Leeds nostalgia: Arcades marked social shift across city

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When the first arcades were built in Leeds they represented the symbolic cleansing of the city’s streets of the slums and a shift in power from the working classes to the middle.

Many of the streets which were taken over for new high-end shops were the slums of the old city centre, typified by tightly packed back-to-back houses which still existed in some areas right up to the 1970s - indeed, the area surrounding the Civic Hall was not cleared until then.

BLEND: David Clay

BLEND: David Clay

County Arcade was built between 1898 and 1900 and was at the time the city’s most opulent arcade. This glamorous shopping precinct was created to replace an area of slaughterhouses and slums.

Our blended picture shows the original image taken in 1907 with Lyons’ Cafe at the end, while the modern picture was taken just a few weeks ago.

Designed by Frank Matcham, its central dome is meant to represent the industries of Leeds. The famous Mecca Locarno Ballroom was located there. Matcham was an architect more noted for his theatre building. He designed more than 200 theaters around the the UK including the London Palladium and the London Coliseum. In fact, his shopping arcade development for Leeds did include The Empire Theater. It later became the Empire Arcade and now houses the Leeds branch of fashion retailer Harvey Nichols.

In terms of pushing new bondaries, the arcade helped develop the area between Briggate and Vicar Lane. It was not the first or last arcade to be built in the city and, indeed, one could argue it was and is part of an ongoing leitmotif as parts of the city are reworked, a process which can be seen in action right now with the building of the new Victoria Gate shopping centre, which will house John Lewis.

If you have any old images of the County Arcade contact us.

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