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The earliest mention of Leeds is in Bede's Ecclesiastical History as the region of Loidis in the 7th cent. It developed with the cloth trade from the 14th cent. onwards, less as a manufacturing centre than as a market for the surrounding villages. Charles I gave Leeds a charter in 1626 and its assessment for ship money in the 1630s suggests a town of importance—£200 as against £520 for York and £140 for Hull. In 1698 Celia Fiennes found Leeds ‘esteemed an excellent town of its bigness in the count(r)y, its manufactures in the woollen cloth, the Yorkshire cloth in which they are all employed, and are esteemed very rich and very proud’. Communications were improved by the opening of the Leeds and Liverpool canal, in stages, between 1770 and 1816. The first railway, in a complex network, was the Leeds to Selby line in 1834, followed by lines to Derby (1840), Manchester (1841), and Thirsk (1849). By 1801 Leeds was the fifth largest provincial town with a population of 53,000. In the 20th cent., as the cloth trade moved to Bradford, Leeds diversified, with engineering, chemicals, banking, and services becoming important. The construction of the M1 and M62 motorways in the 1970s preserved its importance as a great commercial centre, the crossroads of the north–south and east–west highways.

Subjects: Literature

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