Leeds

Picture credit: Phillip Longley (IFY Community)

“What’s happened to Leeds? It looks like New York.”

– Jeremy Clarkson

Leeds is the largest city in the whole of Yorkshire. It’s located in West Yorkshire, originally the West Riding, and is situated on the River Aire.

With a population of around 700,000 people, the city is famous historically for its manufacturing industries and sustained growth in the service sectors. Some of these services are the largest outside of London.

Leeds also has a proud sporting heritage, extensive shopping areas, and historic landmarks. It truly is a magnificent city.

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Places to Visit in Leeds

Leeds is known for its shopping, however there are plenty of places and attractions to visit. From museums, to abbey’s, and gallery’s, there’s a wide range of attractions suitable for the whole family.

The haunting Kirkstall abbey was an important abbey for the region in Medieval Times. Picture crdit: Jonathan Rudd.
Kirkstall abbey. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd.

Kirkstall Abbey

Kirkstall Abbey is one of the oldest tourist attractions in Leeds. It’s in Kirkstall, Leeds on the North bank of the River Aire.

Around 1152, the abbey was founded by Cistercian monks. However, like most others, it was destroyed during the Reformation of the 1530’s. Nowadays, visitors can explore the ruin and grounds which have been created into a pleasant riverside park. 

Abbey House Museum

Across the road is the Abbey House Museum. Visitors visit 19th Century Leeds thanks to a recreated street, drinking house, and collection of Victorian toys.

There is also a gift shop, cafe, and playground for people to enjoy. The site of the abbey is also used for cultural events including open air theatre productions.

Armely Mills Museum

Further down Kirkstall Road is the Armley Mills museum. This concentrates on Leeds’ industrial history.

It is housed in what used to be the largest woollen mill in the world. Visitors can learn about the various manufacturing industries which made the city one of the largest industrial centres in the UK for wool and cloth making, printing, and engineering.

Among the attractions are a collection of steam locomotives and a working 20’s style cinema. The unzipped gallery tells the story of how the city changed its manufacture of clothing.

Thwaite Mills

Thwaite Mills is one of the last examples in the UK of a water-powered factory. It’s situated on its very own island in Stourton.

Once owned by the Horn family, it was a working mill which specialised in making putty up until 1976. It only closed when the weir, in which it was powered from, collapsed during a flood and stopped the water wheel from moving.

This was then repaired and turned into a museum. The Thwaite Mills museum tells the story of the island and mill in this corner of South Leeds.

Royal Armouries Museum

In 1996, the Royal Armouries Museum opened in a purpose built building just outside the city centre. It’s one of four such museums in the UK and the USA.

The Leeds site has around 5,000 objects on display. These include weapons, clothing, and armour used during a range of military conflicts throughout the centuries.

There are also displays within the museum about the history of hunting through the ages and Asian war artefacts.The museum also holds a range of events such as jousting tournaments, falconry displays, magic shows, and stunt acts in its arena.

Leeds City Museum

In 2008, the Leeds City Museum opened at the old Institute building on Millennium Square. It contains six galleries across four floors which display the story of the city, its people, fashion, natural history, and culture.

Its centrepiece is the famous Leeds Tiger. This was brought to the city as a rug from India but was stuffed and put on display in the city’s original museum.

Another interesting exhibit is the mummified body of Nesyamun, a priest who died in Egypt three thousand years ago. Other galleries include a history of Leeds from prehistoric times and different cultures from around the world.

Thackray Museum

The Thackray Museum is one of the largest medicine exhibitions in the UK. It can be found in the eastern part of the city.

In total, it has twelve galleries which show various aspects of medical history. These include skeletal science, childbirth, and disease.

There is also a special exhibition which explores life in Leeds around 1842. In July 2014, a new gallery opened based on the relationship between medicine and war.

Leeds Art Gallery

Leeds Art Gallery can be found next to the town hall. It displays a series of important works including the “Shadow of Death” by William Holman Hunt, and “Scotland Forever” by Lady Elizabeth Butler.

Henry Moore Institute

Next to the Leeds Art Gallery is the adjoining Henry Moore Institute. This displays work from the locally born sculptor as well as being a place of study for up and coming artists.

Leeds is also home to a series of country houses and estates. Most of these have become tourist attractions.

Harewood House

The largest out of them all is Harewood House. This can be found in the North of the city.

In 1759, it was built by Edwin Lascelles. The house and grounds were designed by an 18th Century “dream team” made up of architect John Carr, interior designer Robert Adam, furniture maker Thomas Chippendale, and landscape gardener Lancelot “Capability” Brown.

