Whitelock’s, or the Turk’s Head

Whitelock’s, Briggate, Leeds

My friend Simon has worked for three separate employers in Leeds and had never visited Whitelock’s, the celebrated Victorian pub up an alley off Briggate, so we took a train to Leeds, had coffee in the Tiled Hall Café at Leeds Art Gallery, presented ourselves at Whitelock’s for a substantial, totally traditional pub lunch in Victorian surroundings, and whiled away the afternoon over coffee at the Queens Hotel, which has been impressively refurbished.

There has been a licensed ale house, the Turk’s Head, on the Whitelock’s site since 1715, serving merchants and traders from the market in Briggate on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Tucked up one of the narrow medieval burgage plots that characterise the centre of Leeds, its opulent interior dates from 1886, a feast of tiles, mirrors, stained glass and brasswork, and has been improved by successive owners. 

John Lupton Whitelock (1834-1896) held the licence from 1867 and purchased the freehold in the 1880s.  His son William Henry Whitelock (1856-1909) employed the Leeds architects Waite & Sons to extend the facilities and install electric lighting and an electric clock.  He renamed it Whitelock’s First City Luncheon Bar.

The brothers Lupton (1878-1941) and Percy Whitelock (1889-1958) took over in the early years of the twentieth century.  Lupton Whitelock was an accomplished flautist, playing with the Leeds Symphony and Hallé orchestras, and he encouraged his musician friends such as Sir John Barbirolli and Sir Malcolm Sargent to visit.

Over the years it has entertained entertainers as varied as Peter O’Toole, Margot Fonteyn and Dame Anna Neagle.  It was a favourite haunt of writers from the Yorkshire Evening Post such as Keith Waterhouse.

In time its connections brought celebrities who valued its intimacy and formality:  for years dinner jackets were obligatory and only gentlemen were served at the bar.  Women customers were served by waiters. 

HRH Prince George, Duke of Kent, held a private party at Whitelock’s, perhaps while staying with his sister the Princess Royal at Harewood House.

The family ownership ended in 1944, when the pub was sold to Scottish & Newcastle Breweries but its character has survived several changes of ownership.  Sir John Betjeman called it “the very heart of Leeds”;  it was listed Grade II in 1963 and upgraded to Grade II* in 2022.  Its Leeds Civic Trust blue plaque, the hundredth to be awarded, was unveiled by Lupton Whitelock’s granddaughter, Sarah Whitelock, in 2008.

The current owners, Mason & Taylor, made a huge effort to restore Whitelock’s to the very heart of Leeds after a marked decline:  Mason & Taylor: A White Knight For Whitelocks? | the CULTURE VULTURE

The mission was duly accomplished:  Whitelock’s Ale House Is at the Heart of Leeds and Its Story | Craft Beer & Brewing (beerandbrewing.com).

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