site unseen The Egyptian Temple, Leeds

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The Independent Online
It is unlikely that the Health and Safety Executive has ever had to deal with the problem of flying sheep. They would have done if they had been around in Leeds in the 19th century.

Mr John Marshall was the founder of the city's prosperous flax-spinning industry and, with typical Victorian exuberance, he decided to build a massive new headquarters. Rejecting the new-fangled enthusiasm for Gothic, Marshall wanted a building which would be a dead ringer for an Egyptian temple on the grounds that the ancient Egyptians had known all about flax.

He therefore commissioned an architect called Mr Bonomi who had spent eight years travelling around Egypt and knew all about it. Bonomi completed his massive single-storey building in 1840 and a couple of years later added an office block alongside.

The flax process apparently requires an even temperature so Mr Marshall insulated his roof with a layer of soil which was carefully placed around the 66 glass domes providing ventilation for the workers below.

Problem: the earth had a tendency to blow away during windy weather. Solution: sow grass to keep it down and in addition provide the workforce with a pleasant roof garden on which they could relax. New problem: how to keep the grass in order? Answer: hoist a flock of sheep onto the roof and let them see to it. This had the added virtue of providing extra wool for Mr Marshall. Hey presto, lateral thinking at its best.

Mr Marshall's Temple still stands in the middle of what is now a rather dull industrial estate. His Grade I-listed Egyptian extravaganza is home to a mail order company.

And what happened to the sheep? Sadly the day came when one of them simply couldn't resist trying to clamber over a dome, fell through the glass and plummeted to a nasty end down below. On its way it killed one of Mr Marshall's employees.

Presumably the doctor had to write "Killed by Flying Sheep" on the death certificate. History does not record if the unfortunate man's name was Monty Python.

The Temple Mill, Marshall Street, Leeds is five minutes' walk south of the railway station.

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