Leeds Tetley Brewery HQ thriving in modern art

Creative director Bryony Bond. PIC: Simon Hulme
Creative director Bryony Bond. PIC: Simon Hulme
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A teenage girl sits alone reading out loud at a metal table and chair in an otherwise empty drawing room that is wood panelled from floor to ceiling.

She is a live part in a post-modern contemporary art exhibition at one of Leeds’ most precious heritage-filled places.

Creative Director Bryony Bond Picture by Simon Hulme

Creative Director Bryony Bond Picture by Simon Hulme

As you move to the next room another youngster takes up the tale which is being told to each visitor individually.

This is the future for ‘The Tetley’ building that is steeped in the city’s industrial, cultural and social past.

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Moving into its third year as a centre for contemporary art and learning, there are now upwards of 125,000 people each year visiting the former brewery headquarters, which was saved when the rest of the buildings were demolished in 2012.

Feature on the Tetley, Leeds...16th February 2017 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

Feature on the Tetley, Leeds...16th February 2017 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

Initial projections were that the tenants of the building, Project Space Leeds, would be happy with annual numbers of 40,000 but this has been superseded three fold, serving to show the arts and creative scene in the city is emerging and thriving at a rapid rate.

There are four major exhibitions which change each season. The current one being carried out in various rooms is an exhibition of printed matter and performance works by Barcelona-based artist Dora García.

There are also off shot and fringe events as well as a regular programme which sees four south Leeds primary schools visiting The Tetley to do projects and work with the resident artists.

Bryony Bond, creative director, said: “Carlsberg, which still owns the building, wanted to keep something as a legacy from the brewery and not completely eradicate it.

“It has continued to grow and this year also looks like it will be 120, 000 through the door.

“Leeds is the only city outside London to have three visual arts courses and four universities that offer art and creative courses.

“The city has a huge number of artists and creative practitioners and we should make the most of it.”

It is a world away from the hundreds of bloody-minded, traditional, grafting brewery workers, drum of dray horses and barrels of beer - all from a 22 acre site on the banks of the River Aire near Leeds’ Clarence Dock.

Tetley’s Brewery was founded in 1822 by Joshua Tetley in Hunslet for a £400 lease and became Joshua Tetley and Son in 1939 when he made his son Francis William a partner.

In 1931, the current Tetley headquarters was built and is all that remains following demolition of the site in 2012.

Closure had been announced four years prior and the last brew on site took place six years ago this week.

Despite the modern focus, the sense of history remains.

The old boardroom still has the same furniture with portraits of directors through the years and coal fire places, the original stone staircase still takes you over the three floors, windows with chicken wire look over the atrium and of course you can get a pint of Tetley’s with your pumpkin risotto and ploughman’s from the artisan cafe and bar area.

Legend also has it a butler to the directors, called Mr Christmas, worked during the day and lived on the very top floor at night.

Ms Gordon added: “We were aware of the need for a sensitive refurbishment and everyone involved wanted to keep these features. It makes for a very unique exhibition space.

“We have a large white space in the atrium and small informal wooden panelled rooms that are unusual and beautiful. There is a really brilliant contrast.

“I have spent a lot of time in galleries building rooms and individual spaces but here you don’t need to do that.”

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