The big history of little Leeds St

Last updated 10:38 08/02/2013
Robert Hannah
Influential figure: Robert Hannah, founder of Hannahs shoe store.

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Leeds St is one of Wellington's shortest streets.

It stretches just 70 metres off Ghuznee St and its length can be walked in a swift 20 seconds.

Although the street is short in length, it is certainly not short on history.

Leeds St boasts a history that dates back to 1852, when the land it was built on was bought by wealthy pioneer Algernon Tollemache (1805-1897). Mr Tollemache had left the land largely untouched when in 1859 he sold it to Mary Taylor, a lifelong friend of famed novelists the Bronte sisters.

Miss Taylor was a particularly close acquaintance of oldest sister Charlotte Bronte, whom she had met at boarding school at Mirfield, Yorkshire, in 1831.

Though Miss Taylor moved to New Zealand in the 1840s, the pair remained friends and exchanged letters until Bronte's death in 1855.

She is mentioned in Bronte's biography, The Life of Charlotte Bronte, written by Elizabeth Gaskell in 1857.

In 1859 Miss Taylor, who also had a shop on Cuba St, had divided the Leeds St property and sold portions of it.

It was Miss Taylor who laid the foundations of what became Leeds St. In 1860 she left Wellington for Whanganui and by the following year had returned to Yorkshire, where she died in 1893.

Leeds St did not only have connections to big names, but also to one of the biggest shoe companies in New Zealand.

For more than half a century Leeds St and adjacent Eva St were the site of shoe- manufacturing firm Hannahs, which was known as R Hannah & Co.

Hannahs was founded by Irish- born Robert Hannah in about 1870.

Mr Hannah opened a large factory and warehouse on Lambton Quay and owing to the growing success of the firm decided to build a smaller factory in Leeds and Eva streets.

The factory building was built in the 1930s and another, to provide accommodation for the firm's workers, was built shortly after.

During the early 1900s it was estimated more than 250 people worked for the firm.

In 1995 plans were made to refurbish the firm's two buildings in Leeds and Eva streets and turn them into rental properties. Today the buildings, which are heritage listed and still bear the company's logo on their exterior, provide sought-after student accommodation.

Leeds St also houses apartments, an early childcare centre, a pizzeria, a laundromat and a bakery. A New World Metro is to be built there this year.

Plans for the supermarket, on the corner of Leeds and Ghuznee streets, were announced early last year.

The little street is now - as it has always been - destined for bigger things.

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- The Wellingtonian


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