Category Archives: Victorian Architecture

Trijunct Station

Derby Midland Station (1978)
Derby Station (2016)

Derby railway station’s three-way junction forms a hinge in the national railway network, not as extensive or complex as Crewe or York, but pivotal on the north-east/south-west axis and the route from South Yorkshire to London.

The railway came to Derby because the town was chosen as the meeting point of three independent railways, the Midland Counties Railway between Derby, Nottingham, Leicester and Rugby (opened June 4th 1839), the Birmingham & Derby Junction Railway (opened August 12th 1839) and the North Midland Railway between Derby, Chesterfield, Rotherham and Normanton (opened May 11th 1840).

Passenger services for these three companies were provided at the Trijunct Station (1839-41), owned by the North Midland, at Litchurch, just outside the Derby boundary, because the only available nearer site for a single station, at the Holmes, was prone to flooding and would have required a more complicated track layout.

In 1844 the three companies amalgamated to form the Midland Railway, which grew to become an important main-line railway with services to London, Manchester and Carlisle.

The original joint station had a single platform, 1,050 feet long, with terminal bays for trains to Birmingham southwards and for the Midland Counties trains that departed northwards and headed east towards Spondon. 

The equally long Italianate station building was designed by the North Midland Railway architect, Francis Thompson (1808-1895), behind which was a cast-iron train shed by Robert Stephenson (1803-1859). 

Both of these structures are long gone.  An island platform was installed in 1858, along with further offices and a porte-cochère on the street frontage, designed by the Midland Railway architect, John Holloway Sanders (1825-1884).  A second island platform, with a footbridge, followed in 1881.  The front buildings were largely replaced by Sanders’ successor, Charles Trubshaw (1840-1917) c1892.

Following extensive bomb damage in January 1941 which destroyed the train shed and the buildings on Platform 6, all three sets of platform buildings, together with the footbridge and main signal box, were replaced in 1952-54.

The signal box was decommissioned in 1969 when a modern power box was constructed south of the station, and the Victorian front buildings were demolished, despite objections from conservationists, in 1985. 

All that remains of these buildings is the clock and the carved coat of arms of the borough of Derby from the porte-cochère, incongruously located in the station car park.

The replacement building in red brick is uninspiring.  Behind it, the 1950s concrete was found to be weakening.  The concrete footbridge was replaced in 2005, and new platform buildings followed in 2007-2009.  An additional platform was added during 2018 along with comprehensive remodelling of track and signalling to improve freight and passenger flows and to future-proof the station for decades to come.

Peter Stanton, describing the complex construction and engineering that took place over seventy-nine days of service disruption in Rail Engineer (November 15th 2018), remarked that there was “very little heritage to concern designers who could have a free reign to produce the most modern facilities”. 

The original Trijunct Station has been remodelled so frequently – 1858, 1881, 1892, 1952-54, 2005, 2007-09, apart from being bombed in 1941 – that it’s now a 21st-century passenger station. 

But the modern trains gliding in and out of Derby follow the same tracks and routes as the early steam locos that trundled into the Trijunct Station in 1839-40.

Monumental cemetery

Cimitero Monumentale, Milan, Italy: monument to the family of Francesco Podreider (1830-1894), by Domenico Ghidoni (1857-1920) – ‘Christ cleansing the Temple’

Milan’s Monumental Cemetery [Cimitero Monumentale di Milano], designed by Carlo Maciachini (1818-1899), is one of a number of magnificent Italian burial sites that far outclass even the major British examples.

This vast valhalla extends to 250,000 square metres.  The main section, predominantly Catholic as one would expect, was opened in 1866 and the Jewish section was added in 1872 and extended in 1913.  Non-Catholic gentiles are buried in a third area.

Tripadvisor recommends giving an hour to a location that would be difficult to explore thoroughly in less than a day without a guide or guide-book.  It’s an architectural and artistic buffet, and wandering is like going to Harrod’s food hall looking for a snack.

Facing the spacious entrance piazza, the Famedio (1887), a huge hall of fame in “Neo-Medieval” style, contains the remains of many of Milan’s most prominent citizens, and has sarcophagi commemorating the novelist Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873), the philosopher Carlo Cattaneo (1801-1869) and the architect Luca Beltrami (1854-1933). 

The tombs in the archways of the Famedio’s extensive arcades are loaded with statuary in great variety, and avenues radiate from the terrace crowded with a similar variety of fortissimo graves and monuments. 

