10 Unique Treasures You’ll Only Find In Leeds
7th July 2021
Leeds is blessed with a wealth of museums, galleries and historic country house estates, covering everything from the history and culture of our city and region, through to weird and wonderful medical contraptions, classic and contemporary art, and much more besides.
A great place to start for those looking for fun things to do in Leeds is the Museums and Galleries section of the Visit Leeds website, where you can explore the collection of venues which will bound to spark your inquisitive side.
If you need a hand whittling down your list of places to visit in Leeds, we’ve taken a deep dive into the cornucopia of treasures to be found across the city – the most unique items worth seeking out on a Leeds city break.
The West Yorkshire Hoard at Leeds City Museum
We’ve all seen metal detectorists roaming the fields looking for buried treasure, but it’s not often they turn up an actual Anglo Saxon hoard. One lucky hunter heard the ‘beep’ in 2008, only to unearth a find of national importance. The collection of exquisite gold jewellery dating back a millennia or so.
The artefacts were brought home to Leeds City Museum after a hefty sum was raised via crowdfunding, amongst other sources – and you can find it in pride of place to this day.
The Pyke Clock at Temple Newsam
The Tudor-Jacobean Temple Newsam estate is well worth a visit for plenty of reasons, not least to pet a few pigs at the heritage breeds farm, but there’s a particularly special reason to make it there on the hour – the Pyke Clock.
Eight feet tall and covered with beautiful gilded figures, the Pyke Clock is thought to have once belonged to Queen Marie Antoinette of France, and later the Duke of Buckingham. The impressive timepiece was made in 1765 by renowned royal clockmaker George Pyke.
Florence Nightingale’s writing desk at Lotherton
Lotherton is an Edwardian estate that, like Temple Newsam, is home to a family-friendly menagerie of animals. But although the curious penguins can definitely be considered a treasure, they’re not quite as unique as a collection marking the 200 year anniversary of the lady with the lamp, Florence Nightingale.
The founder of modern nursing had a huge impact on the development of healthcare through her actions and words, and you can see her writing desk on display at Lotherton. The desk dates from the 1840s and arrived with Florence’s god-daughter, Gwendolen Gascoigne – once the Lady of Lotherton.
The Harewood Desk at Temple Newsam
Created by world-famous furniture maker and designer Thomas Chippendale, the beautiful
Harewood writing table has been in Leeds for 240 years, ending up at Temple Newsam where it can be viewed alongside a wider collection of fine furniture.
The iconic piece is fashioned from a hefty combination of rosewood, oak, pine, mahogany, beech, tulipwood, satinwood, sycamore and holly. It passed several generations at Harewood House until 1965 when the 7th Earl of Harewood entered it into a Christie’s auction.
The world’s most expensive wallpaper at Temple Newsam
The houses and estates of the traditional aristocracy have found themselves at the forefront of all kinds of fashions, from interior design and decoration to new forms of sport and music.
Perhaps it has something to do with their eccentric occupants, like Lady Isabella Hertford at Temple Newsam. She chose new wallpaper in the 1820s, but decided to liven it up by cutting out exotic birds from a copy of Birds of America. First editions now sell for over £7 million, which makes Temple Newsam’s walls perhaps the world’s priciest.
Scotland Forever at Leeds Art Gallery
Leeds Art Gallery is home to a renowned collection of both contemporary and classic artworks, but one not to miss if you’re sightseeing in Leeds is Scotland Forever, by Victorian artist Lady Elizabeth Butler.
It’s one of the gallery’s most iconic paintings, and also one of the earliest acquisitions. It was painted in 1881, and acquired seven years later by Colonel T. W. Harding, who stood for election to the Council to facilitate the gallery’s opening. The work is an inspiring scene of the Scots Greys at the Battle of Waterloo – according to an eye witness the Greys were heard calling “Now, my boys, Scotland forever!”
Spinning mules at Leeds Industrial Museum
Leeds has a rich industrial heritage, and our very own Industrial Museum sets out the story of developments past and present, including plenty of detail on the city’s famed textile industry.
One impressive legacy is a pair of enormous spinning mules, manufactured by Platt Brothers and Co in Oldham. They date from 1871 and 1904, and were used to spin textile fibres into yarn. The older of the two is thought to be the oldest of its kind anywhere in the world – and the 1904 version can still be used to create textiles.
The Harrison Clock at Leeds City Museum
Timekeeping isn’t just about catching the bus on time. It’s also been a key part of seafaring and navigation for centuries – and that’s where the Harrison Clock at Leeds City Museum comes in.
The 18th century timepiece helped solve a mystery that baffled scientists and explorers for centuries. It was built in 1727 by the famous clockmaker John Harrison and his brother in order to solve the problem of calculating longitude. Harrison subsequently won a reward of £20,000, the equivalent of around £3m today.
The Hall of Steel at Royal Armouries Museum
There are copious treasures to be found in the Royal Armouries, which is home to one of the largest collections of arms and armoury in the world, with five floors housing over 4,500 objects from the 15th century to the modern-day. It’s always rated as one of the top things to do in Leeds.
But the spectacular Hall of Steel could be one of the most jaw dropping. It’s not one item, but a display of over 2,500 items of arms and armour arranged around an octagonal tower. Well worth a snap. Other highlights include armour for elephants, a pair of ‘blasters’ created for the original Star Wars film franchise, and a complete set of 2,300 year-old Greek armour.
The Three Graces at Harewood House
Harewood House is a remarkable 18th century estate located in the heart of Yorkshire and home to an astounding collection of paintings, furniture and ceramics.
When Edwin Lascelles started building Harewood House in 1759 he wanted nothing but the best craftsmen to help build his new home. In 1767, Thomas Chippendale, who would become the greatest English furniture maker, received the largest commission of his career, to furnish the newly built Harewood House.
A centre-piece of the Yellow Drawing Room is a stunning Chippendale commode, The Three Graces which features marquetry on satinwood with rosewood insets.