Ironworks report shines a new light on Leeds lamppost

Laura Ager, Creative Engagement Officer at the Hyde Park Picture House, has written a guest blog post for the Friends of the Hyde Park Picture House about her ongoing research during lockdown into the remarkable history of the iron lamppost that stands outside our building. 

Laura joined the small team of permanent staff at the cinema last summer and her work is facilitated by funding we received from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF). A big part of her job is to communicate the value of our cinema’s unique heritage to our local community and beyond. We hope that you enjoy reading this article and please contact us if you have any further information to share about the lamppost or anything related to it!

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1. The corner of Brudenell Road and Queens Road. Image source: Meenhan 2019

I have always liked to gaze out of the cinema doors at this red painted cast iron lamppost, it has been a familiar symbol in the neighbourhood for almost three decades of my life. I sometimes wonder about how many of us have arranged to meet friends beside it, or will have smiled as its familiar shape has appeared in view as we headed down Chestnut Avenue or Brudenell Road towards our favourite cinema, looking forward to the friendly greeting at the door. 

Its thick, opaque plastic globes are lit up every evening, maybe you have stopped to take a picture there as you have departed, perhaps trying to mark that moment in which we discovered something new about the world, or ourselves, through the power of the film we’d just been watching.

Since 1996 the lamppost has been protected with a Grade 2 listing (listing No 1255796) which means it is inscribed on the National Heritage List for England, these are all buildings and structures that are considered nationally important, being of ‘special architectural or historic interest’. That list is currently managed by Historic England, who offer the following information about the Hyde Park lamppost on their website:

Gas lamp post. Early C20. Cast-iron, Approx 7m high, base and column with relief decoration, ladder arms and 2 scrolled arms, vase finial between.

Historic England

Last year, in August, Peter Meehan, a specialist from the Historic Metalwork Conservation Company Ltd, visited the cinema to assess our lamppost and he wrote a report about it that contained a lot more detail. In his report he said that the lamppost likely dates from after 1904 and it was certainly manufactured at the Saracen Foundry in Glasgow. The side of the lamppost that faces the cinema doors quite clearly bears their company mark: Macfarlane & Co, Glasgow.  

As I have had a little extra time on my hands recently, during these endless months of lockdown, I thought that I’d like to find out a bit more about the history of the foundry and of this unique heritage feature, and to share my findings with our Friends. This has since become a fascinating project in its own right, because it turns out that our lamppost is part of the story of Walter Macfarlane, who was a prolific Scottish ironworks manufacturer in the 19th century. His company flourished for over one hundred years, like our cinema. 

From there we are able trace a much deeper set of connections that link our much-loved and perhaps slightly eccentric Victorian lamppost, situated on a corner in a Leeds suburb, with the combined global histories of the British Empire, urban development, technical innovation, public aesthetics, public health, and 19th Century free trade.

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