By Lisa on Mar 07, 2013 with Comments 3
Did you know, on a rainy day you can walk from the bus station in Leeds, which is at one side of town, all the way across the city centre to the back of the Merion Centre where the new Leeds Arena is, almost without getting wet!
It’s true. For those who know Leeds, think about it. This is mainly due to the arcades: You would walk through the bus station, up through the market, straight out the other side and over the road into the Victoria Quarter, cutting through into County Arcade, out the other side, across the road, straight through Thornton’s Arcade, then right at the top and over the road, through the St John’s Shopping Centre, across the road at the other side and through the Merion Centre. Crazy isn’t it?!
For those who do not know the city centre of Leeds, the arcades are a defining feature, giving it a very different aspect from other cities. The arcades are beautiful, very well preserved and they are full of little, interesting shops.
Leeds’ arcades are Victorian. Eight arcades were built from 1878 to 1900 during the time that Leeds was expanding and trying to change its image; in 1893 Leeds was awarded status as a city. Five of those arcades, all of which are Grade II listed buildings, are still standing today. They are:
Thornton’s Arcade was the first to be built in 1878, named after Charles Thornton, who owned the White Swan Pub and the Varieties Music Hall (which became known as the longest running music hall in the country) in the same yard.
This arcade is theatrically decorated thanks to its being built around the music hall. William Potts and Son designed and made a clock with four life size figures that stands above the exit onto Lands Lane.
Since writing this post a reader has added some very interesting extra information in the comments, please make sure you take a look when you get to the end.
Running parallel to Thornton’s Arcade, Queen’s Arcade, named after Queen Victoria, was built in 1889 to replace old and dilapidated buildings. As the arcade was funded by Leeds City Council (or Leeds Corporation as it was better known until a few decades ago) it was stipulated that the design incorporate housing as well as commercial space, thus making it the only one of Leeds arcades that offers a combination of both commercial and residencial space.
The Grand Arcade, built in 1897 by New Briggate Arcade Company Ltd, is considered the entertainment arcade: at the end of the arcade we find the famous Grand Theatre and one of the sides of the arcade, which was originally built as shops, has been converted into a nightclub.
This arcade also features a magnificent clock which was built by the same clock-makers who created the clock in Thornton’s Arcade.
County Arcade is certainly the most elaborate of Leeds’ arcades, with a fabulous fresco half-way down and three spectacular domes in the ceiling.
Lavishly decorated with a marble floor and columns, it served the purpose intended by architect Frank Matcham: to redevelop an area which, up until then, had been slaughterhouses and slums.
Matcham was an architect more noted for his theatre building. He designed more than 200 theatres across the the UK including the London Palladium and the London Coliseum. In fact, this shopping arcade included The Empire Theatre and was originally known as Empire Arcade.
Cross Arcade crosses County Arcade right through the middle. As you walk down County Arcade, when you reach the middle you have on one side the theatrical stone statues and fountain and to the other side is the entrance to Cross Arcade.
Cross Arcade was built in very much the same style as County Arcade and was, in fact, built by the same architect.
To compliment Leeds’ historical arcades is a modern addition, which was built in the late 1980s and early 1990s to cover Victoria Street. A vast glass roof was placed over the street, supported by columns and by the red brick buildings on either side. This became the largest stained glass window in Britain and was designed by Brian Clarke.
The Victoria Quarter runs parallel to County Arcade, and Cross Arcade connects them. The Victoria Quarter is elegantly decorated in marble and brass and is now the widest arcade, with cafes, a fountain and other activity down the centre.
I hope that you have enjoyed learning about this important part of Leeds’ history and architecture and I hope even more that you will visit the city and discover them for yourself.
This month, Leeds is Destination of the Month. You can read more aout the UK’s third largest city here.
About the Author: Lisa, born and grew up in England, live in Mallorca, Spain... Have visited more than 20 countries, have twice as many to yet visit, love sharing experiences....