To find out what Briggate was like at the beginning of the nineteenth century we can turn to the text of the 1809 Improvement Act which gives us a graphic portrait of conditions in the town centre. It states that 'no Necessary House, or Bog House Dunghill or Midden' shall be emptied except between 10 o'clock at night and 5 o'clock in the morning'. Allowing 'any horse, mare, gelding, swine beast or cattle' to run free in the streets was prohibited, as were making bonfires, firing guns and pistols and throwing 'Squibs Serpent Rockets and Fireworks'! The Improvement Acts of the eighteenth century had clearly not been a complete success! A major problem was that the population of the town rose dramatically with the coming of the factory system and the need for an increased labour force.
Briggate like the other streets of the town was becoming more and more congested, with the centrally built Moot Hall and Middle Row almost blocking the street at its northern end. The Moot Hall had fallen into disrepair, and under a new Improvement Act of 1824, both the Moot Hall and Middle row were demolished. The judicial proceedings and the council meetings which had taken place in the Moot Hall had been transferred to a new courthouse on Park Row, and the butchers shops to the New Shambles built between Briggate and Vicar Lane.
In 1826 the foundation stone of a new Corn Exchange was laid on a site at the top of Briggate, and the exchange was opened in 1829. The statue of Queen Anne from the Moot Hall was placed on the front of the building.
1850 to 1900 a Time of Change.
In the second half of the 19th century major changes took place in Briggate, although despite the improvement and redevelopment of some areas, the yards and alleyways opening off Briggate were still overcrowded, and conditions were insanitary, especially on the east side which housed the Shambles.
In 1866, in response to the growth of Leeds as a centre of trade and commerce, the railway line from Marsh Lane was extended across the town centre to a new station at Wellington Street. Property in Briggate was demolished to allow a viaduct to be built across the street between Swinegate and Duncan Street, just above the Golden Lion Hotel.
The entrance to Boar Lane was widened in 1867 and at about the same time the Corn Exchange at the top of Briggate was demolished, and the street beyond it, New Street, was developed as New Briggate. The Grand Theatre was built there in 1878, along with an assembly hall and six shops.
The old Leeds Bridge, which had housed the first cloth market, was replaced with a cast iron structure designed by
T D Steel.
Creating a Shopping Centre.
With the increase in wealth of the middle classes there was an increase in demand for all kinds of consumer goods. In response to this new stores and shopping arcades were built.
In 1897 the Leeds Estate Company was formed to redevelop the area between the upper part of Briggate and Vicar Lane from Cheapside to the Bay Horse Yard, and included slaughterhouses, shops, inns, workers cottages and lodging houses. The council acquired the properties by compulsory purchase, and sold them to the Leeds Estate Company. At the heart of the new development was the Empire Palace Theatre. Two new streets, Queen Victoria Street, and King Edward Street ran along each side of the theatre, and the development included two new arcades, the County Arcade and Cross Arcade. The architect was Frank Matcham. The changes resulting from the re-development can be seen by comparing the Ordnance survey maps of 1893 and 1908.
By the end of the century Briggate was a bustling shopping street, as can be seen in the picture taken at the junction of Briggate with Boar Lane in 1899.
Yards and Courts
|Click images to enlarge|
Old Corn Exchange, 1860's
North Eastern Railway Bridge, c.1900
Boar Lane junction
The Empire Theatre, 1902
Ordnance Survey Map, 1893
Ordnance Survey Map, 1908
East side of Briggate, 1899