Heritage Re-Roof for Leeds Prison

Aerial view of re-roof for Leeds Prison

PLANNING PERMISSION has been granted for a re-roof of the Victorian prison in Leeds. The Grade II listed building application for roofing works includes repair and replacement of existing roof coverings to buildings within the HMP Leeds estate in Armley.

The new roofing works are being delivered in two phases and the current application follows a phase of earlier roofing works completed in 2016. This second phase of roofing includes the gatehouse and turrets, old reception, former Chapel (now workshop) and the former Hangman’s house.

Re-roof for Leeds Prison

The roofs are a mixture of pitched slate and lead roofs and flat roofs with both felt and single ply coverings. Most works will replace the roofs on a like for like basis with pitched roofing slate, lead roofing and the single ply flat roofs.

The former Chapel will be re-roofed in metal sheeting, matching the finish of the first phase of re-roofing, which includes the adjacent wings.

Historic Lead Graffiti

The application consulted Historic England and Leeds County Council Conservation on the roof upgrades. They stipulated that if, during closer inspection of the roof, any examples of historic graffiti are observed on the lead roofed areas then work should stop and the graffiti should be recorded by an archaeologist to curate and preserve it for posterity.

Graffiti on lead roofs often records the dates of roofing work and repairs, taking the form of the initials of the tradespeople, apotropaic (or good luck) symbols such as shoes and ‘daisy wheels’ (a geometric pattern of interlocking circles and arcs drawn with a compass). The recent re-roofing of Beverley Minster in Yorkshire uncovered several examples of 18th and 19th century lead graffiti.

Lead graffiti
Lead Graffiti found during roofing work at Beverley Minster in 2021.

Architectural Design

Construction of HMP Leeds was completed in 1847 and was built according to the design of prisons at the time, in a ‘hub and spoke’ arrangement. The architectural design was based on the ideas of Jeremy Bentham who advised a Panopticon design for prisons with a central hub that allowed for the constant surveillance of the ‘spokes’. The gaoler in the hub could see the inmates, but the inmates couldn’t see the gaoler and didn’t know at any one time whether they were being watched.

At HMP Leeds there is a central gaoler’s building (now a multi-faith centre) and four, three-storey wings radiating off it that house prisoners. It is constructed from grit stone blocks quarried locally from what is now Bramley Fall Park, and slate roofs, in a forbidding ‘fortress’ style, with battlements, turrets, triple-height bay windows to the wing ends and an original gatehouse complex in the style of a medieval fortification, with iron bars to the windows and railings topped by an ‘axehead’ detail. The gatehouse makes for an imposing entrance and is surrounded by an extended wall.

HMP Leeds gatehouse

The prison was the location of regular hangings, the early ones in public view, later ones taking place on gallows housed within the prison. The last hanging at the prison took place in 1961.

The planned re-roofing is focused on the eastern side of the site and includes the original gatehouse and turrets, old reception, former Hangman’s house and former Chapel.

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