The results were a fine Georgian country house. It’s surrounded by over 100 acres of grounds which include the lakeside and Himalayan gardens.

Nowadays, it’s owned by descendant David Lascelles, the 8th Earl of Harewood. Since his ownership, the house and ground have become a popular tourist attraction which also include a bird garden and adventure playground.

The Yorkshire soap opera, Emmerdale, is filmed inside Harewood grounds. A purposely built village was created to act as the village.

Temple Newsam

Temple Newsam has a long history in the city. The original house on the site is so old that it was mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Book. The earliest parts on the property that you see today were built in the early 1500’s by Lord Thomas Darcy.

The site has had a colourful history. It was seized by the Crown twice in the 16th Century and underwent redevelopment around 1622.

Temple Newsam’s visitors can enjoy its extensive 1500 acre park and gardens. Designed by Capability Brown, it features a large collection of ceramics, pottery, and art within its walls.

The site is also home to Europe’s largest working rare breed farm. It’s home to 400 animals including sheep, goats, cattle, and poultry.

Temple Newsam’s wide open spaces have also made the place extremely popular. It’s often used as the venue for outdoor concerts, steam fairs, and charity events such as Race for Life.

Parks in Leeds

Leeds is home to one of the biggest parks in Europe. Despite being a city, there are plenty of green spaces for its residents and visitors to enjoy.

Roundhay Park

Roundhay Park is one of the largest city parks in Europe. It covers an area of 700 acres.

The lands were given to Norman baron Ilbert de Lacey in the 11th Century. Since then, over the centuries it has been passed through several hands.

In 1803, the land was obtained by Thomas Nicholson and Samuel Elam. Between them they split the land between North and South.

Elam’s half contained the remains of a coal mine and quarry. He decided to fill these in with water to create the Upper and Waterloo lakes.

A third lake was later proposed but never completed due to the owner’s death. Instead, the area became “the arena” and Hill 60.

roundhay park cafe view2
Roundhay park. Picture credit Jonathan Rudd

Over the years, the arena has hosted sport events and open air rock concerts. Top names such as The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, and Robbie Williams have played here as part of their respective tours. In the summer, the arena is also used as a cricket ground.

The castle folly and mansion house were built by Nicholson before his death in 1826. It was designed to overlook Elam’s water features.

After Nicholson’s death, the estate was then passed to other family members. In 1871, it was then acquired by the council through an act of Parliament and given to the people of Leeds.

Roundhay was home to the first ever electric tram service in the UK. It opened in 1891 and took passengers to the city centre which was three miles away. The trolley polls are still standing today in one of its car parks.

Over the years, there have been many attractions added to Roundhay Park. One of these includes Tropical World which houses a range of tropical plants, birds, butterflies, and animals. It’s located across the road from the park and set in its own gardens.

Since opening, it has expanded and been refurbished. Two of its newer additions include the crocodile enclosure and children’s educational area. 

Golden Acre Park

In the suburb of Adel lies Golden Acre Park. It was created in 1932 as a privately run amusement park complete with miniature railway and swimming pool.

These have now both gone and were taken over by Leeds Council in 1945. Visitors can now enjoy several features including a large collection of plants, Wildfowl Lake, cafe, and two adjoining nature reserves. 

Woodhouse Moor

There are a number of other parks which can be found in the city. Most notably Woodhouse Moor, or Royd Moor, which is next to Leeds University.

This city park has a skate park, tennis courts, and open space for fairs and circuses throughout the year.

Cross Flatts Park in Beeston also offers more than just land. It has multi-purpose sports facilities including basketball courts, 5-a-side football, and a bowling green.

Cathedrals in Leeds

The city of Leeds is home to a church, cathedral, and minster. These beautiful buildings are a sight to see.

St Anne’s Cathedral

Compared to its compatriots in other Yorkshire towns, Leeds St Anne’s Cathedral is quite small. This is largely due to its restricted city centre location.

Built in 1904, it’s relatively modern. It’s also of a Roman Catholic persuasion with the flag of the Vatican flown from its tower.

Leeds Minster

The larger Leeds Minster is dedicated to St Peter. It can be found in the old part of the town on Kirkgate.

There have been several churches on this site. They date back to Anglo Saxon times when Leeds was only a small village.

The building that stands today was built in 1841. It was created to replace the previous structure which was damaged by fire.