Mausolea in traditional styles – classical, Romanesque, Byzantine, – stand alongside modern structures of plate glass and steel.  Only Gothic seems to be absent.  Extravagance of design, materials, imagery, style and symbolism abound.  Bronze, copper, masonry and occasionally brick and terracotta are indiscriminately used according to families’ preference. 

Figures are draped across tombs in agonies of grief;  Father Time’s scythe reaches up from the earth.  Alongside symbol and allegory are obvious portraits, including some delightful matriarchs.  There is a surprising number of nudes, the females entirely uncovered and very beautiful, the males strategically covered.

Milan came early to embrace cremation.  Its Crematorium Temple, which also serves as a columbarium, was the first in the world, opened in 1876 and remained in use until 1992.  The range of cremators remains behind iron doors, one of them visible to the public.

I couldn’t begin to catalogue the fine monuments I photographed. 

(Google translations disconcertingly render Italian descriptions of these great monuments, edicola, as “news-stand”;  the French equivalent is Kiosque.  It’s derived from the Latin aedicula, which among other things means “shrine”.)

One exceptional example, the tomb of the textile manufacturer Antonio Bernocchi (1859-1930), is an inventive reiteration of Trajan’s Column in Rome, designed by the architect Alessandro Minali (1888-1960) and the sculptor Giannino Castiglioni (1884-1971):  Bernocchi Newsstand | Monumental Cemetery Milan (

The tomb of the Campari family, beverage manufacturers whose famous aperitif bears their name, is an elaborate life-sized representation of the Last Supper by Giannino Castiglioni (1884-1971) – Campari Newsstand | Monumental Cemetery Milan ( – and the monument to the family of Francesco Podreider (1830-1894), by Domenico Ghidoni (1857-1920), is a dramatic portrayal of Christ Cleansing the Temple:  Gospel Iconography | Monumental Cemetery Milan (

The composer Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) lies in a mausoleum decorated with carvings by Leonardo Bistolfi (1859-1933), along with his wife Carla Finzi (d1951), his four children and his son-in-law, the pianist Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) and his daughter-in-law, the classical dancer Lucia Fornaroli (1888-1954):  Toscanini Newsstand | Monumental Cemetery Milan (

In contrast to these lively expressions of grief, the dour monument designed by Mario Palanti (1885-1978) for his parents and family, consists of truncated Doric columns supporting a vast sarcophagus.  It was built in the years 1928-30, and its crypt was used as an air-raid shelter in the Second World War.  It now serves as the Civic Mausoleum [Civico Mausoleo] honouring Milanese celebrities such as Herbert Einstein (1847-1902), father of the physicist Albert.

The Monumental Cemetery is overwhelming.  It certainly deserves more than an hour of anyone’s time.

Liverpool Olympia

Olympia Theatre, West Derby Road, Liverpool

The circus industry has traditionally been peripatetic – we associate going to the circus with a “big top” tent in a field – but there was a moment, early in the twentieth century, when it seemed sensible to build auditoria big enough to house a circus ring.

That moment was brief.  The prolific theatre-architect Frank Matcham (1854-1920) converted the Brighton Hippodrome from an ice rink in 1901, but it was rebuilt as a variety theatre the following year.  Frank Matcham’s London Hippodrome on the corner of Leicester Square, built in 1900, was adapted as a variety theatre in 1909.

There are two places in Britain where you can still experience circus in a purpose-built hippodrome – Blackpool Tower Circus (1894;  interior by Frank Matcham 1900) and the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome (1903), but there’s a third survivor which is one of the largest and grandest of Frank Matcham’s auditoria.

The Olympia Theatre, West Derby Road, Liverpool (1905) was a proscenium theatre with a circus ring and water tank for the briefly fashionable spectacular performances known as naumachiae

To accommodate the standard 42ft-diameter circus ring projecting into the stalls area, the proscenium is 48 feet wide, and the stage measured 100 feet wide by 41ft deep.  The fly-grid is 68 feet above the stage floor. 

The base of the ten-foot-deep 80,000-gallon under-stage tank survives without its hydraulic machinery:  the basement storey also contained stabling for elephants and horses, and cages for lions.

The original seating-capacity was 3,750.

The Olympia was built by Moss Empires only a couple of hundred yards from their rival Thomas Barrasford’s 3,500-seat Royal Hippodrome (1902;  demolished 1984), which stood opposite Low Hill Cemetery (now Grant Gardens). 

