In this modern-age of tarmac and super highways it's easy to forget that once upon a time the Leeds-Liverpool canal turned Leeds into a trading – and fashion – powerhouse.
The water brought in raw materials like alpaca wool and shipped textiles out, with the accompanying clothing industry taking over not just Leeds but the surrounding areas. The number of mills increased seven-fold, the population mushroomed, new tailors (like Burton) opened, and grand new shopping centres sprang up – including, in 1898, the magisterial County Arcade.
One of the modern-day shops in the Victoria Quarter arcade is Michelsberg Tailoring. Owner James Michelsberg's family have been in the textiles and tailoring industry since the war so he's well-placed to tell us a few things about Leeds' love of cloth.
How long has your family been in the textiles and tailoring business in Leeds?
My father’s father was Jewish, based in Berlin, and fled Germany during the war. He was a textiles agent and founded Wool and Rayon Waste, which was based on Leeds Road in Bradford. My father ran the family business very successfully – he retired at 50, lucky bugger – and as a child I used to climb on the bales in the warehouse. Many of his friends were in the textile trade running mills like Drummonds and John Fosters.
Has the Victoria Quarter changed much?
As far as I’m concerned, the streets have got cleaner and the suits have got sharper.
Why was alpaca wool such a big thing?
They traded the raw material. It's fashionable now, too – there’s a real 70s vibe going on. Scabal, who own a mill in Huddersfield called Bower Roebuck, have an over-coating that retails at over £450 a metre.
Should Leeds be prouder of its textile heritage?
No. That’s living in the past. We should focus more on the future and re-invigorate it!
Tell us an interesting story about Leeds…
The horizontal crease that forms under a man’s collar is known in the trade as the 'Leeds crease.' It occurs if a man has 'forward shoulders.' As southerners keep reminding us, it’s cold and grim up north and a man will often hunch his shoulders forward against the wind, rain, sleet, coal dust, and boom: the Leeds crease is born.