On Sunday the 2nd of September in 2012, it achieved Minster status. This was exactly 171 years after it was consecrated.

St Michael’s Church

Another noteworthy church in Leeds is St Michael’s Church. It’s current form was built in 1886 and is the third place of worship on this site. The tower can often be seen in the background of cricket matches played at the nearby Headingley Stadium.

Theatres in Leeds

Leeds has had a long tradition in theatre. Throughout the city there are numerous venues that host a range of performances.

Leeds City Varieties

One of its oldest and most famous is the Leeds City Varieties. Built in 1865, it is one of the few remaining examples of a Victorian era music hall.

The theatre has hosted some of the most famous performers of the time. These include Charlie Chaplin and Houdini who have both performed on its stage.

From 1953 to 1983, the venue hosted “The Good Old Days”. This is a BBC television programme which aimed to recreate the old music hall era and featured well known performers such as Bruce Forsyth, Morecambe & Wise, and Roy Castle.

The City Varieties are still going strong today. After undergoing a refurbishment in 2009, it hosts a range of music, comedy, dance, and plays.

Leeds Grand Theatre’s

In 1878, the Leeds Grand Theatre’s doors opened. The theatre was designed to hold a fairly large capacity of attendees and can seat around 1,500 people. It stages a variety of plays, ballet, comedy, and musical performances.

Howard Assembly Room

The Howard Assembly Room, on the other hand, is a more intimate venue. It shows operas and can be hired out for corporate events.

West Yorkshire Playhouse

The more modern West Yorkshire Playhouse opened in 1990 and has two auditoriums. The large Quarry theatre holds 750 people while the smaller Courtyard has 350 seats.

It hosts a variety of dance, comedy, plays, and children’s shows. The venue has also gained a reputation for in-house production from its rehearsal rooms and production facilities.

One of its most famous productions was the musical “Spend Spend Spend”. This was the story of a West Yorkshire woman called Viv Nicholson who famously won £152,000 on the football pools. She would later go on to blow her fortune, divorce several times, and become bankrupt in 1976.

Cinemas in Leeds

Two other smaller venues that are worth noting are The Hyde Park Picture House and Cottage Road Cinema. These are two of the last remaining independent cinemas in the city.

Hyde Park Picture House

In 1914 the Hyde Park Picture House opened. Since then, many of the building’s original features have remained the same making it truly unique.

Inside the picture house is still gas lit making it the only one in the UK. It also has its very own piano and organ.

The venue is similar to most other cinemas in that it shows commercial releases. However, it also shows viewings for art-house cinema and movie classics.

Cottage Road

Cottage Road in Headingley is two years older. This makes it the oldest independent cinema in Leeds and also one of the longest running in the UK.

It has been showing films continuously since 1912. These include a range of current commercial releases, nostalgia, and classic movies.

These two venues are indicative of the city’s long association with the moving picture. The first motion picture sequences were shot on Leeds Bridge in 1888 by Frenchman Louis Le Prince.

Film & Television in Leeds

In 1866, he came to the city to live with his college friend John Whiteley. It was here that he built the first single lens camera.

Using his new invention, he made two three-second short silent films. These are “Leeds Bridge” and “The Roundhay Garden Scene” based in the park.

Two years after this amazing breakthrough, Louis Le Prince mysteriously disappeared along with his status as the inventor of cinema. After his disappearance, a man named Thomas Edison claimed this status.

Since 1987, the Leeds International film festival has been held every year. This is one of the largest outside of London.

It regularly screens over 200 films of various types. These include an all-night Horrorthon called Night of the Dead. Awards are also handed out to films in different categories.

Leeds is the traditional home of the region’s small screen productions. Located on Kirkstall Road is Yorkshire Television Studios ITV.

Since 1968, the studios have given the region some iconic television moments. An example is the famous debate between Brian Clough and Don Revie in 1974, and the plane crash in Emmerdale in 1993.

There was also a series of documentaries profiling the life of Dales farmer Hannah Hauxwell. All of these were surrounded by the famous “Y” chevron indent.

Festivals in Leeds

West Indian Carnival

Leeds carnival always adds a splassh of colour to the streets of Leeds every August. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd
Leeds carnival. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd

Leeds hosts numerous festivals throughout the year. The most notable is the longest running West Indian Carnival in Europe.

The carnival has been running since 1967. It’s held each August bank holiday weekend in conjunction with a similar event at Notting Hill in London.

It involves an extensive procession around the streets of Chapeltown and Harehills ending at Potternewton Park. Visitors will then find a range of stalls, music, and food.

