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The Arcades

Thornton's Arcade.
Charles Thornton, (1820-1881), was the owner of the Old White Swan Inn in Swan Street, and the proprietor of the Varieties Music Hall. (Now the Leeds City Varieties.) In 1873 he built a block of shops and offices, Thornton's Buildings, at the junction  of the Upper Headrow with Lands Lane.

In 1875 Thornton applied for permission to demolish the Old Talbot Inn on Briggate, and to build a new arcade of shops on the site. The Talbot was one of the oldest inns in Leeds. Thoresby writing in 1715, describes frescoes painted on the walls of a room in the Inn. The Inn was used for cockfighting, and in the 17th century was where the circuit judge stayed when he was in Leeds.

The arcade was originally designed by Charles Fowler, a Leeds architect, but the Borough Engineer would not agree to the designs because of problems with the drainage. Charles Thornton changed his architect, and engaged George Smith, whose altered plans met with approval. The arcade was opened in May 1878.

The arcade is three storeys high, with a glass roof. At the northern end is a clock with a mechanism made by William Potts and Sons of Leeds. It has four life-size figures of characters from Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe. Richard Coeur-de-Lion, and Friar Tuck who strike the hours, and Robin Hood and Gurth the Swineherd who strike the quarters. They were made by the Leeds sculptor John Wormald Appleyard. At the other end of the arcade is the head of a woman, with long curling hair and a large hat. It is modelled on the painting of the Duchess of Devonshire by Gainsborough.  Thornton's Arcade was refurbished in 1993.

Queen's Arcade
This was the second arcade to be built in Leeds, on the site of the Rose and Crown Yard. It was built in 1888-89, and named in honour of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. The arcade was built by Armitstead and Proctor; William Armitstead owned a hardware and  builders' merchants shop nearby on Briggate. The architect was Edward Clark of London.

Originally the Briggate entrance was via a narrow passageway, with the main entrance on Lands Lane. The Briggate entrance was enlarged in 1895.

The arcade is two storeys high, with a glass roof, with access to the second storey by a curved balcony of cast iron. The second storey has been used for shops, but it was originally the living accommodation for the shopkeepers. The floor of the balcony is made of an iron frame, inset with glass pavement lights, to allow light through to the shop fronts below.

When the arcade was opened the Yorkshire Post described it as 'light, bright and architecturally elegant, and is moreover, admirably designed from the business point of view'. Queen's Arcade was refurbished in 1993.


The Grand Arcade.
The Grand Arcade, was built between Briggate and Vicar Lane in 1898 by the New Briggate Arcade Company Ltd.  It takes its name from the Grand Theatre nearby, and was designed by architects Smith and Tweddle of Leeds.

There were two parallel rows of shops, joined by a shorter row. The arcade is a two storey building, with a glazed roof, but the design is much less ornate than either Thornton's or the Queen's Arcade.

In 1920, one avenue of shops was closed, in order to build the Tower cinema. There is a clock, made by Robert, James and Joseph Potts of Leeds. (Not to be confused with William Potts who made the clock for Thornton's arcade.) The dial is mounted between two knights in armour who strike the quarter hours. On the hour a door opens and five figures mounted on a revolving stage emerge. There is a British Grenadier Guardsman, a Scotsman, an Irishman, a Canadian, and an Indian. As the stage rotates they disappear into a door on the right hand side of the clock, and  a cockerel, above the dial, nods its head, flaps its wings and crows. Despite the fascinating clock,  the Grand Arcade was never as successful commercially as the other arcades.

County Arcade and Cross Arcade.
County Arcade along with the adjoining Cross Arcade, was built as part of the development by the Leeds Estate Company in 1898-1903. It was built on the site of the White Horse Yard. On each side of the arcade a new street was created, Wood Street becoming Queen Victoria Street, and Cheapside becoming King Edward Street. They had been the site of the New Shambles and the Fish Market.

The Leeds Estate Company Development was designed by Frank Matcham, a London architect who had designed over 100 theatres throughout the country. The arcade is two storeys high, although there are shops only at ground level. The whole of the interior is richly decorated. Between the mahogany shop fronts are pink marble columns, and there is elaborate Burmantofts faience work above the cast iron balustrades.The vaulted ceiling is of glass with three domes decorated with mosaic figures representing Liberty, Commerce, Labour and Art.

The County Arcade is part of the Victoria Quarter, the area including Queen Victoria Street, which was restored in 1989-90 by Prudential Portfolio Managers. As part of this development, Queen Victoria Street was converted into an arcade with a roof of stained glass designed by Brian Clark. The Empire theatre which was part of Matcham's original development was replaced by the Empire Arcade, which has since been re-developed and is now Harvey Nichols store.
Click images to enlarge
Thornton's Arcade, drawing
Thornton's Arcade, drawing
Clock in Thornton's Arcade
Clock in Thornton's Arcade
Queen's Arcade, drawing
Queen's Arcade, drawing
Queen's Arcade in the 1960's
Queen's Arcade in the 1960's
Queen's Arcade, 1999
Queen's Arcade, 1999
Entrance to the Grand Arcade
Entrance to the Grand Arcade
Interior of the Grand Arcade in the 1960's
Interior of the Grand Arcade in the 1960's
Marks and Spencer shop in Cross Arcade
Marks and Spencer shop in Cross Arcade
County Arcade, c.1967
County Arcade, c.1967
County Arcade, 1999
County Arcade, 1999




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© 2003 Leeds City Council | Site created by: LCC electronic information team | 25 March 2003