History

Tower Works was founded by T.R. Harding to make steel pins for carding and combing in the textile industry. The factory’s products were world class, selling all over the world and in the latter part of the 19th Century, they incorporated counters and gauges into the portfolio of innovative and advanced technology products. The original buildings, by Thomas Shaw, were erected in 1864-6. The design was heavily influenced by his love for Italian architecture and art.

The most notable features of Tower Works are the three towers that give it its name and served as chimneys for the gill-pin factory. The smaller ornate tower was built first and is based on the Lamberti Tower in Verona. The largest and most ornate tower was built in 1900 as a dust extraction shaft and is based on the iconic Giotto campanile (bell tower) in Florence. A third plain tower, built as part of Harding’s final phase of expansion in 1919, is thought to represent a Tuscan tower house. All three are listed structures, the two ornate towers being Grade II* and the plain tower Grade II listed.

The business itself was founded on a bedrock of culture, philanthropy and world-beating innovation.  Thomas Richard Harding’s numerous patents and products set class-leading standards and were in demand across the world. The Harding gauge was the recognised international classification for wire and pin sizes. The ‘Ideal Counter’ was revolutionary technology that could record units produced. Harding tachometers, or speed indicators, were used on all types of marine and stationary engines.

T K Harding retired in 1890 to be succeeded by his son, Thomas Walker Harding who was Colonel of the Leeds Artillery Volunteers. In addition to operating his family’s firm, he made enormous contributions to the civic and cultural live of Leeds. He was the first ever Lord Mayor of Leeds in 1898-9 and President of the Leeds Chamber of Commerce. He lived in Abbey House, now the museum at Kirkstall Abbey.

Colonel Harding was one of the founders of the Leeds City Art Gallery, chairing its committee for almost twenty years and presenting some of its best-known paintings. He promoted the scheme for creating City Square and in 1903 gifted its fine statues of the Black Prince, Dean Hook, Joseph Priestly and the figures of “Morn” and “Even”. Harding travelled widely in Italy as a young man and followed his father’s love of Italian art and architecture, prompting his commissioning of architect William Bakewell to extend Tower Works in 1899.

After sustaining damage in World War II when neighbouring buildings were bombed during the air raids on Leeds railway station, the factory at Tower Works was never fully repaired.  It ceased to trade in 1981 after almost 120 years of operating on the site. It was acquired by Yorkshire Forward in 2005. Following the closure of the Regional Development Agencies, the site was transferred to the Homes and Communities Agency.