They Lived in Headingley

Who was Elinor Lupton?

The surname ‘Lupton’ is familiar to many in Leeds: in Headingley, we have Lupton Flats, and there’s a Lupton Avenue and a Lupton Street in other parts of the city, the University had its Lupton Hall and in 1952 Agnes and Norman Lupton gave a valuable collection of watercolours and drawings to the City Art Gallery. Locally many are now concerned about the future of the Elinor Lupton Centre (formerly the Christian Science Church) on Headingley Lane which Leeds Girls High School has placed on the market.

The Luptons were one of the prominent families in 19th century Leeds: William Lupton and Co. was the town’s oldest woollen business and Dibb Luptons was a leading legal firm. Three Luptons were mayors, others served as aldermen and councillors and played important roles in the town’s flourishing voluntary organisations. Even as early as the middle of the century, Lupton ladies were beginning to take part in public life, in the anti-slavery movement and organisations to promote women’s education.

This is the world into which Elinor Gertrude Lupton was born in 1886. Her father, Arthur ran the family woollen business but she never really knew her mother who died in 1888 giving birth to her sister, Elizabeth (Bessie). Their father never re-married and his four children were brought up by a series of nursemaids and governesses. in the family home, Springwood, off Oakwood Lane .

Arthur introduced his two daughters to charity work at an early age. Their grandmother had founded the Leeds Ladies Association for the Care and Protection of Homeless Girls and Elinor and Bessie were encouraged to save their pocket money to make gifts to the charity. Aged eight, Elinor was sent to boarding school in Southwold, and in 1905 she went on to read classics at Newham College, Cambridge. To us it seems surprising that following her graduation in 1908, she returned to Springwood to keep house for her father. It isn’t clear whether this was to be her life’s work, or merely an interlude before she settling down to married life.

The First World War which was to transform so many people’s lives, for Elinor presented both a loss and an opportunity. The names of seven Lupton sons are commemorated on the war memorial at Mill Hill Chapel and the deaths of a generation of young men meant that six of the Lupton daughters never married.

At the beginning of war Elinor trained as nurse and worked in military hospitals in France and Belgium. After the War, it was this experience that led to her being appointed the first lady member of the Board of the Leeds Infirmary; she remained a member of the governing body for the next forty years eventually becoming its chairman. She still kept house for her father who in 1920 sold Springwood and moved into the main Lupton residence, Beechwood on Elmete Lane. For a time, she also worked in the family woollen business but whether through inclination or the loss of the opportunity to marry, Elinor’s future life was to be devoted to public service.

The pattern of her involvement in public life was shaped by kinship ties: members of the Lupton family had long been involved in the management of the Infirmary and her grandfather had been active in the founding of the Yorkshire College. When the college became a university in 1904 her father was appointed the first Pro-Chancellor. It’s not then surprising that Elinor also became involved in university affairs, serving as the Chairman of the Women’s Halls Committee and generously donating money to university projects. In 1937, she was appointed a JP and in 1942 became Lady Mayoress to Leeds’ first woman Lord Mayor, her friend, Beatrice Kitson. ‘We were the two worst dressed women in Leeds’ was Elinor’s somewhat dry comment on the experience.

But why did Leeds Girls High School name their annex on Headingley Lane after Elinor? She first joined the school’s governing body in 1915 and retired as a governor in 1969 having served as Vice-Chairman between 1926-36 and then as Chairman until 1957. Again there were family connections, in 1876 her grandmother had been a member of the committee which set up the joint stock company that established the High School. Elinor’s generosity to the school was legendary. For example, in 1939 when the school’s finances were in a critical condition, she guaranteed a bank overdraft and in 1945, she donated £12,000 to establish a trust fund. She remained a trustee of the fund until her death in 1979. Sixty-four years of service and many bequests to the High School were commemorated when the school decided to call their new arts building, the Elinor Lupton Centre.

Janet Douglas