Circle visit to Leeds, Part 2 – Sunday 8th January 2017
Sunday morning dawned clear but cloudy – still no sign of rain! Breakfast was in the restaurant this morning, rather than in our private room and everyone tucked in to a great mixture of cereals and hot buffet to prepare themselves for the walk around the City Centre.
We had arranged to meet Ken Goor, a local tour guide, who had arranged to meet us outside McDonalds in the train station concourse. Ken runs lots of walks and tours in and around the Leeds area and proved to be both a popular (judging by the number of folk who stopped him for a chat, even though he was working for our group), enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable guide to this amazing city.
We began at a news-reel cinema just at the exit from Leeds station. Ken had very fond memories of being given a Beano and Dandy to read during the interval between films whilst his mother went to do her shopping on a Saturday many years ago.
Outside the station we were introduced to the Black Prince statue, randomly chosen because the man who had sponsored the development of the City Square had preferred him to the other choices; the eight nymphs who now guard the square with their lights held aloft; and four of the city’s most famous fathers: Joseph Priestly, philosopher and scientist, who is credited with the discovery of oxygen, carbon dioxide and soda water, and sometime minister in the Mill Hill Chapel just across the square from his statue; John Harrison, a benefactor of the city, who was a wool merchant in the 16th and 17th centuries; James Watt, who brought steam power to the mills in Leeds and began its role as a leading light in the Industrial Revolution; and Walter Hook, the Vicar of Leeds in 1837, who enthusiasm for bringing the Anglican faith to the city saw him set up 21 parishes and rebuilding Leeds Minster. All four statues preside over the public space that used to sit outside the Post Office, though these days city folk rush past without really giving them a second look.
Moving across the square, we stopped outside what is now called The Bourse, but which used to be Albert Street. Signs of Leeds’ magnificent past are visible here with the corner building having been a bank at one time (though now a pub and restaurant). On Albert Street, was a Jewish tailor and outfitters called Samuel Hyam & Co., who took on a young emigre called Marks and encouraged him to build up the retail giant that we know today as Marks and Spencer (more about them later). Hyam was one of the first to introduce “off the peg” clothing and to devise a production line approach to suit making, by bringing in Jewish emigres from his homeland of Russia (where they were being persecuted in the pogroms of that period) and giving each person just one task to learn from the many that are required to make up a whole suit.
A few yards further on, we moved into Trevelyan Square, a quiet haven from the bustle of Boar Lane. The distinguishing feature of the square is the fountain, which no longer functions, but which is made up of 4 Talbot hounds. The fountain sits outside the Marriott Hotel now but originally was commissioned by Captain Joseph Edwards in 1850 for his home, Castle Carr in Halifax. The house was demolished in 1961 and the fountain was rediscovered. After restoration it was bought in 1991 for the redevelopment of Trevelyan Square and sited where Trevelyan Chambers/Temperance Hotel once stood.
Back on Boar Lane, we saw the building which formed the Trevelyan Temperance Hotel, with shops at ground floor level, and then the former Schofield’s department store building at the top of which were the rooms where the original employees lived. Turning the corner onto Briggate, we found the Time Ball Buildings originally occupied by Dyson and Son who were jewellers and clock makers; that accounts for the huge clock on the front of the building which was a birthday present of the owner to his wife!
Opposite the Time Ball Buildings is a nondescript alley leading to Queen’s Court and at the end of it we found some old burgage dwellings, including a small wool merchant’s warehouse:
From the courtyard, it was a short walk over the bridge and down to the river where we visited a very interesting pub just a few yards up from the Tetley museum. It has been kept just as it was in Edwardian times (see slideshow below) and the various snugs are still used to this day.
Ken told us a very interesting story about a time when he was taking the Soviet consul and some visitors around Leeds; they popped into the pub (to get an authentic feel for life in Leeds, and to sample a quick half of the beer) and the consul’s phone rang whilst Ken was explaining the history of the pub. After a brief conversation, the consul asked everyone to have a seat and then proceeded to announce that the Soviet Union had just ended and that Russia was a new state – perestroika had triumphed, but the KGB men looked distraught as they didn’t know whether their careers were at an end!
We walked through the old wharf-side area and into the Victoria Quays, which have now been largely redeveloped as posh flats, though some of the original features are still visible if you look carefully enough.
Near the Victoria Quay is the recently built Royal Armouries building and a series of canal locks around it; we didn’t go in there, but it was one of several “downtime” options available to those with an historical bent. We pushed on round the back of the Quays and up past to Cornmarket, a beautiful round building that has now been developed into a set of boutique shops and restaurants. This is clearly where the monied folk from Leeds come to spread their wealth and it is a wonderfully atmospheric place to while away a few minutes while we all got our breath back.
Many in the group were very impressed by the wealth that Leeds had enjoyed over the years and how much of the heritage had been preserved. The Cornmarket is just one of many examples of buildings that have been given some loving care over the last few years.
Just up the road from the Cornmarket is the Leeds City Market, with a reputation for bargains. It is also the venue for the founding of the Marks and Spencer “Penny Bazaar” which has now grown to be the M&S we all know and love. Sadly, the market was closed on Sunday, but we were all advised to come back on Monday morning and have a peek at the quaint Victorian metalwork that forms the roof struts.
Definitely not to be missed, as we moved along, were the various arcades which again were part of the Victorian centre of Leeds. These have been beautifully restored and house some of the most exclusive stores (Harvey Nichols, Tesla Cars, and a whole host of high-end designer shops where, if you still had some cash left after visiting the Cornmarket, you could splash out on a new set of clothes, some top-end shoes and a variety of other hardware to fill your posh house or flat).
At the other end of the Central Arcade is the slightly smaller Thornton’s arcade and tucked into the side of it is the world-famous City Varieties Music Hall, famous for “The Good Old Days” which was compered by Leonard Sachs and whose hyperbolic and alliterative introductions to the various performers lent an Edwardian air to the proceedings (for a stroll down memory lane, perhaps you might sample the delights of an old recording, or two, by clicking here). The venue is a beautifully maintained space with plush drapes and galleried boxes on the upper floor as you will see if you follow the link. Again, being a Sunday morning, the theatre was shut but we were regaled with many stories by our dutiful guide.
We ended our walk near Leeds Town Hall and gathered for lunch in the Tiled Hall at Leeds Art Gallery next to Town Hall – it is quite an impressive room in itself, though the rest of the building is being renovated.
After such a busy morning, many of us spent Sunday afternoon either shopping, exploring other sections of the City in more detail, watching football over a pint (John C & John D), or having a bit of a rest from all the exertions but Charles went cycling as far as Pudsey, along the canal towpaths, on his fold-up Brompton bike and shared his progress with his brother via smartphone.
We all gathered back together for our evening meal, which was taken once again in our private room. It was another excellent meal and the service was very personal. Many rounded off the night with a little nightcap back in the bar.