While at school, we had an eccentric headmaster that we thought too strict. Mr. Blakeborough, Old Blakey we used to call him. He used to appear in the senior class, and say “I want two volunteers – you two will do”. Then he would send the two hapless “volunteers” to a destination within an easy walking distance. There would be something of interest to see there, and whoever was sent would have to report back to him, saying what they had seen.
One day I was one of the chosen “volunteers”. We had to go to find out about Marshall’s Mill. We thought it was a peculiar building, dark stone, a weird looking thing. At the time I didn’t know that it would be part of my life for many years!
I worked there for about 30 years, after being made redundant from tailoring. The intention was to stay a while, until I found another job in tailoring. It never happened! I enjoyed the work, and soon made friends. At that time it was better known as Kays, the mail order firm.
The main building was a former flax mill, which had been designed to look like an ancient Egyptian Temple. It was inspired by the ancient Egyptian Temple at Edfu, and is now listed at Grade one, and is in the top 2.5% of all listed buildings in the country. When in use as a mill Flax was spun there in what was described as the largest single room in the world. Flax needed a constant humidity and to help with this, the roof was grassed over, and sheep used to graze there to keep it to a decent level.
John Marshall was interested in the welfare of his workers, and used the cellars to house a school, and shops. While working there, we had a quick chance to have a look at the underfloor area. A crack appeared in the asphalt floor, and when a builder was called in for the repair, it was found that a large flagstone under the floor was cracked. It had to be taken up to be replaced. On looking down the hole we saw lots of interesting bits and pieces. The warehouse manager was called and soon stopped us from going down. A history person explored, but the air was rather foul after being sealed up.
As time went on Kays were taken over by the Littlewoods firm, and owing to the decline in catalogue shopping we were made redundant. A sad time for many of us, at its peak Kays employed about 1000 people.
By this time the building was getting into a state of poor repair, the roof alone needing about a million pounds spending on it, as it leaked whenever there was any rain. Large areas of the floor had to be kept clear when heavy rain was expected. Paintwork was peeling and various areas were looking very neglected.
The site has suffered vandalism, many windows being broken. But help is at hand , the site has been taken over and the intention is to reopen the building as an arts centre. Over the last few years, various artists and craftworkers have been using a small section of the Temple to “do their thing”. Low budget films have been made there and parts of the building have been left looking “distressed”. Different groups put on acts and music gigs happen. There was a connection with a pop group “The Sex Pistols” Upstairs in the old canteen, Railway enthusiasts recreate layouts.
In recent years, it has been possible to go on short tours, to see some parts of the site and it is possible to see some unique murals. I hope that it doesn’t take too long to get the project finished, as I would enjoy seeing the place in use as a viable centre.
This post was written by Martyn White using our Create an article for South Leeds Life page.