much frequented by the merchants and professional gentlemen of the town.'

And then there were the Sunday School outings, chapel meetings and musical evenings, dining out (perhaps in the elegant dining room of the Queen’s Hotel); visits to tea gardens and to Roundhay Park, and excursions further afield perhaps to York or Scarborough. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the theatre was not popular, and was considered immoral. It enjoyed a revival in the 1860s, and the Grand Theatre opened in 1878 and provided excellent entertainment for those who could afford the price of a seat.

Some pursuits like cock fighting and bull baiting were no longer considered respectable, and pubs and beerhouses were not visited by the middle classes, who saw them as places of depravity, and likely to lead the working classes astray.
Click images to enlarge
Armley House
Armley House
St. Peter' s Square
St. Peter' s Square
Ground Floor plan of Dunearn
Ground Floor plan of Dunearn
Garden design
Garden design
Reginald Terrace
Reginald Terrace
Reginald Terrace, interior, no.43
Reginald Terrace, interior, no.43
The Elms
The Elms
Gledhow Hall
Gledhow Hall
The Bathroom, Gledhow Hall
The Bathroom, Gledhow Hall
Advertisement for Taylor's Shop
Advertisement for Taylor's Shop
The Grand Pygmalion
The Grand Pygmalion
Advertisement for Appleby's
Advertisement for Appleby's
Newby and Company
Newby and Company
Kemplay's Academy
Kemplay's Academy
Sample of writing
Sample of writing
Queen's Hotel
Queen's Hotel




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© 2003 Leeds City Council | Site created by: LCC electronic information team | 25 March 2003