Ken Roe, in his visit-notes for a Cinema Theatre Association tour in 2000, commented –

The Olympia was provided with 36 separate exits, but the problem turned out to be how to get the people into the place, not out…

Harold Akroyd, The Dream Palaces of Liverpool (Amber Valley 1987), remarked that –

…an asylum once occupied the site of the Olympia, which prompted the comment that Moss & Stoll must have been mad to open a music hall so close to the city…

This story is too good to check, however:  The Stage, April 27th 1905, indicates that the site was formerly occupied by the Licensed Victuallers Association almshouses.

Three balconies spread the audience across a wider space than a conventional proscenium theatre.  Beneath the Dress Circle were ten boxes facing the stage.  The additional proscenium boxes facing the audience were clearly intended only for circus shows.  Their onion domes are complemented by the plaster elephant-heads that embellish the side walls.  A sliding roof provided ventilation between houses.

Associated British Cinemas Ltd took on the lease in 1929.   On February 11th in that year the Olympia became Liverpool’s first sound-cinema when Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer opened.  For perhaps the only time in the Olympia’s history, queues stretched out of sight down West Derby Road.

As competition from large-capacity modern super-cinemas grew in the 1930s even the Royal Hippodrome went over to films, and ABC, which operated both buildings, closed the Olympia as a cinema on March 25th 1939.

After wartime use as a Royal Navy Depot, the Olympia was sold to Mecca Ltd and reopened as the Locarno Ballroom in 1949. 

This conversion did practically irreversible damage to Frank Matcham’s auditorium.  Raising the stalls floor to stage level involved inserting concrete pillars into the basement area; the rear-stalls projection-box was dismantled and stairways were constructed from the stalls to the Grand Circle.

In August 1964 Mecca closed the ballroom and adapted the building as one of their chain of bingo clubs. 

Clearance of the surrounding housing led to closure in 1982, after which it remained on Mecca’s hands, listed Grade II, empty and for sale.  Its listing was raised to Grade II* in 1985. 

It remained dark until Silver Leisure Ltd, owners of the adjacent Grafton Ballroom, bought it in April 1990.  Ten years later Silver Leisure reopened the building, impressively refurbished, with a programme of boxing, wrestling and concerts. 

It has continued in the same family ownership, renamed Eventim Olympia with standing space in the stalls and seating in the lower and upper balconies. From the outset it was a huge risk to build the Olympia in inner-city Liverpool, but against huge odds, this enormous building has survived and earns its keep in the twenty-first century.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

Zion Graveyard 4

Zion Congregational Church and Sabbath School, Attercliffe, Sheffield (1978)

When I went looking for the site of the Zion Congregational Church in 2017 while reconnoitring my Heritage Open Days Walk Round Attercliffe, all that could be seen through the boundary fence was a twelve-foot-high jungle.

Coincidentally, that was the summer when the group that maintains the undenominational Upper Wincobank Chapel came looking for the burial place of the Chapel’s founder, Mary Ann Rawson (1801-1887). 

It took a great deal of work to locate her family tomb, and the group resolved to form the Friends of Zion Graveyard, which quickly purchased and restored the site and made it accessible.

I don’t do gardening, so instead I’ve brought visitors to the Graveyard through my Walks Round Attercliffe and Bus Rides Round Attercliffe and busied myself researching the history of the buildings and the generations of worshippers dating back to the end of the eighteenth century.

During the lockdown period the Friends produced a series of interpretation boards – to which I contributed – to fix to the boundaries of the Graveyard.

These make a significant difference to visitors’ understanding, particularly because the images show how much the surroundings have changed since the 1970s:  two of the congregation’s three buildings have been destroyed, along with all of the surrounding housing.

Visitors to the Zion Graveyard can now take away the information and the pictures in a guide-book, The Story of Zion Graveyard Attercliffe:

My dad’s lost opportunity

King Edward VII School, Sheffield

I’ve known for a long time that my dad missed a lifetime opportunity in 1926 at the age of twelve when he was awarded a scholarship to King Edward VII Grammar School, which had a reputation as the best place in Sheffield to gain an education.

King Ted’s, as people called it (and still do), was at the time a fee-paying school where there were social expectations alongside academic opportunities.

My dad’s parents felt compelled to turn the scholarship down because they simply couldn’t afford the incidentals such as uniform and fares and needed their sons to start work at the then school-leaving age of fourteen.