Leeds Music Festival

Leeds music festival, also known as Leeds Fest, is held every August at nearby Bramham Park. It attracts top international acts and local bands to play on its many stages.

Live at Leeds

Live at Leeds is another music festival held each May at various venues around the city. It’s headline act usually performs in Millennium Square.

Arenas in Leeds

Leeds Arena

Leeds arena opened on the 4th of September 2013. It has given the city access to top international acts such as Sir Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, and Rod Stewart.

The new venue was used to host the 2013 Sports Personality of the Year. Other events include Premier League darts, comedy shows, and family entertainment.

Leeds arena has brought many world famous artists to perform in the city. Picture credit: mtaylor848 wikipedai creative commons.
Leeds arena. Picture credit: mtaylor848 wikipedai creative commons.

O2 Academy

In 2008, the O2 academy opened as another established live music venue. It hosted acts such as The Kaiser Chiefs, Ellie Goulding, and Beady Eye.

Leeds Nightlife

The nightlife in Leeds is very varied. Most musical tastes and atmospheres are catered for within the city centre and beyond.

The city centre has several chain bars. These include Fibre, Stone Roses, and Revolution. 

Smokestack has also made waves on the club circuit for its retro American theme and music policy of motown, soul, blues, and reggae. It also hosts live acts and offers a variety of cocktails and bottled beers.

The Hi-fi club is also worthy of note. It hosts live comedy and music nights throughout the week.

One of the main places to visit the most popular bars is Greek Street. It offers a range of restaurants and cocktail bars for people to enjoy. This street located in the city centre is always jam packed and is definitely the place to be.

Out in Headingley, the Otley run is one of the most famous pub crawls in Yorkshire. There are sixteen pubs and bars along the Otley run.

It traditionally starts at Woodies Ale House in Far Headingley. If people make it this far, it ends at The Dry Dock on the edge of the city centre.

It’s a popular run that is favoured by students who are often in fancy dress. Usually rules are made before the run begins as to how many drinks must be consumed along the way.

Travelling In & Out of Leeds

Motorways & A Roads

As it’s the largest city in Yorkshire, Leeds is very well linked to other parts of the county and the rest of the UK. The city has three major motorways running to or near its boundaries. These are the M62, the A1, and the beginning of the M1 to London.

The original M1 was built between 1958 and 1968. This connected Leeds to the capital.

Extensions were made in 1977 at the southern end. More recently, a link road was created to connect it to the A1 at Aberford, to the east of Leeds.

Ring Roads

However, it’s the development of the inner city ring road which put Leeds firmly on the motoring map. To help ease congestion, a dual carriageway under the city centre was constructed making it the first “motorway city”.

There are also two outer ring roads. These are the A6120 which links East to North Leeds, and the A6110 which links West to South Leeds. The M621 is a rather odd piece of motorway which links the M1 to the M62.

Park and Ride

In June 2014, a new 800-space park and ride scheme opened on Elland Road. This was to further help congestion in Leeds City Centre.

Leeds was one of the last cities in the UK to get rid of its tram system in 1959. Unlike Sheffield, Leeds have been unable to restore it despite several attempts through the 90’s and 00’s.

HS2

Currently, Leeds is one of the places which will benefit from the HS2 rail link to London. There were also controversial proposals to introduce a trolleybus network to parts of the city.

However, for the time being, residents have to rely on other means of transport. Mainly its current bus and train services.

Leeds Train Station

In 1869, Leeds Train Station was built to accommodate the growing new transport phenomenon. This had started early in West Yorkshire with the opening of the Leeds-Selby line in 1834.

The current station based on Wellington Street is unique. It’s built on a series of pillars and arches which now hosts Granary Wharf and a series of retail and food outlets.

Leeds Train Station is one of the busiest stations in the UK. It has seventeen platforms which also makes it one of the largest outside the capital.

Services run nationwide to most major towns and cities. It does, of course, also run to those in Yorkshire such as York, Hull, Bradford, and Doncaster.

Leeds Bus Station

The original Leeds bus station was built in 1938 in Quarry Hill next to the market. It was rebuilt and modernised in 1996. This was to incorporate the entire city’s out of town bus services to places including Ripon, Hull, Barnsley, and Skipton.

The Yorkshire Coastline is one of the other major services. It travels across Yorkshire to Bridlington, Scarborough, and Whitby on the East Coast.

Leeds Bradford Airport

Leeds Bradford International Airport is based at the town of Yeadon located between the two cities. It was used for aviation use as far back as the 1930’s.

