The Society makes grants both to individuals and to organisations in support of cultural and scientific activities which increase innovation, outreach and diversity in Leeds and its immediate area. It also supports local museums and galleries and publications relating to the city.

About the Society

The Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, founded in 1819, is a charity that promotes interest in science, literature and the arts – in the city of Leeds and beyond. We have meetings, lectures, entertainments, publications and visits.

Defoe’s account of ‘the populous and wealthy West Riding’ in 1724

A contemporary enquiry into a mysterious textile manufacturing success
– Dr Stephen Caunce

There was no video of this talk given in The Leeds Library, but the audio file is here. It starts with Stephen recalling the role that books played in his Lancashire childhood.

(Apologies that near the start, the recording also includes comments and noises relating to adjustments to the microphone). 


Daniel Defoe’s horseback crossing of the Pennines from Rochdale led him through Halifax to Leeds, and both towns surprised and enthralled him. He declared that as he was ‘resolved to have a perfect knowledge of … the manufactures of England … which is so prodigious great in this quarter’, he took ‘singular satisfaction’ in undertaking a thorough investigation into the textile trade of both towns.

His results are full of insight for modern historians into how the apparently barren location had actually spurred its inhabitants to create a business system which involved most of the people in family production systems. They operated independently, and thereby collectively grew very prosperous.

Focusing on Halifax, Stephen draws a nuanced and convincing picture of the evolution of the complex economy of  this part of the North of England.

Dr Stephen Caunce worked for Kirklees Museums in the 1980s, including twice running Red House when it was at a low ebb, and relaunched it as a community museum. He also worked at Beamish Museum, and what is now the National Coal Mining Museum. He then taught and researched at the Universities of Leeds and Central Lancashire until retiring in 2014.

His thesis led to two books (on East Yorkshire farm horsemen and on oral history research for local historians), and he has also published on Red House, Pennine farming, the Yorkshire woollen industry, northern identity and northern urbanisation.

He is currently working on a short book re-asserting the Industrial Revolution’s roots in the Pennines, and gives talks on a wide range of topics.

For further information, including the text of most of his non-book publications, see

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