A fair and well-built street.
By the eighteenth century, Leeds was a prosperous town with a thriving woollen industry. Briggate was still the main thoroughfare, and the centre of commercial activity in the town. Daniel Defoe, writing in 1720, described Briggate as 'a large, broad, fair and well-built street.' This is rather different from the description of a century earlier. Cossins map shows the layout of Briggate in 1725, with the Moot Hall, and the Cross in the centre of the street, and the Shambles between them. The fine houses of the leading townsmen are pictured round the edge.
During the preceding century building techniques had changed, and houses began to be built of brick or stone, rather than timber. Hugh Sleigh's house, and that of Thomas Lee were both built on Briggate, among the old timber framed houses, and the numerous shops and workshops which lined the street, and were situated in the yards beyond. Thomas Lee's house stood on the west side of Briggate just below Boar Lane: the building survived until the late 1970s.
The Moot Hall
The Moot Hall was rebuilt in 1710-11 on the same site in the centre of Briggate, with butcher's shops on the ground floor, and the courthouse above. Meetings of the Leeds Corporation were held there, and it was also a courthouse for the magistrates courts and the Borough Quarter Sessions. The statue on the front is of Queen Anne by Andrew Carpenter, and was added in 1713. It was commissioned by Alderman William Milner. When the Moot Hall was demolished, the statue was moved to the front of the old Corn exchange. It is now in the City Art Gallery.
The Market Place.
Briggate was the site of both the cloth market, shown at the bottom of Briggate on Cossins map, and was also the general market place for the town. Trading in the cloth market was finished by half past eight in the morning, and the market was then taken over by other traders. In the words of Ralph Thoresby, writing in 1715:
'the street is at liberty for the Market People of other professions, as the Country Linen-Drapers, Shoo-makers, Hard-Ware- Men, and the sellers of Wood-Vessels, Wicker-Baskets, Wanded-Chairs, Flakes etc'.
Fruit was sold in the market, as much as five hundred loads of apples being sold in one day. There was a cattle market, and a fish market 'furnished with a great variety of fish'. The butchers' shambles were still situated on one side of the Moot Hall, with the wool market on the other. The poultry market was held at the cross (above the Moot Hall on Cossins Map), and above this was the corn market. The horse market was not held in Briggate, but in the Upper Head Row, and the pig market in the Lower Head Row.
Shops, Inns, and Schools
Briggate was lined with shops, like that at Number 51, which was the last bow-fronted shop to survive until the twentieth century, and which appears in a photograph taken in 1900. An advertisement appeared in the Leeds Intelligencer in April 1796 giving notice that the shop was to re-open as Brook and Wales, Linen-drapers and Haberdashers. The fashion plate shows the kind of dress trimmings they might have had in stock for the ladies of Leeds.
The Intelligencer also tells us that in April 1764 Mr. R Pulman set up his school room in the yard of the Bull and Bell Inn off Briggate. It was at Number 46, where Marks and Spencer's store is now.
The Pack Horse Inn was probably built around 1550, and had been an inn since 1615, when it was called the Nag's Head. The Templar Cross on the gable shows that the house was once owned by the Manor of Whitkirk, which originally belonged to the Knights Templar. In the eighteenth century it was called the Slipin, and was a fashionable meeting place and focus of social life. In April 1750 Joseph Baker of London opened a dancing academy there.
With the increase in population during the last thirty years of the eighteenth century, houses were built on every available space in the yards and gardens opening off Briggate. The dark alleys and passageways were frequently the scene of attacks and robberies. As the centre of the town grew more crowded and the conditions more filthy and insanitary, wealthy families moved away to new housing such as that on Park Row. Briggate was the site of several Coaching Inns and with increasing traffic using Briggate as the main north-south route through Leeds it became increasingly unsuitable as a market place. This led to the removal of the cloth market to the cloth halls, although there was a retail market in Briggate until 1857.
Two Improvement Acts were passed, in 1755 and 1790 to try and improve the condition of the streets in the town centre, but despite some changes, Briggate, and especially its adjoining courts and yards continued to deteriorate, until the Improvement Acts of 1809 and 1824 brought about major changes.
|Click images to enlarge|
Cossins Map, 1725
Moot Hall, 1816
Thomas Lee's House
Bow windowed shop on Briggate, c.1900
Advertisement from the Intelligencer, April 8th 1796
Ladies dress, late 18th century
Advertisement for the Bell and Bull, from the Intelligencer
Pack Horse Inn, c.1908