Originally it was known as Aerodrome but it was not long before flights began to UK destinations. Flights travelled to London, Edinburgh, and The Isle of Man.

In the mid 1970’s, the airport really took off. Cheap package holidays to the continent became extremely popular which led to its expansion and national prominence.

Nowadays, it’s privately owned by Bridgepoint Capital. Flights are no longer limited to the UK, passengers can now travel to destinations worldwide.

Sport in Leeds

Leeds has a very proud sporting heritage. It’s often at the forefront of many major sports such as rugby league, athletics, and cricket.

Football – Leeds United 

It also has a football team called Leeds United. This is the sole professional club in the city which is unique for a place of its size.

The club was formed in 1919 after the disbandment of its original football team, Leeds City. Leeds United play their home games at Elland Road in Beeston.

In the late 60’s and early 70’s, the club went through one of its more successful periods. They won the Division One title in 1969 and 1974 under the stewardship of Don Revie.

Leeds United also won the last ever old league title in 1992. Howard Wilkinson’s men saw off the challenge of Manchester United.

Both sides of the Millennium saw the club consistently challenge for both domestic and European honours. This included an appearance in the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2001.

However, this was too good to be true. The club fell into administration and relegated to the depths of League 1 due to financial pressures of maintaining the success.

Leeds United was taken over by owner Massimo Cellino which prompted a new era for the club. In 2014 however, Cellino was disqualified by the football league due to tax evasion.

At the time of writing, Marcelo Bielsa was named the clubs new manager on the 15th of June 2018. They have also since climbed their way back up to the Premier League.

Rugby – Leeds Rhinos

In 1870, Leeds St John was formed. They became one of the twenty breakaway clubs in 1895 to create the Rugby League.

When this first happened, they changed their name simply to Leeds. Then, in 1997, they later changed their name again to Leeds Rhinos after the formation of the Super League.

This Leeds Rugby Club is one of the most successful rugby clubs in Yorkshire. So far, they have won the title on nine occasions.

They play their home matches at Headingley stadium. This is shared with Leeds Carnegie Rugby Union team who are playing in the National League 1.

Cricket – Yorkshire CCC

Next door is the home of Yorkshire CCC and internationally renowned Test Match venue Headingley Cricket Ground. The sport has a long tradition in the county.

Over the decades, this sport has produced some of the finest English Cricketers. These include Len Hutton and Geoffrey Boycott.

In total, the county side have won the County Championship thirty one times. The last was in 2001.

The venue has provided the Leeds public with some great test match moments over the years. One of the most notable being the great Ashes Test of 1981, in which Ian Botham and Bob Willis batted and bowled England to victory against the odds.

Olympics

Leeds has also made a large contribution to other sports. This is most notably seen at the 2012 Olympic Games with Leeds boxer Nicola Adams and triathlete Alistair Brownlie who both won gold medals for Great Britain.

Tour de France

In July 2014, Leeds became the most northerly city to host Le Grand Depart which is the beginning of the Tour de France. This saw the race start outside the Town Hall and begin competitively at Harewood House

John Charles Centre (South Leeds Stadium)

The John Charles Centre for sport is the city’s principal multi-sport facility and is the home of several sports clubs. This included the Hunslet Hawks Rugby league team and Leeds City athletics clubs.

It was opened in 1996 as the South Leeds Stadium. This was however later renamed in commemoration to the late Leeds United Footballer John Charles.

The site also boasts several facilities. These include an Olympic sized swimming pool, indoor bowling green, and tennis centre.

Education in Leeds

Leeds has three established universities. One of these has the largest student population in the country.

University of Leeds

The oldest institution is the redbrick University of Leeds. Originally, this started as a school of medicine in 1831.

In 1887, it was given university status. The University of Leeds also briefly joined with the Victoria Universities of Manchester and Liverpool before striking out on its own in 1904.

Nowadays, the institution has maintained its roots in medical science. This is one of their most prominent courses as well as engineering, arts, mathematics, and business.

The Parkinson Building tower is a notable landmark on the Leeds skyline. It’s also used as a logo by its marketing department.

Leeds Metropolitan

Leeds Metropolitan is the old polytechnic. In 1824, it started life as a school of mechanics. 

It has campuses at Beckett Park, Headingley, and numerous city centre sites. One of these includes the old Electric Press building in Millennium Square.

The university offers a wide range of courses in creative subjects such as art, animation media, and performing arts. It also focuses on more traditional courses such as English, Law, and Accounting.

