The Black Prince in Leeds City Square
Having lived in Leeds or close by since my student days – one landmark in the City centre has always stood out. Sitting proudly on top of a horse in City Square opposite The Queens Hotel and in front of Banyan is Edward the Black Prince, eldest son of King Edward III and hero of the Battle of Crecy during the Hundred Years War.
I had always been intrigued about his relevance to Leeds so started to investigate and it turns out I am not the first person to have been puzzled by this. The first website I found about the statue had a quote from the comedian Vic Reeves. “I’ve always been intrigued by the story of the Black Prince and wondered what he was actually doing in Leeds?”.
Strangely it turns out that the statue actually has NO real relevance to Leeds at all!
So here is a bit of background as to who put it there and why…
In 1893 Leeds was given City status. The site of City Square had been the location of Leeds Coloured Cloth Hall, a sort of Leeds version of Halifax’s famous Piece Hall. But as industrialisation had taken over, the need for a huge site for merchants to meet to buy pieces of home produced cloth had passed. It was decided to remodel the area to create an open space to celebrated Leeds elevated city status. This work was commenced in 1897 and the eminent architect William Blackwell was brought into manage the project.
The following year Thomas Walter Harding became Mayor of Leeds. Harding owned The Tower Works – which for anyone visiting Leeds is where the 3 Italianate Towers sit in Holbeck behind Leeds Railway Station. He had made his money manufacturing pins – which were sold around the world to be used in the textile industrial for the mechanical carding of wool.
The new Mayor wanted to have a centre piece for the new square and decided a large equestrian sculpture was the answer – but who was the subject to be?
Initially Henry de Lacy, who had been involved in the crusades and the funding of Kirkstall Abbey was considered, but he was rejected. It was decided Leeds needed a more chivalrous, but nationally recognised character and so whilst no connections to Leeds existed, they decided the Black Prince, was just the sort of heroic figure from history Leeds needed to represent it.
It is thought that Edward the Black Prince got his nickname from the fact he wore black armour and a black shield in battle or from his brutal reputation in battle against the French.
Colonel Thomas Walter Harding had been a soldier himself so deemed the Black Prince a suitable subject so commissioned the sculpture Thomas Brock who had gained fame for his sculpture of Queen Victoria’s deceased husband Prince Albert at the Albert Memorial in London.
Brock took 7 years to produce the statue which ended up having to be cast in Belgium as it was too big for any English foundry at the time. It was actually brought from the continent by boat and then travelled from Hull arriving in Leeds via the River Aire on a barge – this must have been a magnificent site.
The statue sits on a pedestal which has 4 panels surrounding it which are worth a closer look if you are in City Square. The two main panels depict land and sea battles against the French.
The Black Prince statue was finally unveiled on 16th September 1903 in front of thousands of Leeds residents to much applause and the sculpture itself is has been praised for its detail and impact. Harding was at the unveiling and later that day was made a freeman of the City of Leeds.
Whilst there was some criticism of the Black Prince having no links to Leeds – Colonel Thomas Walter Harding always argued that “The Black Prince, was the hero of Crecy and Poitiers, being the flower of English chivalry, the upholder of the liberties of the English people, and would remain an emblem of manly and unselfish virtues”, so was perfect to represent Leeds new City status.
119 years on from the unveiling Edward - the Black Prince still towers over City Square and is often one of the first landmarks visitors to the city see on their arrival to Leeds.