In addition, it was the year of the General Strike and they had five children, with a sixth on the way, and there was no telling which of them might pass scholarships in future.  My granddad was a boilerman in the coke ovens at Tinsley Park, so their finances were precarious.

All this was simply family history of purely personal interest until I came across an obituary for Bill Moore (1911-2008), a celebrated figure in left-wing politics in Yorkshire and beyond, who was said to be the first Attercliffe boy to win a free scholarship to grammar school:

This set me thinking.  King Edward’s was founded in 1905.  If it took seventeen years for a lad from any of the numerous elementary schools in the Lower Don Valley to gain a free grammar-school education, perhaps my dad might have been the second.

I checked the Education Committee minutes and without looking further back than 1920 I discovered that Bill Moore was by no means the first Attercliffe lad to go to King Ted’s.  Between eleven and twenty scholarships were awarded each year from 1920 to 1926, mostly to pupils from schools on the prosperous west side of the city. 

In 1921 William Wild, aged 12 years 3 months, left my alma mater, Huntsman’s Gardens Council School, for King Edward’s on a Close Entrance Scholarship.  His father was a brass foundry manager, so could no doubt afford the tram fare, yet the family lived on Brinsworth Street, two minutes’ walk from Huntsman’s Gardens, in the very heart of the industrial East End – by no means a leafy affluent suburb.

By the time Bill Moore was eligible in the summer of 1923 the system had changed and under his birth name, Enos Leslie Moore, he was awarded a Free Scholarship, “tenable for the period of school life and covering free tuition, the provision of all school amenities and the use, but not the gift, of books” along with a maintenance grant.

He stayed at King Edward’s until 1930 when he won a further scholarship to study history at Oriel College, Oxford.  In 1935, after graduation he joined the Communist Party and engaged in left-wing politics for the rest of his long life.

Bill Moore’s story gives me a perspective of the magnitude of my dad’s loss, and explains why he and my mother were so keen for me to have the opportunity that had been denied them.

For that I have always been profoundly grateful.

Reclaiming a wasting asset

Queen’s Pier, Ramsey, Isle of Man (2023)

Photo: © John Binns

When I wrote a blog-article about Queen’s Pier, Ramsey in the Isle of Man in 2011 there was little to suggest that it wouldn’t continue to decay, as it had done for twenty years, yet despite many delays and the tribulations of the pandemic, effective plans are at last in place to restore the Isle of Man’s largest surviving engineering structure.

The island is rich in industrial and transport archaeology because the Manx habitually leave redundant structures standing unless there’s a need or an economic reason to destroy them.

That’s why the island still retains steam and electric railways, a horse tramway, the Great Laxey Wheel and much else in situ and in use.

The flip-side of this conservatism is that the wheels grind slowly when decay becomes dangerous and restoration is urgent.

The last Steam Packet ship departed from Ramsey in 1970;  the disused landing stage became unsafe and was closed in 1979;  the little pier tramway closed in 1981.

In 1991, after the café at the pier head was burnt down, rebuilt and twice vandalised, the Manx Department of Highways, Ports & Properties closed the entire structure permanently and commissioned a survey which concluded that demolition would cost over £1 million and a full restoration £2.5 million.

The Manx government, Tynwald, continued to provide £40,000 a year for minimal safety maintenance, and a Friends of Ramsey Queen’s Pier group was formed in 1994, initially with the comedian Norman Wisdom, a Manx resident, as president.  The following year the pier was added to the Manx list of protected buildings to safeguard its future.

Discussions about restoration proceeded at a glacial pace, until in 2011 Tynwald allocated £1.8 million to stabilise the structure.

This led to a fresh report which planned a sequenced restoration in seven phases, each of them costing £1.2-1.7 million, overseen by the Queen’s Pier Restoration Trust (QPRT), which in 2016 began work on the fifty metres nearest the promenade.

The first three bays (of a total of sixty) were reopened to the public in 2021, with the return of the tramway’s locomotive and carriage from the Jurby Transport Museum.

The current phase involves restoration of Bays 4-8, of which the first three bays are close to completion.

This steady, methodical process of fundraising and practical work is an admirable exercise in co-operation between volunteers and the Government, which will clearly take a decade or two before the public can, in the words of the historian Richard Crowhurst, “stroll along these decks once again taking in the sea air, and partake of a cup of tea and a sandwich at the end”.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2014 Manx Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Heart of the Tower

Blackpool Tower Circus

Blackpool Tower is the epitome of entertainment-industry entrepreneurial genius, owing its origin to Alderman John Bickerstaffe (1848-1930), who started life as a seaman and lifeboatman before he became pub landlord, and as Mayor of Blackpool saw off the speculators who wished to build one of a series of steel towers at resorts in the north-west.  John Bickerstaffe led the locally based company that created one of the most consistently profitable of all Blackpool’s attractions.

