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Origins

In 1207 Maurice Paynell, the Lord of the Manor of Leeds, granted a charter to 'his burgesses of Leeds' to build a 'new town', and so created the first borough of Leeds.  The 'new town' was built along a street running north from the crossing point on the River Aire, to the southern boundary of the Woodhouse open fields.  This street became known as Briggate, 'the road to the bridge', from brycg, the Old English word for bridge and gata, the Old Norse  for a way or a street. Briggate is shown on the earliest map of Leeds made in 1560.

Each burgess was given a building plot or burgage plot, and an additional half acre of land at Burmantofts (burgage-mens tofts). Usually the tenants of the manor paid their rent in terms of agricultural labour, but the burgesses paid in money (16 pence a year.) This meant they had time to pursue a craft or trade, and to create a centre of commercial activity, so increasing the wealth of the borough.

There were thirty burgage plots laid out along each side of the street, which was wide enough to hold markets and fairs. The burgesses built houses which fronted onto Briggate, and behind the houses were gardens. The charter allowed the burgesses to sell either the whole or parts of their plots. Subdivision of the plots led to the building of additional houses, which were again subdivided and either sold or let.

Giles' map of 1815 is the earliest detailed map of Briggate, and this shows a series of narrow yards opening off both sides of the street along the whole of its length. This reflects the layout of the burgage plots, and can still be seen in the arcades and inn yards to-day.

It is not certain whether there was a bridge over the river when Briggate was first laid out, but there was a crossing point either at or near to the place where Briggate meets the riverbank. By the fourteenth century a bridge had been built. The picture shows the bridge as it appeared in 1849, with the entrance to Briggate beyond. The original medieval bridge was widened in 1730, 1760, and again in 1796, and replaced by the present bridge in 1871. Originally the cloth market was held on the bridge. Thoresby, writing his history of Leeds in 1715, tells us that the cloth was laid on the battlements of the bridge, and on benches below, every Tuesday and Saturday morning.

Maurice Paynell's borough established Briggate as the main street of the town, the site of the market, and as a centre for trade and commerce. By 1600 Leeds  had become an important market town, with Briggate at its heart.

Because we do not have any pictures of sixteenth century Briggate, we have to rely on prints and photographs of early buildings that survived until the nineteenth century to give us some idea of how the street would have looked in earlier times. A photograph taken in 1867 shows a group of timber framed houses built in the sixteenth century. They were demolished when Boar Lane was built in 1867.


Click images to enlarge
Plan of Leeds 1560
Plan of Leeds 1560
Giles map of Leeds, 1815
Giles map of Leeds, 1815
Old Leeds Bridge, 1849
Old Leeds Bridge, 1849
Lower Briggate,1867, timber framed houses
Lower Briggate,1867, timber framed houses




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