Historic Leeds gem in danger of collapse

White Cloth Hall.
White Cloth Hall.
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A building which played a key role in the economic history of Leeds is dropping to bits.

Leeds Civic Trust, the guardian of the city’s industrial and architectural heritage, says unless urgent action is taken it will soon be lost to the city for ever.

The Civic Trust says the First White Cloth Hall is one of the most important historic buildings in Leeds.

Trust director Dr Kevin Grady said: “It was built in 1710-11 to see off a challenge from Wakefield to Leeds’s supremacy as the marketing centre of the West Riding woollen cloth industry.

“It was a great success and was superseded by three larger and more magnificent halls over the next two centuries. But for the building of the hall, the growth of the economy of Leeds might well have been undermined and it would not have become the great city it is today.”

The building fell out of use and became hidden by other structures around its site off Kirkgate, opposite the city’s market.

Demolition of some of the buildings revealed what is left of the hall. Though it is still capable of renovation, it is deteriorating and is in danger of falling down.

Dr Grady said: “The fate of arguably the most important non-religious historic building in Leeds now hangs by a thread. Years of neglect, indecisiveness and inaction mean that what should be one of the historic jewels of Leeds City Centre looks destined to become a pile of rubble unless Leeds City Council and English Heritage take some definitive action.”

“The importance of the building has long been recognised but a scheme to revitalise Kirkgate and renovate the Cloth Hall was dropped in frustration about 20 years ago when the Scotsman Public House was converted to an amusement arcade.

“Subsequent owners of the Cloth Hall have merely patched it up, if that, and its split ownership until recently has not helped. Leeds Civic Trust has from time to time urged the council to compulsorily purchase the building to save it but to no avail.”

There have been plans to restore the building but they have come to nothing.

Dr Grady said: “We really have arrived at ‘make your mind up time’. In the Trust’s view unless decisive action is taken now, this highly important building is going to be lost forever. Does the city want to face the shame of having allowed its most significant secular historic building to end up in a skip?”

Dr Grady will be leading a lunchtime lecture on ‘The Lost 18th and 19th Century Churches and Chapels of Leeds City Centre’ next Wednesday at 1.15pm the Trinity Church in Boar Lane, Leeds.

peter.lazenby@ypn.co.uk

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