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1900 - 1920

The 1904 Market Hall
Leeds was granted City status in 1893, and the City Council was anxious that its public amenities should be worthy of such an important manufacturing and commercial centre. Also that they should keep up with the improvements made in other towns and cities. The area around Vicar Lane was crowded with slums and slaughterhouses, and Vicar Lane itself was little more than a narrow cart track. The Bazaar and Shambles built in 1825 was outdated and insanitary. In 1893 the Central market, next to the Corn Exchange, burned down. This provided the opportunity to link Vicar Lane with Duncan Street. Vicar Lane needed to be widened, and pavements built which meant that the Covered Market, already considered inadequate to modern needs, would have to be demolished. The council decided to build a new market, to rival those of other cities like Huddersfield and Bradford. The council particularly favoured the design of Halifax Town Hall.

The competition for the Design
An architectural competition was held to decide on a design. The conditions of entry, advertisements for designs and estimates of costs were approved by the Markets Committee, and published in January 1899. There was controversy over the competition from the start. George Corson, President of the Leeds and Yorkshire Society of Architects was concerned about the conditions of entry, but the Markets Committee took no action. Mr W Emerson was appointed as competition assessor. Only eight designs were entered for the competition, and the prize of 150 was won by John and Joseph Leeming of London. They were the architects of Halifax Town Hall so admired by the Council. They won despite that at 73,000, theirs was the most expensive scheme. Some people thought that the competition had been rigged, and articles appeared in the magazine 'the Builder' expressing concern that not all the designs had been exhibited for inspection. Despite the criticism, the Council instructed the Markets Committee to build the new market hall in accordance with Messrs. Leemings plans at a cost of 80,000. The plans show no central entrance on Vicar Lane. The Markets Committee refused to consider this, although other modifications were made to the original plan.

In May 1901 the market traders were given a week's notice to leave the building. Many of them objected to not receiving any compensation for the destruction of their fixtures and fittings, when the building was demolished in June 1901.
The new building was completed in 1904, and the final cost was 116,750, rather more than the original estimate of 73,000 pounds!

The Opening Ceremony
In July 1904, there was a grand opening ceremony. The market was opened by G.W Balfour, President of the Board of Trade, and MP for Central Leeds. The Mayor at this time was Alderman Currer Briggs, and he was joined by the mayors of Bradford, Wakefield, Doncaster, Halifax, Huddersfield, Batley, Rotherham, Harrogate, Pontefract, Ossett, and Pudsey for the opening ceremony. Leeds was very proud of its new market, and wanted to show it off!

A procession of over thirty coaches brought the civic dignitaries to the iron gate at the entrance to the market. Alderman Knowles addressed Mr Balfour: 'I have the pleasure to hand you a gold key and to ask you to open the door and declare our Hall open'.  Mr Balfour performed the opening ceremony and entered the Hall where a large crowd was gathered. The market stalls were stocked with produce and ready for business. The clock had been set to chime when the hall opened at noon. The ceremony however was running late, and by the time everyone had taken their place on a dais opposite the clock tower, it was twenty past twelve. But the clock still struck twelve, much to everyone's amusement. The opening ceremony was followed by a grand banquet at the Art Gallery.

Later Improvements
Improvements to the markets from the 1880s to 1904 came to a total of 242,776, and in order to pay for this, the rents of the market traders (represented by the Tenants Association) had to be increased. This angered the tenants, and for several years there was disagreement over rents between the Council and the Tenants Association. Also, the tenants complained about the poor ventilation in the market hall, and objected to the market being used for meetings on Sundays, when their stalls were sometimes vandalised and property stolen. Another grievance was the lack of a main entrance on Vicar Lane. Although the Council refused to lower the rents they did meet some of the tenants' requests. The ventilation in the market hall was improved by the installation of fans, and at last, in 1912 a central entrance from Vicar Lane was made. Unfortunately this meant that the clock had to be removed, and it was re-sited at Oakwood, where it is to-day.
Click images to enlarge
Central Market after the fire, 1893
Central Market after the fire, 1893
Covered market before demolition
Covered market before demolition
Plan of New Market Hall
Plan of New Market Hall
Plan, elevation to Vicar Lane
Plan, elevation to Vicar Lane
Plan, elevation to Kirkgate
Plan, elevation to Kirkgate
Artist's impression of market hall, 1901
Artist's impression of market hall, 1901
Artist's impression of New Market Hall, 1901
Artist's impression of New Market Hall, 1901
Programme of opening ceremony
Programme of opening ceremony
The Mayor, A. Currer Briggs
The Mayor, A. Currer Briggs
Vicar Lane, entrance, 1914
Vicar Lane, entrance, 1914
Market clock
Market clock




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