Leeds Market: A Journey Through History

Leeds Kirkgate Market is the largest indoor market in the UK. In fact, it is said to be the largest indoor market in Europe.

Much of the city’s history is reflected in this magnificent and elegant building.

Leeds Market

Marks and Spencer Clock celebrating 100 years since the Penny Bazaar

You might recall that between the months of March and June last year, Leeds was our Destination of the Month at InMyShoesTravel.com. We looked at the historic and unique arcades, some of the Victorian architecture and at some places to visit outside the city.

Now, with our current Destination of the Month: Markets of the World, we are revisiting Leeds and we are going right to the heart of the city centre to take a look at one of the most important and most loved monuments in the city: Leeds Market.

Still one of the most elegant and majestic edifices in the city centre, Leeds Market is as popular now as it ever has been, and like the rest of the city, it has been through rough times and smooth times throughout its history.

A Journey Through the History of Leeds Market

Now, step into my shoes for a walk through the history of Leeds Market – maybe we pick up some bargains along the way…

The Kirkgate market building was commissioned in 1850, in response to the public’s growing demand for markets and food halls, by the Borough Commissioner who had grand architectural plans for his market, using designs inspired by Joseph Paxton, architect of London’s Crystal Palace.

The market was completed and was opened for business in 1857.

Leeds Market was successful instantly and less than 20 years after completion it was expanded when, in 1975, adjacent land was acquired for redevelopment.

By the end of the 19th century, Leeds Kirkgate Market was already the largest indoor market in Europe and was still growing. The fish market was created in 1894 and then the domed roof was added, covering the old building and new additions, making it the largest indoor market.

Despite being nowhere near the coast, the fish market inside Leeds Market became one of the most important fish trading sites in Yorkshire.

Marks and Spencer in Leeds Kirkgate Market

In 1894, Leeds Kirkgate Market was the founding location of Marks & Spencer which opened in Leeds Market as a penny bazaar.

The Marks & Spencer’s heritage is marked by the Market Clock in the 1904 hall which bears the shops name. This clock was unveiled in 1984 to celebrate the centenary of Marks & Spencer. In 2012 Marks and Spencer returned to Kirkgate Market, opening a stall next to the centenary clock.

In 1904, Marks & Spencer relocated its Leeds branch to the then recently opened Cross Arcade (now part of the Victoria Quarter). Marks and Spencer now has a large store on Briggate.

Kirkgate Market, Leeds Kirkgate Market, Leeds

In 1899 there was further expansion of the market when the meat market and an abattoir were added, providing customers with fresh produce and further emphasising the market’s importance.

In 1901 construction work began on a grand new market entrance, on Vicar Lane, to a new market hall. Work was finished in 1904 and the total cost was £116,000; £37,000 over budget.

Leeds market

Leeds Market survived the First World War, albeit with a reduced number of traders, and continued to play a vital role during WWII when it became the home of the Ministry of Food in Leeds providing rationing in the city.

On 14th March 1941, Leeds Market suffered from the German air raids across the north of the country but damage was limited and trading continued.

After the war, more units were added inside the market for butchers, creating what is known today as Butchers Row.

In December 1975 the market suffered a serious fire which destroyed two thirds of Kirkgate Market, despite traders’ efforts to put out the flames. Livelihoods and businesses were burned to the ground but miraculously no lives were lost. On another positive note, the 1904 hall was not affected.

Kirkgate Market, Leeds

1904

In 1976 and 1981 new halls were inaugurated and there were plans for further redevelopment in 1986, to increase the market to 400,000 sq ft (longer than the Houses of Parliament) and creating a new multi-storey car park, with space for 2,000 cars, and a new bus station. But the plans fell through and this work was not completed until 1999.

Leeds Market Today

Today there are 800 stalls which attract over 100,000 visitors a week. The market is just as vibrant and as popular as it ever was. Local quirky traders create a real market atmosphere with their banter, shouting out their offers to passing shoppers.

In 2010, chef Jamie Oliver opened his Ministry of Food centre at Leeds Market, giving people the opportunity to learn basic culinary techniques and teaching them how to cook healthy meals on a budget.

Diversity is embraced at Leeds Market and there is a Polish delicatessen, a Chinese supermarket, an Asian Bazaar every Wednesday morning, and regular farmer’s markets as well as a busy social events calendar.

So next time you are walking through Leeds City Centre, instead of walking past the market, walk through it. Share a bit of banter with the jolly traders, look up and see the wonderful architecture, notice the fusion between the old and the new sections, and more importantly, enjoy yourself.

What’s your favourite market? Why?

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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....

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  1. susan sykes says:

    Loved this post about Leeds market, and there is now a stall selling turkish street food, and it is delicious, next time you come to Leeds we will try the food there.

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