In 2014, Leeds Metropolitan changed its name. It’s now known as Leeds Beckett University.

Leeds Trinity

Leeds Trinity is a relative newcomer to the Leeds academic scene. It’s located in a picturesque campus based in Horsforth.

In 1966, it was established as two teacher training colleges which later merged in 1980. These were Trinity for women, and All Saints for men.

The institution has since expanded to include other courses. These include media, management, history, and sport which are accredited by Leeds University.

In 2012, it gained full university status and the right to award its own degrees. Leeds Trinity has gained a very good reputation for its research in Victorian Studies and teacher training courses.

Leeds College of Music

Leeds has also gained a strong reputation for specialised colleges in the arts. One of these is Leeds College of Music.

It’s based next to the West Yorkshire Playhouse which has a 350-seat auditorium and over 700 students. Many of its pupils perform here and at venues around the city.

Northern School of Contemporary Dance

The Northern School of Contemporary Dance was founded in 1985 and is located in Chapeltown. It’s home to the Northern Ballet which tours nationwide.

Leeds City College

Leeds City College is the third largest further education institute in the UK. It has many departments and buildings spread across the city and in Keighley.

This college was formed as a result of a merger in 2009 between three smaller colleges. These are Park Lane, Thomas Danby, and Leeds College of Technology. The range of courses is therefore diverse, ranging from construction and engineering to hospitality and business.

Shopping in Leeds

For many years, Leeds has been a principal shopping area for the entire county. In some cases, it’s the only place which has certain shops.

Briggate

On Briggate, its main shopping street is a branch of Harvey Nicholls. This sets shopping in the city apart from others as this luxury department store can only be found in a handful of UK cities.

In 1996, this street and others around it were pedestrianised. This has resulted in a more pleasant shopping experience.

Leeds Trinity

The iconic pack horse at the top of Leeds Trinity shopping centre. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd
The iconic pack horse at the top of Leeds Trinity shopping centre. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd

The largest and arguably most popular shopping development is Leeds Trinity. This opened in March 2013 and is home to 120 shops and restaurants.

The shopping centre is a result of a merger between several older smaller shopping malls. These were the old Trinity and Burton Arcades plus Leeds Shopping Plaza which have been demolished.

Inside Leeds Trinity is Trinity Kitchen. It is a contemporary dining area which has a host of independent food outlets serving cuisine from around the world.

Two silver statues can be found in Leeds Trinity. These are a packhorse with a roll of cloth and another named “Briggate Minerva” who is a goddess of weaving and commerce. Both statues are a nod to Leeds’ industrial past and commercial future.

Leeds Merrion Centre

Leeds also has other shopping malls in its city centre. One of these is the Leeds Merrion Centre which opened in 1964 and housed a cinema, ballroom, nightclub, and several high street names.

In 1977, the cinema closed abruptly and is lying abandoned to this day. It is still complete with old advertising posters on its walls from that era.

Through the 90’s and 00’s, the centre declined. It was then taken over by newer developments.

However, since then, the centre has been refurbished. Thanks to its proximity to Leeds Arena, it has a much brighter future ahead.

St John’s Centre

Across the road is the St John’s Centre. This was built in 1985 and is home to a mixture of large names such as Poundland and independent retailers like Jumbo records.

The Light Shopping Centre

Close by is The Light Shopping Centre which opened in 2001. It has a 14-screen cinema, gym, and a series of restaurants.

The Core

Just down the road from The Light is The Core. This was formerly Schofields department store up until 1996 when it became known as “The Headrow”. This also has a gym and is home to well-known stores.

Leeds Corn Exchange

In 1864 the Leeds Corn Exchange was built. Originally it traded corn, hence the name, and then in 1985 it was made into an independent shopping centre.

Leeds Corn Exchange underwent further regeneration in 2007. It’s currently still home to independent shops where a host of unique products are bought and sold.

Leeds Kirkgate Market

Nearby is Leeds Kirkgate Market. This is the largest covered market in Europe.

Originally built in 1822, there are around 800 stalls. The site is most famous for being the birthplace of Marks & Spencer when it was a penny bazaar in 1894.

The Centenary Clock marks the spot where the original bazaar was located. In 2012, Marks & Spencer opened a market stall here in commemoration.

White Rose Shopping Centre

In 1997, the White Rose Shopping Centre opened. This is an out of town mall based in the south of Leeds.

It contains many high street names including Primark, Sainsbury’s, and River Island. In total there are 124 shops within the shopping centre.

