Chris Nickson on The Leeds Library

Chris Nickson reveals what one of Leeds’ hidden gems means to him.

I’m lucky. Not only does Leeds have a superb public library, it also possesses the oldest subscription library in the UK. The Leeds Library dates from 1768, and last year celebrated its 250th anniversary. It’s been in the same building since 1808, a modest gem; most people in the city don’t even know of its existence.

Inside, it’s every bit as beautiful as you’d expect, with spiral staircases and rooms with books from floor to ceiling, a real reader’s dream. There are even a few of the original wooden 1808 chairs made for the library (the cost was 10 shillings – 50p – each. I offered them a pound, but they wouldn’t sell).

For someone like me, who writes about history, and mostly Leeds history, it’s a very tangible link to the past. It even has its own ghost tale. My father told me that he’d been a member when he was younger, but the records for the time are muddled, so there’s no proof. He was certainly the one to point it out to me when I was a child.

I’m proud to be a member, it’s worth every penny. A superb, broad selection of books. Both on display and down in the basement. They put on plenty of all manner of things in the New Room (which dates from 1880), and they’re very supportive of local writers. I’ve done quite a few events at the library.

Above all, when I climb the stairs and push open the door, I feel like I’m walking with the past, in the footsteps of so many among the great and the good of Leeds. I become another link in the city’s history. And that’s a satisfying feeling.

Chris Nickson is the author of the Richard Nottingham, Tom Harper and Simon Westow historical mystery series, all set in Leeds. Read more here.

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