The first and most important fact about the history of the Farm site is that the land on which it stands has always been free of development. There is evidence some of the land was being cultivated in 1240, after the site was granted to the monks of Kirkstall Abbey by William de Alreton. (1) The Farm is in the township of Potternewton in the Meanwood Valley. The northern side of the valley (where the farm is located) is called Sugarwell Hill, the southern side is called Woodhouse Ridge. The earliest map of the area, a detailed estate map of 1762 (on display in the EpiCentre), shows Sugarwell Hill covered by Scot Wood and the Farm site located on land called ‘Farr Wood Close’. The land appears to be in transition from woodland to arable and pasture.
As early as 1560 there is evidence of mill development with Scott Mill erected on Meanwood Beck. The early 17th Century saw the construction of more corn mills along the Beck as it was an important source of power.
The goit, a man made mill stream, whose route has now become the public footpath, was mentioned in a deed of 1631. In 1825 the turnpike road from Leeds to Meanwood opened up access to the valley. Slowly more development took place along the beck with the opening of tanneries and both botanical and manufacturing chemical works.
John Clapham, a botanical chemist, built the present Farm office and Café in the 1870s. The building contained his laboratory and herbal distillery. He built the adjoining Oakdale House for his growing family in 1885. During the second half of the 19th Century more housing developments took place along Meanwood Road and the Farmland was used as a market garden to feed the growing urban population.
In the 1870s some of the land was used for the deposit of ‘night soil’ from the thousands of back to back houses in the surrounding area. This made the land ideal to grow Rhubarb and this encouraged the tenants of the land to specialise in its production.Rhubarb is still grown to this day on the Farm. One of the other results of building works on the Farm in the 1880’s, was the discovery during of Victorian bottles, clay pipes and pottery, some of which are now on display in the Epicentre.
Inner city decline and dereliction in the 1970s, prompted groups of people nationally to try to improve and manage under-used derelict land for the benefit of local communities. This led to the development of the City Farm movement.
The Meanwood Valley was an attractive site for the City Farm Movement initiative, due to its unique character as a green corridor linking countryside to the inner city. With the support of Leeds City Council, who owned the land, and enthusiastic volunteers, some of who were recruited via Leeds Civic Trust, Meanwood Valley Urban Farm was officially opened in 1980.