Free learning resources from arts, cultural and heritage organisations.

Teachers' Notes

Resource created by The British Library.

Theme/Enquiry Question and background notes:

You may well have learnt about the Great Fire of London in 1666 but have you ever heard of the Great Fire of Leeds in 1906?

There have been many devastating fires in Leeds, but one was so significant that it is now known as the Great Fire of Leeds.

This resource uses primary evidence including several Charles Goad Insurance Fire Maps of Leeds from the British Library, to help your students understand the context, causes and significance of the Great Fire of Leeds, why fire maps were used, and the different commercial and residential use of buildings in the centre of Leeds in the early 1900s.

There is also the opportunity to learn more about the fire risks of different construction materials and goods that were being made at the time.

There are several different activity and discussion ideas below with a more detailed scheme of work and lesson planfocusing on the Great Fire of Leeds (see PowerPoint files in 'Resources' section).

We recommend enlarging the images on screen or printing for children to really explore the detail in the maps.

An alternative to comparing physical or printed maps is to sign up to and use Digimaps for Schools to search, critically analyse, and overlay historical maps from the last 100 years, helping students to understand changes in physical and human geography over time.

This resource was created using maps and archives from the British Library and archival materials by kind permission of Leeds Libraries and the British Newspaper Archive

Note: Talking about fire disasters or other sensitive topics may be triggering for some children. Please take care to consider this and have plans in place to support unexpected responses.

Curriculum Links

  • KS1 History: Significant local historical events, people and places
  • KS2 History: Theme extending knowledge beyond 1066
  • KS2 Geography: Locational knowledge, Geographical skills
  • KS1 and KS2 Science: Materials
  • KS2 PSHE: Fire Safety and Quality of Life

Activity ideas

  1. The lesson plan PowerPoint presentation (see 'Resources') focuses on the Great Fire of Leeds that happened in 1906 and caused devastating damage to several buildings. It started in a linen and cotton warehouse on Wellington Street and quickly spread because of flammable linoleum that was stored in there warehouse.
  2. Use the Visit Leeds Child Friendly maps of the City Centre or the Digimaps programme to compare streets, buildings and businesses now and then (see Supporting Links).
    You could explore the locations of significant shops, buildings, spaces that children may already know in Leeds such as The Grand Theatre, City Hall, Library and Art Gallery, Museum, Golden Owls, Leeds General Infirmary, The Corn Exchange, skate parks, the market, McDonalds, cinemas, Harvey Nicolls and the bus and train stations etc. Or get your students to suggest some they all know.
  3. How have businesses changed in the centre of Leeds over time? Why have those changes happened?
    Choose one of the city centre fire maps to see what sort of businesses were operating in 1906 and compare them to what exists in the same spaces now. What businesses or buildings have replaced those that are shown on the 1906 maps. Find out how big investments create development in cities.
    Use the fire maps to find out what buildings, businesses or spaces existed in 1906 where the Trinity Shopping Centre is now.
  4. Use maths to calculate what percentage of different types of businesses there are in the Trinity Shopping Centre.
  5. How has the fire brigade changed over time? Find out more about West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service using the internet (see Supporting Links).
    Where are the main fire stations in and around Leeds?
    Use a large map of Leeds to pin point locations.
  6. Thinking about what has changed in the last 140 years in the city centre, what will Leeds by like in another 100 years?
    Draw or build a model of a future map of Leeds to show how you think it will look. You will need to think about:
    a. how people will be travelling around the city,
    b. why people will be visiting the city
    c. what type of businesses will be operating from the city centre
    d. what the architecture of new buildings will look like.
  7. If you’re a Minecraft player then you might want to try and build a world using the fire maps that combines historical evidence with your imagination! The maps are so detailed that you can create a really detailed world and include strange or unusual place names, industries or features like trap doors or windows. Once you have created your worlds make up a game for other students to explore that world. We know that Professor Sally Bushell from Lancaster University has already tried this – have a look to see what she did using fire maps of London (see Supporting Links).

Discussion Ideas

  • As a group discuss the following enquiry questions to generate an understanding of the context of Leeds beyond the City Centre:
    a. Where is Leeds?
    b. What is Leeds?
    c. How was Leeds different in the Victorian and Edwardian eras compared to now
  • Why were fire insurance maps created?
    Do businesses still need to assess the risk of fires in their buildings?
    Find out more about how insurance brokers and companies work - see Supporting Links (Workplace Safety on Government website).
  • How do we make sure that buildings, businesses and homes today are safer than they were in Victorian and Edwardian times?
  • Compare the Great Fire of Leeds with the Great Fire of London.
    What were the main differences?
    Were there any similarities?
    How might have Leeds changed after that fire?