Last updated on April 27th, 2013 | Written By Carol Ferndale
Historic shopping arcades of Leeds
Queens arcade in Leeds city centre. Photo attribution: Tim Green.
Brighton has its Lanes, Tunbridge Wells has its Pantiles, and Leeds has its wonderful arcades. Like a lot of the northern cities, Leeds rose to prominence and wealth during the Industrial Revolution, and the latter parts of the Victorian era saw the construction not just of impressive civic buildings, but also of ornate Victorian arcades where ladies and gentlemen could goshopping away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city streets, and the clatter of horses and carts. Nowadays you can still enjoy the opulence of the arcades where there are unique shops and exclusive names residing under elegant arches, where you can happily shop and browse indoors.
The most stunning arcade in Leeds has to be County Arcade which runs between Vicar Lane and Briggate, and was designed by none other than renowned architect Frank Matcham who also created the famous London Coliseum, as well as other big-name theatres and buildings up and down the country. Step into County Arcade and you are surrounded by tall marble pillars, elegant lacy wrought iron archways, mahogany shop fronts, and elaborate mosaic flooring.
You’ll find many famous names here, such as Vivienne Westwood and Reiss, as well as other smaller and local shops. Look out for Neal’s Yard Remedies, which started life in an obscure yard in Covent Garden, London. Also worth a look is the locally-based and family-run business Teddy and Co, where you will find a great range of cuddly teddy bears, personalised cards, and gifts.
Running between King Edward Street and Queen Victoria Street is the smaller Cross Arcade, also designed by Frank Matcham, and in a very similar style to County. Worth a look is the rather snazzy Paul Smith for some top-notch clothing and accessories. Queen Victoria Street was covered over by the largest expanse of stained glass in Europe in the nineties, and this has created a complete indoor shopping area comprising County Arcade, Queen Victoria Street and Cross Arcade, now known as The Victoria Quarter.
Walk across Briggate from the County Arcade and you come directly to Thornton’s Arcade, which was designed by Leeds architect Charles Fowler, and completed in 1878. Although this is a narrower and more modest arcade than County, it is packed with exciting and trendy small shops, and has an elaborate clock at its far end which incorporates four dramatic life-sized figures. Look out for Yumyum Beads where you can buy colourful and unusual beads made from glass, metal, bone, horn and resin.
Yumyum has only three branches, the other two being in Dinan, France and Kardamili, Greece. If you love sweet things, then pop into the family-run Bon bons of Leeds who do a mouthwatering range of wonderful sweets, including fine chocolates, marzipan fruits, and other delightful arrays. They even do a chocolate in the shape of asparagus!
Further down Briggate from Thornton’s is the lovely Queen’s Arcade which opened in 1889, and in more recent years has been compared to Carnaby Street due to its shops. Take a look at the newly opened Shabby Chic, where you’ll find things for the home that are both pretty and unique – definitely not standard high street goods. Also rather amazing is Unfake with its fresh and funky international urban fashion.
Further up on New Briggate, near Leeds Grand Theatre, is Grand Arcade, built in 1897 and designed by Smith and Tweedal. These days Grand Arcade is perhaps a little in need of a facelift and its clock is in need of repair, but it certainly has a few hidden treasures. A good place to get a tasty vegetarian meal is the warm and friendly little veggie cafe Roots and Fruits. If you are into vintage, retro and theatrical fashion, then take a look at Upstaged! where you’ll find plenty of clothing from yesteryear.
So if you are coming to Leeds as a tourist, or if you are lucky enough to live or work here, you’ll always find something of interest in the arcades, be it quirky domestic goods, the latest innovative fashion, a bit of the old vintage stuff, perfect gifts, delicious choccies, or a wholesome veggie meal. I’m sure those elegant Victorians would be delighted to see that the arcades of Leeds are still going strong.