In 1933, Leeds builds the Civic Hall, now on Millennium Square. In the Assembly Hall on the first floor, inscribed in gold lettering around the top of the panelling, are a series of names of Leeds men. Sir Martin Frobisher is one of those men.
At this point in history, he has been ‘claimed’ by Leeds as an important figure in the city’s past, to be remembered.
This is probably because of his naval career connected to the Spanish Armada. Yet, he never lived, worked or influenced what we now understand as the geographical area of Leeds (within the metropolitan boundary). The area would have been mostly rural during Martin’s lifetime. The first map of the area was only created in 1560. So, why is his name there? What do you think? Why are they all names of men?
At the moment, we don’t know how the names were chosen for the Civic Hall. This needs more research to find out. Sir Martin’s connections with the Leeds area were domestic and generally unrelated to his naval career. This is why we don’t have objects or documents relating to him in the Leeds Museums and Galleries collections, and the images you see in the resource come from other, national sources.
The prevailing narrative of Sir Martin Frobisher’s life has been that of an exciting explorer and naval officer, charting the globe in the first days of naval exploration under Elizabeth I and helping to stop invasion.
However, finding trade routes rapidly becomes the start of the British Empire, with the potential of exploiting natural resources and people from Africa, Canada and the West Indies, and setting up of colonies around the globe to control land and people.
We can now look at Martin’s actions with the knowledge of what followed over the next 350 years, be shocked by licensed piracy, plundering of resources and forcible trafficking of people.