Social History


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).

What do we collect and why?

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. We are particularly interested in objects with a story to tell about life in Leeds and the surrounding area.

The collection is still being added to through Contemporary Collecting projects linked to our exhibition programmes and projects.

Find out about some of our significant collections below!



The Ernestine Henry Chimney Sweep CollectionThe Ernestine Henry Chimney Sweep Collection<div class="ExternalClassFE42B226D82F46A7B24FBF4DB3DC0D55"><p><img src="/museumsandgalleries/PublishingImages/Concertina%20Images/Sweep%20%20LEEDM.E.1956.0001.1065.jpg" alt="" style="margin:5px;" /><br><br>Leeds Museums and Galleries are the custodians of a unique and fascinating collection of 'Sweepiana' (things relating to chimney sweeps, their working conditions and the folklore, literature and mythology surrounding the subject) which were collected by Dr Sidney A. Henry and acquired by the museum in 1956.  </p> <p>As well as prints, documents and books there are a number of small objects and figurines.  The collection was given to the museum by Dr S.A. Henry in memory of his mother Ernestine Henry.  </p> <p>Dr Henry's interest in sweeps was first aroused by his researches into industrial cancer and particularly on the incidence of this disease among those who worked in sooty surroundings. From this he began to take an interest in sweeps as persons and this led him to investigate the history of the trade.</p></div>
The Leonora Cohen CollectionThe Leonora Cohen Collection<div class="ExternalClass391C58DAE59C42EC96F5846792E7DD8C"><p><img src="/museumsandgalleries/PublishingImages/Concertina%20Images/Leonora%20Cohen%20dress_Leeds%20Museums.jpg" alt="" style="margin:5px;" /><br><br>This collection of items once belonged to the formidable Leeds suffragette and campaigner Leonora Cohen. Born in Leeds in 1873 she spent most of her life in the city, later retiring to Wales where she lived until 1978, reaching the age of 105.    </p> <p>Leonora was imprisoned several times and became a bodyguard for Mrs Pankhurst. She was one of the most active suffragettes in the area and after women won the vote in 1918 she continued campaigning for workers and women’s rights, gaining an OBE in 1928.</p> <p>The collection consists of material relating to votes for women, the suffragettes and other issues such as trade unions and vegetarianism all donated by Leonora Cohen and her associates.  </p> <p>There is a case in the Leeds Story at Leeds City Museum with a small selection of objects highlighting her suffragette activity, however we have much more material in store. Contact us to find out more or arrange a visit.</p></div>
Recently acquired objectsRecently acquired objects<div class="ExternalClassFE20CB00126E43A1B90CEC683583FBD0"><p><img src="/museumsandgalleries/PublishingImages/Concertina%20Images/WW1-Biscuit.jpg" alt="" style="margin:5px;" /><br><br>This First World War army ration biscuit was turned into a postcard and sent home from the Front at Christmas 1914. Still its original wrapper, it was addressed to Mrs Maxwell, 1 Parkside, Meanwood, Leeds, 1914.</p> <p>Other new acquisitions include:</p> <ul><li>A Christmas tree bought in Leeds c.1946.<br></li> <li>The 1970s board game, Decimal Shopping – The Super Educational Game for 2 -8 players, made in Leeds by Turner Research Ltd.<br></li> <li>A box for wheelwright tools, used by William (Bill) Best, a wheelwright for the Leeds Industrial Co-operative Society.<br></li> <li>A 1950s hairdressing chair and hood, used by a Leeds hair-dresser.<br></li> <li>A wooden toy tank, made for Michael Pitchforth by a family friend or relative in Armley and given to him as a birthday present when a small boy, 1936-1937.<br></li> <li>A bowling ball presented in 1811 at the Oak Bowling Club, Headingley.<br></li></ul></div>
The Waddington archive (games and puzzles)The Waddington archive (games and puzzles)<div class="ExternalClass5D807A228E564633A2AAEA426D6807D7"><p><img src="/museumsandgalleries/PublishingImages/Concertina%20Images/Monopoly_Waddingtons.jpg" alt="" style="margin:5px;" /><br><br>John Waddington Limited was one of the main printers of playing cards, games and puzzles in the UK between 1922 and 1995. </p> <p>The company had been founded in the nineteenth century by John Waddington and Wilson Barratt as Waddington’s Ltd. It was renamed John Waddington Ltd in 1905. The original Mr John Waddington resigned in 1913. </p> <p>The company originally specialised in printing theatrical programmes.  They later diversified into many other areas of printing including packaging, stationery, advertising, plastics, security printing, playing cards and postage stamps.  </p> <p>Waddingtons deposited much of their archive of games and jigsaw puzzles with Leeds Museums when they ceased production in the city in 1995.</p></div>
Contact the Curators, Click here to search staff contact detailsContact the Curators<div class="ExternalClass5DE7CEF1871647E78930333A86287771"><p>If you have a research enquiry we can help with or you would like us to come and give a talk to your group, please get in touch. </p> <p>You'll find contact details for our curatorial staff in each of the Collections subject area pages.<br></p></div>