Since opening, White Rose has been extended and upgraded. This included new retail spaces, a cinema, and even its very own railway station which connects it to the city centre and other towns such as Wakefield.

Victoria Leeds

There is also Victoria Leeds which opened in October 2016. This is a combination of Victoria Quarter and Victoria Gate.

Victoria Leeds is home to over 80 high brand shops. These include Ted Baker, Karen Millan, and Vivienne Westwood.

Originally, this shopping centre was designed by architect Frank Matcham. Since then it has been restored into the stunningly designed shopping centre that it is today.

Leeds is the focal point of Yorkshire. It’s a place which has everything and more to offer its residents and tourists alike. With its shopping, landmarks, heritage, academic institutions, and sporting facilities, there’s no wonder it’s as popular as it is.

History of Leeds

Leeds, also known as Loidis, was located in the Celtic kingdom of Elmet. According to Victorian records found on Woodhouse Moor, barrows were found dating back to the Bronze Age.

Discoveries in Leeds

Other discoveries were made in Leeds. For example, a Roman stone path was found across the River Aire. In 2008, the West Yorkshire hoard contained gold jewellery which was found to be from the 7th-11th centuries.

Shire Oak

In Headingley, which was Anglo-Saxon, the Shire oak stood in the middle of the ancient region of Skyrack. In 1941, this blew down and was then used as a meeting point and place to settle disputes.

Norman Invasion

After the Norman invasion of 1066, the lands were given to Baron Ilbert de Lacey. He was one of William’s favourites which meant that Leeds was spared punishment in the harrying of the north unlike other Yorkshire towns.

Kirkstall Abbey

Kirkstall Abbey was founded in the 12th Century. It was here that the first wool-making in the town began.

The abbey was several miles down the river from the small town of Loidis. Loidis consisted of around three streets shaped in a triangle located along the River Aire – where Kirkgate and Briggate are today.

They were surrounded by fields and forest. The residents had little else to do but cultivate the land around them which led to a small agricultural economy.

Growing Population

In 1470, Leeds was described as being “a small place near Rothwell”. This was because of how small Leeds was and also due to Rothwell being given market town status.

However, in the next century this began to change. Leeds expanded with another lane added at its front called “The Headrow” which saw the population swell to 4,000 people.

By this time, cottage industries spinning wool from sheep were based on the surrounding hills and land. Each of these were owned by the monks of Kirkstall Abbey and spread throughout the valley.

In 1661, the town of Leedis, as it was known then, appointed its first mayor. Cloth making also became its main source of industry.

Navigation Systems

A big change came to Leeds at the beginning of the 18th Century. The Aire & Calder Navigation system was constructed linking Leeds to the Humber estuary by water.

In 1816, the Leeds-Liverpool Canal was completed. This meant that Leeds had access to the sea both East and West of the city giving it the ability to export products around the world.

Rapid Growth

The first half of the 19th Century saw a rapid growth in Leeds. Mills and factories were sprouting up around the city along with workers, houses, and slums.

In 1801, there were 20 factories in Leeds. By 1838, this had increased to 106 woollen mills alone which employed around 10,000 people. The population of Leeds had topped 500,000 by 1891.

The three maps below show the growth of Leeds from the 16th Century to 1900, before and after the Industrial Revolution.

These maps show the growth of Leeds before and after the Industrial Revolution. Picture credits all wikipedia public domain
Leeds in 1560 wikipedia Public domain
Leeds in 1725
Leeds in 1725. Picture Credit wikipedia Public domain
Leeds in 1900. Picture credit wikipedia Public Domain
Leeds in 1900. Picture credit wikipedia Public Domain

Demand for wool increased which in turn led to a demand for machinery. This meant that engineering companies developed in order to help the wool production.

One of these companies was Fenton, Murray & Wood located in Holbeck. They helped improve the engines in the first steam-powered machinery. These companies not only supplied local factories, they also exported their innovations worldwide.

Downhill

It all started to go downhill for Leeds in the second half of the 19th Century. Wool-making industries were on the decline.

The town faced stiff competition from nearby Bradford. Some mills were even abandoned and closed down.

Leeds quickly realised it needed to do something different to its competitors. The answer was found through a man named John Barran.

John Barran

Barran was a manufacturing pioneer who moved to Leeds in 1842. He set up his own tailor shop located, eventually, on Briggate.

His idea was to design and manufacture his own “off the peg” clothing. This meant that he not only spun the cloth, but he also made them into clothes and sold them to paying customers.

