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3 Iconic Buildings Leeds Wouldn't Be The Same Without

06 November 2017

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The Leeds Skyline has developed dramatically since the cities humble beginnings as a riverside town many centuries ago. 

Even in recent times, there have been countless new buildings which give insight into how the city has transformed, culturally, economically and visually. 

Many of Leeds citizens have their favourite building, be it the impressive and imposing Corn Exchange, which nods to a vibrant time in the cities industrial past, to the Victoria Court, which has offered a picturesque setting for millions of shoppers, now housing an eclectic array of high-end boutiques and major international brands.

In this article, we’ll be looking at the stories behind some of the defining buildings of the Leeds “Skyline” and taking a brief look back at their beginnings and any significant points in their history.


Town Hall

Leeds Town Hall was built in 1853, following a period of rapid economic growth in the region. Being paid for by taxpayers, it was intended to represent Leeds as the economic powerhouse which it had and was becoming. The design for the building came from Cutherick Broderick, who was, at the time a relatively unknown Yorkshire architect who learnt his craft in Paris.


During its construction, it proved to be a controversial project, as many of Leeds inhabitants were living in poverty, this grand and costly structure was seen as a lavish expense. Over the years, the Town Hall has acted as a cultural hub in the city, regularly inviting performances from a some of the world’s most famous performers.

During WWII, Leeds Town Hall was hit by a German airstrike; causing damage to the East side of the building… it was repaired shortly after. 


Kirkgate Market

Kirkgate Market has played an important role throughout the history of Leeds. Its story begins almost 200 years ago, and in the years since its developed at a rate which is perhaps the most illustrative of the Cities growth.

Beginning life as a simple market consisting of slums and abattoirs, as Leeds has developed from a large town into the “northern powerhouse” which it is today, the market now holds the title of the biggest covered market in Europe, with over 800 stalls and roughly 100,000 visitors each week.

Although the market of 1822 would be unrecognisable by today’s standards, it was a place where people came to purchase a vast array of goods, fuelling home life in the surrounding suburbs and acting assupplierto countless local businesses.

It wasn’t until 1850, when it first became a sheltered market, previously it was entirely open.

Although for many years, it served the public in a far from grandiose fashion, in 1893, one of the mostimportancehistorical events drove the desire to develop and modernise… Leeds became a city. In the years that followed, the external architecture of the Kirkgate Market wasimplemented,and remains one of thestandout buildingsin the region.

When the Second World War came, the economy of Britain was overhauled by conscription, air-raids and a plethora of complications. Perhaps a testament to the resilience of the people of Leeds, the market continued to operate, albeit on a smaller scale and air-raid shelters were even built at the site for market traders. Although air-raids did occur in Leeds, it was a relatively rare occurrence.

Fast forward seventy years, and the Kirkgate Market has been developed, redesigned and at times restored into the iconic landmark that it is today. 

Perhaps the most successful business to begin life in the Kirkgate Market was, British heavy weigh retailer, Marks & Spencer, (which was in those days known as Penny Bazaar.)


Corn Exchange


 Undeniably one of the most striking buildings in Leeds, the Corn Exchange which stands today was dates back to the 1860’s and was made necessary by the desire for a place for farmers and merchants to trade.

Although there were several markets and places where they could trade, due to the vast array of development which was taking place in Leeds at the time, these merchants felt neglected and launched an appeal for a new home.

In terms of design, the architect behind the building was Cuthbert Brodrick, who also designed the Town Hall building… quite the resume.

He took as his model the Halle au Blé in Paris (wheat, corn or grain hall) built in the 1760s and given a dome in the 1780s.

His design for the Leeds Corn Exchange appeared in the Builder magazine in 1861. The elliptical building was to be 190 ft long, 136 ft wide and 86 ft high from the basement storey.

ITV report “It is one of the finest examples of Victorian commercial architecture in the country - even its dramatic shape with the bold diamond-pointed rustication of its masonry hardly prepares the visitor for the scale and majesty of its interior.”

And the Corn Exchange was a fantastic addition to the town, by 1901 Leeds had 160 traders in the Corn Exchange, including 30 from Hull, 9 from Liverpool, and others from Nottingham, Manchester, Newcastle, London and Glasgow. 

It continued to trade in this way for many years, however, due to the changing face of business in Britain, in from the 1960s, the traders began to decline. By the 1980s there were few traders in the offices.

In 1988, the lease for the Corn Exchange was given to a London company called “speciality Shops” who converted the Corn Exchange into a contemporary shopping centre.

Upon opening in 1990,  the corn traders continued to trade in small numbers, until 1994, when the 131 year period of trading came to an end.


In the modern day, the Corn Exchange is a popular destination for visitors and locals to Leeds, who enjoy the eclectic, independent shopping available here.

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