The eight rows of terraced houses off Midland Street or Hobb Lane, known at first as New Woodlesford, were built in about 1874. The top four rows each had six houses with a front and back door whilst the lower four rows each had twelve “back to back” cottages with only one room downstairs and one upstairs. The top row was built of brick and the next three were of local sandstone from adjacent quarries. It’s believed the four “back to back” rows were also built from brick. It’s not known if the bricks were made on site from locally sourced clay or brought from a distance. Three of the rows were built with shops on the end closest to Midland Street. The builder was John Atkinson, a Methley man who had trained as a carpenter with his father.
When they were finished and occupied with tenants the freehold to the houses was put up for sale in April 1877 and sold by auction at the Midland Hotel on the 14th of May. At that time John Atkinson was living at Harewood Villa at the top of Midland Street. In a newspaper advert in October 1877 he described himself as an architect when he was looking for bricklayers to work on new houses he was building with John Bickerdike, a Methley farmer, at Newton on the edge of Wakefield.
However John was declared bankrupt on 22 August 1878. Six weeks later his building materials and household furniture and effects were auctioned off. They included a quantity of panelled doors, window sash frames and a “superior quality drawing-room suite, upholstered in crimson red.” There was also a bay horse, “quiet to ride and drive,” and a “Whitechapel” two-wheeled cart. In the census three years later John was described as “out of employ.”
John Atkinson was born in Methley in 1840. In 1851 his father, also John, employed one man and an apprentice. At Ferrybridge, in 1863, John married Sarah Thompson from Hull. They had four children – James, George, Ada and Henry.
In 1891 John was living with 20 year old Ada at Lilian Street in the Burley district of Leeds. He was still described as a builder and his daughter was working in the clothing industry making mantles, the cape-like jackets worn by Victorian ladies over their crinoline dresses. John’s wife, her mother, Mary Ann Thompson, and James were living in one of the New Woodlesford houses. Why the family were separated is unknown but it may have been that it was easier for John to get work in the city. In 1892 Ada married Walter Wheatley, a confectioner from Burley who later became a cutlery manufacturer. Henry became a farm labourer on the outskirts of Leeds.
By 1901 John was a described as a farmer and was reunited with Sarah and son James at Little Smeaton near Hemsworth. In this census he was recorded as being “lame and paralysed” suggesting he may have had an accident. This could have taken place much earlier, as the 1891 census didn’t record physical disabilities, and it may have been that an accident was the cause of his bankruptcy.
Nearly thirty years after they were built the rows of houses in New Woodlesford were named after generals who had led the British army during the Boer War fought in South Africa between October 1899 and May 1902. They were Robert Baden-Powell, Sir John French, R.A.P. Clements, Sir George White, Redvers Buller, Lord Kitchener and Frederick Roberts.
Baden, Powell, French and Clements Streets were demolished in the 1960s to make way for Midland House and the end houses and shops on the other streets were also pulled down when Midland Street was widened.