Leeds Town Hall

What happened?

Leeds Town Hall was hit by both incendiary and high explosive bombs at around 1am.

Most damage was done by the high explosive, which fell on the north eastern corner of the building. The bomb wrecked the first floor rooms overlooking Calverley Street and badly damaged the ground floor Law Library, Judge’s Room and Press Room. The Civil Court was also deemed unfit for use despite avoiding the worst of the blast.

The attack injured William Edwin Taylor, a 56-year-old night watchman employed by the council. He was caught under debris and rushed to the Leeds General Infirmary with serious injuries. Happily, the 20th March 1941 issue of the Yorkshire Post reported that he quickly recovered and returned to work (1941, p. 4).

Interior damage at Leeds Town Hall

Bomb damage inside the town hall

‘At one time fire threatened the damaged building, but the Auxiliary Fire Service dealt promptly with the outbreak and very quickly got it under control’ – Yorkshire Post, ‘Leeds Town Hall Hit in Raid’, 20 March 1941

Page from the Yorkshire Post reporting on the blitz damage

Yorksire Post 20th March 1941

How did the damage affect morale?

The Town Hall held much civic pride for Leeds. The building had always been a symbol of Leeds’ importance. The magnificent structure was the tallest building in the city until the 1960s and was a model for multi-purpose civic buildings elsewhere in the country. The hall was opened by Queen Victoria in 1858, presenting the importance of Leeds to the nation as an economic powerhouse. Tristram Hunt argues that the building symbolised this and helped Leeds rise to “its true historical glory” (Hunt, 2019).

Leeds Town Hall symbolised many of the principles that Britain believed it was fighting for. It represented democracy, freedom of expression and justice. It was also a symbol of Leeds identity and local pride (Morris and Trainor, 2017, p. 231). To attack the Town Hall was to attack the people it served.

However, the Town Hall also represented resilience in the face of adversity. It provided a backdrop for various civic processions and parades, which helped maintain morale during the War by reminding people why they were making their sacrifices and providing opportunities to ‘do their bit’.

Although less badly bombed than elsewhere, the people of Leeds made a huge contribution to the war effort. They raised around £72 million in national savings and Leeds Fire and Rescue teams were deployed across the country, helping to save thousands of lives (Grady, 2002, p. 227). Like their Town Hall, the people of Leeds remained resilient and did not succumb to the attack.

Wings for Victory Parade outside Leeds Town Hall

"Wings for Victory" march in 1943