Beeston Hill, Leeds

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Beeston Hill, Leeds

Of all the cities of Britain, Leeds was one of the most important to Turner.  He had important friends and patrons in the area and Leeds served as a base for his explorations of Yorkshire and the north.  Over thirty years he passed through the city many times, but sketched little in the immediate area until 1816 when he was commissioned by Whitaker to make a series of 120 watercolours of Yorkshire.  It was probably around the middle of September when he came to Leeds to make his sketches.

The view from Beeston Hill was already established as one of the finest viewpoints in Leeds.  Turner was the first, however, to be interested in the new industrial landscape that had grown up during the period of his association with the city.  When he first visited the city, the first factories were only a few years old, but by 1816 a whole sea of new industry had spread out across the meadows of Hunslet and Holbeck to the south of the city.

Dogs accepted

Turner's Viewpoint

Turner took one of his larger sketchbooks and made an extraordinarily detailed study of the panorama of mills, with the church towers and spires rising from the old town centre beyond (The Town of Leeds, 'Devonshire Rivers, No.3, and Wharfedale' sketchbook, Tate Gallery, Finberg number: CXXXIV 79), from which he developed a magnificently panoramic watercolour (Leeds, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, image not available due to copyright restrictions, Wilton number: 544). 

The principal mills are Benyon's Mill to the centre, one of the first mills anywhere to be gas lit, and the still-standing Marshall's Mill to the left.  These were among the most advanced industrial operations in the world at this time and spun flax, primarily for the manufacture of sailcloth, which proved vital during the Napoleonic wars.  To the right, you can see the beehive chimneys of one of the famous Leeds Potteries which exported all over the world.  To the left are tentermen stretching and airing on frames some of the woollen cloths for which Leeds was famous, before taking them to market; to the right is a stream of workers.  Turner is clearly sympathetic to the quality of their lives and does not flinch from suggesting that their lives are hard.  Beyond the city is alive with manufacture and smoke sweeps up to the morning sky.  No-one had painted such a scene before and indeed no-one could have seen such a scene but in Leeds.  Turner's watercolour is literally the prototype image of an industrial cityscape.

Turner's viewpoint can still be found just below the modern working-men's club and many of the landmarks can be visited across Leeds, including the renovated Marshall's Mill in Holbeck Urban Village, just south of Leeds railway station.

Discover The Landscape

Turner's Industrial Yorkshire

Listen to Episode 2 of our Turner podcast series and discover Turner's fascination with the new industries he found in Yorkshire's expanding urban areas. Turner expert, Professor David Hill, is joined by Ken Hawley MBE of the Hawley Collection Trust, Sheffield.

The Venue


Beeston Road, Leeds, LS11 6. Co-ordinates, 53.777778,-1.554578

Map reference: SE295314

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Directions to Beeston Hill, Leeds:

Exit M621 J2, take the A643 signed to Morley and fork left immediately into Elland Rd. At T-junction, turn right at Cemetery Rd. After 1/3mile, turn left at traffic lights onto Beeston Rd. The Social Club is a short way along on the left