History of 42 the Calls
“Flour that would give a boa constrictor indigestion and reduce him to ribs and skin”
Was just one way that the flour of the working classes was described in the 1840s. Unscrupulous millers would load their produce with plaster of paris and produce little in way of actual nutrition. In fact, back then, a real loaf of bread was one of life’s luxuries and the Victorian mill workers that produced the raw materials were in constant danger of starving to death. It was a way of life all over the United Kingdom… but as the industrial revolution reached its conclusion, the city of Leeds, and 42 The Calls, played their part in restoring a little bit of equality and fairness to the county of Yorkshire, and the whole of the UK.
Perturbed by the dire quality of the local flour, seven flax mill workers from Leeds decided to set up their own flour mill… which in turn grew into the Leeds Co-operative society. It soon became the largest co-op group in the country, and even managed to put together its own navy (which was rather handy for bringing the cost of shipping their products down).
By the start of the 1860s there were over 300 of these Co-operatives spread across Yorkshire and Lancashire, all of whom combined to form the beginnings of the UKs Co-op chain as it is known today. These businesses grouped together to ensure fairer business practices, a share in profits… and lower prices.
It was around this time that the famous Leeds Corn Exchange was built. The great Victorian building became a trading hub, where millers, Co-operative members and store owners would congregate and negotiate deals under the building’s grand domed roof. And it was under this roof that the seven founders of the Leeds Co-operative began to generate steady profits for all their members… and ensure that only the best quality flour was produced by their mill.
Then, in 1887, after nearly 60 years in the milling trade, the Wright brothers acquired the underperforming 18th and 19th century Fletland Mills located at 42 the Calls. Bringing in new working practices and other elements of change, the company quickly turned around the fortunes of the mill, expanded it and produced record quantities of flour and corn meal for the district of Leeds.
Ideally located on the River Aire, this industrial hub became a benchmark for millers across the county, and fast gained a reputation as one of the best suppliers in the UK. With a steady stream of barges and boats bringing in a never ending parade of raw materials – and leaving with tonnes upon tonnes of expertly ground flour – the mill’s future was looking very bright indeed.
As, in fact, was the rest of industrial Leeds, especially the thriving waterfront district with its extensive warehouses, market leading forgers, malters, brewers and stone merchants. The river in front of 42 the calls was packed thick with working crafts and boatmen, whilst the banks were lined with longshoremen, expertly stripping the vessels of their deliveries and loading rich ingredients and finished products up for market.
The city was thriving, the local economy was solid, and the champions of industry thought this would be the case for many years to come. Of course, it wasn’t. A combination of factors ranging from cheaper competitors, outsourced manufacturing, fall in demand and modernisation meant that during the 20th century the waterfront district in Leeds endured a slow and steady decline until all that was left on the banks were empty factories and makeshift warehouses.
The once grand mill of 42 the Calls was left to rot. It became a cheap, leaky warehouse, where rusting machinery and dirty bricks yielded scant clues as to its glorious past. As a new Leeds city centre began to grow up out of the industrial wreckage, the waterfront district – practically smack bang in the middle – remained untouched… a dirty little secret that nobody knew what to do with.
Then, in the 1980s, the slow shoots of regeneration began. Factories and properties around the area began to be sold off. New businesses moved in, loft style apartments came on the market, and plans for new homes were drawn up. Restaurants opened, growth was encouraged, and the city’s trendiest area began to take shape.
In 1991, the former mill was transformed into the 4-star 42 the Calls hotel. Incorporating many of the original features and working mill mechanisms, the hotel stands as a testament to its industrial heritage. Of course, this makes for a very quirky ambience and has struck a chord with thousands of guests over the last 24 years.
Oak beams, industrial girders and mill gears protrude from the ceiling, creating an industrial, but somehow homely, feel. All of these original features are carefully balanced against lush interiors, cream paintwork, exposed bricks and bold modernist colour schemes.
With many of the rooms overlooking the grand River Aire and the regenerated waterfront district, guests are treated to picturesque views of a city reborn. Here you can find the swankiest restaurants, the plushest bars and a vibrant crowd of people celebrating the resurgence of one of the city’s most colourful and historic areas.