The Leeds social history collections started with an emphasis on “bygones” and folk life in the 1920s. Reconstructed street displays at Abbey House were then added in the 1950s. Traditional strengths of the collections have been in the areas of childhood (toys and games), retailing history, domestic life, musical instruments, slot machines and automata and printed ephemera. This has resulted in a rich and wide-ranging collection of social history material (over 100,000 items).
Significant specific collections include:
- The Ernestine Henry Collection of material relating to chimney sweeps
- The Waddington archive (games and puzzles)
- Burmantofts and Leeds Pottery
- The Leonora Cohen suffragette archive
The emphasis for recent collecting has been material with strong local links to Leeds history and manufacture or association with Leeds people, communities and organisations, from the post-medieval period to the present day.
Contemporary collecting projects have included material from the Leeds Music Festival and objects relating to Leeds food and drink whilst community history projects have looked at Steps in Time (Dance), Faith in the City, a Greener City , Food for Thought, Leeds Women In Sport, Love and Commitment and Love and War.