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2010-07-20 13:34:42

Owls - the unlikely residents of Leeds

I remember the moment I first laid foot in Leeds like it was yesterday. The many, many shops along Briggate, the luxury surroundings of Clarence Dock, the vast amount of bars and clubs that cater to any and every taste, and.. erm.. owls.

It only takes a few paces and a smidge of observance to notice the owls that adorn the fine architectural developments throughout Leeds. With this article I hope to guide you to the homes of these wise birds and give you a little background information as to why they have been chosen to represent this magnificent city.

Millennium Square

If you haven’t yet seen these 8 ft golden marvels in Millennium Square then I’d suggest you have your eyes tested! The first couple of birds out of the four were created in 1933 as a ‘beacon of hope’ to all who were suffering as a result of the great depression, and were later joined by two more in 2000 to celebrate the new millennium.

These iconic sculptures make Millennium Square just that extra bit more welcoming to visitor and resident alike. Catch them in the sunlight to really see them glow!

Calverley Street

Created in 1876, these many owls have stood atop the railings outside Leeds City Library for many years although they can count themselves lucky to have survived all this time! Some time ago, the war ministry declared its intentions on melting the owls in order to form rifles and other munitions. Luckily, this didn’t transpire and they remain guarding the library to this day.

Those lucky enough to have been in Leeds last year for the annual Light Night may have spotted the birds sporting tiny woollen hats and scarves – even they could not stand the winter chill!

St Annes Cathedral

Starting life over a hundred years ago, these owls were included in the reformation of the cathedral after the first was torn down due to its poor positioning. Sadly, these owls were eventually forgotten and left to dirt and decay, eventually finding themselves covered in grime.

Fortunately the owls were rescued and sandblasted clean, and continue to reside atop the gutters of the cathedral in their prime state to this day.

War Memorial

Located just outside the Henry Moore Institute, these four owls are positioned on each corner of Leeds City War Memorial, originally erected in 1922 in City Square.

With wings outspread, these owls commemorate the losses during the first and second world wars, as well as capture the spirit of Leeds and its contribution to the wartime efforts.

Leeds City Library

Not happy inhabiting the great outdoors alone, many owls can be spotted inside the City Library adorning the entrances and walls – very fitting considering the library’s reputation of being a goldmine for information and wisdom.

Look closely and you’ll see them perched above the main entrance and above the Lending Library, although who knows – there may be more!

The bird’s significance to Leeds can be traced back to the reformation of the Leeds Coat of Arms in 1835, when three owls were added to the existing arms as adopted from that belonging to the first Alderman of Leeds, Sir John Saville.

Although the owls were not initially authorized for inclusion, they were officially granted for inclusion in the arms where they remain to this day. But why the owl? Why not a more traditional animal such as a lion or eagle?

My opinion – the owl represents the wisdom, knowledge and nobility of Leeds - nowt to it!


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