In 1856, he developed a factory with thirty sewing machines. By the 1870’s this had expanded to 2,000.

The effects of this idea spread across Leeds. Some of the old mills were occupied once again and making clothes.

This idea gave Leeds a competitive advantage over other towns. Places such as Bradford were still making cloth to be sold in its original form.

The idea also saw the birth of well known clothing shops in Leeds. Most notably Burtons and Hepworths, now known as Next.

Forefront of the Printing Industry

Around the turn of the 20th Century, Leeds was also at the forefront of the printing industry. This began as far back as 1718 when John Hirst started printing the Leeds Mercury newspaper.

One of its most famous printing houses was the John Waddington Ltd. This diversified into board games, the most famous being Monopoly.

World Wars

During the two world wars, Leeds was luckily not as heavily damaged as some other Yorkshire cities were. Although, during the second world war, bombs were dropped on Beeston, Woodhouse, and the Town Hall. The Leeds pals regiment suffered heavy losses in the Battle of the Somme during the Great War.

Reinvention of Leeds

As the 20th Century progressed, Leeds’ clothing industries declined. This was because of cheap foreign competition and for a short while during the 70’s, the scars were there for all to see. 

However, in the spirit of John Barran, Leeds once again reinvented itself. It became a booming modern UK city that embraced the advanced technology created over the years.

In the 60’s and 70’s, the Victorian slums were demolished. These once housed the workers for it’s industries.

Most notably, the area of Burley lost an entire village due to the demolition. In their place new industries began to develop in their place.

Rockstar Games

One success story of the city’s modern economy is video game developer Rockstar Leeds. They were formed in 1997 as Mobius Entertainments based in Pudsey.

Seven years later, the business was bought by parent company Rockstar Games. This was then renamed “Rockstar Leeds”.

Since then, they have developed some of the best selling video games. These include the “Grand Theft Auto” series as well as “Max Payne”.

Becoming an Enterprise Zone

The Leeds skyline is a classic mix of old and new in the 21st Century. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd
The modern Leeds skyline is a classic mix of old and new. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd

In the 21st Century, Leeds has since become a major city in the services sector. This has especially happened in the call centre, banking, legal, and retail industries.

It has become the home to major companies such as Asda and William Hill. The city also has the only Bank of England building outside of London.

Leeds has provided many small businesses with numerous opportunities. So much so that it was declared an enterprise zone in 2011.

2013 was a big year for the city. Its long-awaited arena was constructed and retail areas were expanded due to Trinity Leeds.

From the development of “off the peg” clothing to its advances in modern technology, Leeds has become the largest city in Yorkshire. The ability to constantly reinvent itself is something that truly sets it apart.

Leeds is continuing to expand and grow in the modern industry. If it continues to do so, it may even become the capital of the North.

Leeds Trivia

Leeds got its name from the forest of Loidis which covered the area in the 5th Century.

Loidis, or Leeds, was part of the Kingdom of Elmet.

A person from Leeds is called a Loiner.

Leeds was a market town in the Middle Ages.

During the Middle Ages, it became a centre for manufacturing woollen cloth and later white broadcloth which was traded at the White Cloth Hall.

In 1699, the Aire & Calder Navigation was constructed which accelerated the growth of Leeds.

Leeds & Liverpool Canal was built in 1834.

In 1834, the Leeds & Liverpool Canal was built and the rail network around Leeds developed.

There’s a 62 mile circular walk called Leeds Country Way which will take you through the rural outskirts of Leeds.

There is an extension of the Dales way which follows the Meanwood Valley.

Leeds has three universities. These are the University of Leeds, Leeds Metropolitan University, and Leeds Trinity University.

There are over 250,000 students who attend these universities.

The BBC television programme The Good Old Days took place in the City Varieties Music Hall.

Charlie Chaplin and Harry Houdini performed at the City Varieties Music Hall.

The Kaiser Chiefs, The Pigeon Detectives, Soft Cell, Alt-J, and Melanie B (Mel B) from Spice Girls came from Leeds.

Leeds hosts Europe’s oldest West Indian Carnival. More than 100,000 people attend over the three day event.

Leeds Festival takes place in Bramham Park every year.

Since 1963, Leeds has held the world famous Leeds International Pianoforte Competition which happens every three years.

The Leeds International Film Festival is the largest of its kind outside of London.

In the 60’s and 70’s, Leeds United won two league titles, the FA Cup, the Football League Cup, and the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.