Blackpool Tower is a half-size replica of Gustav Eiffel’s Parisian tower, but the key to its financial strength has always been the building which encases the legs.  It initially incorporated restaurants and bars, a menagerie, an aquarium, an assembly hall that quickly became a ballroom, and at its heart a circus.

The complex first opened to the public on Whit Monday 1894, a rainy day on which 70,000 visitors immediately demonstrated the Tower’s full money-making potential by pouring through the doors to keep dry.  Admission to the building cost sixpence, with a further sixpence for the tower ascent and another sixpence for the circus show.

The centre-piece of the whole structure is the Circus, built between the four legs of the tower itself, with stabling for horses and other animals beneath the auditorium-rakes.  The Circus offered a succession of animal and acrobatic acts, culminating in a water-spectacle finale in which the circus floor sank within a minute into a 35,000-gallon water-tank.  For many years, holidaymakers on the promenade were regularly entertained by the sight of the Tower Circus elephants processing down to the beach for exercise.

Only in the circus can you see – encrusted within Frank Matcham’s Moorish plasterwork – the arches that brace the four legs which sit in deep concrete foundations.  In a 70mph gale the top of the Tower deflects no more than an inch, and there’s never been any likelihood that the Tower would end up – as Lord Haw-Haw claimed in a Second World War radio broadcast – lying on the sands beside the Central Pier.

The ceiling of the Circus, 55 feet above ground level, forms the floor of the elevator-hall from which the Otis Elevator Company’s lifts ascended the tower.  The hydraulic accumulators and jiggers which originally powered the passenger lifts, several small goods lifts and the circus water-spectacle were located within the tower-legs. 

In July 1897 an electrical short-circuit set fire to the wooden decking at the top.  The resulting spectacular blaze, which luckily began about 11pm after the lift had closed down, proved completely inaccessible and eventually burnt itself out.  The only permanent damage arose when a lift counterweight plunged down the north-west leg into one of the boxes in the circus auditorium, where it remains to this day, hidden behind mirrors.  The tower-top and the lift-service were restored in time for the 1898 season.

Animal acts at the Tower Circus ceased at the end of the season in November 1990.  Now the entertainers are clowns and acrobats, and the circus floor descends into the tank at the end of the show:  The Blackpool Tower Circus | The Most Famous UK Circus.

The only other place you can see this happen in Britain is the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Fun Palaces:  the history and architecture of the entertainment industry please click here.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all:  the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside:  the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool’s Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire’s Seaside Heritage, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Lancashire’s Seaside Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

The hollow tooth

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Berlin, Germany

In Berlin after 1945 the priorities were necessities.  Half the buildings in the city were uninhabitable and the division of the city into four sectors compounded the difficulties of everyday life.

No-one had much time to consider historical conservation or what was left of the built environment.

And yet, the uproar over the demolition of the Anhalter Bahnhof showed that significant numbers of Berliners were keen to keep some built reminders of the historic city, not least to ensure that the horrors of the end of the war were not forgotten.

The most conspicuous of these reminders is of the course the Reichstag, notoriously burnt down in 1933, almost the last redoubt in the battle for the city in 1945, finally restored in 1999.

In the bustling Kurfürstendamm, however, stands a more poignant reminder of the impact of war – the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church [Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche], or rather the blasted remains of its substantial tower, which people call “der hohle Zahn – the Hollow Tooth”.  The church was designed by Franz Heinrich Schwechten, who had made his name with the Anhalter Bahnhof, and it was dedicated in 1895 as a memorial to the first German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm I (1797-1888).

Most of the remains of the church were taken down as unsafe after the end of the war, and the architect of the reconstruction, Egon Eiermann (1904-1970), proposed to demolish the old tower but was prevented by a public outcry. 

Instead, alongside a new octagonal church and a separate hexagonal bell-tower (1959-63), the gaunt ruin of the 1895 church stands as a landmark and a symbol of hope and reconciliation.  The walls of the new church are a concrete honeycomb, lit by blue stained glass which floods the interior.  There are six bronze bells in the new tower, the largest of which is inscribed “Your cities are burned with fire.” (Isaiah 1:7) and “But my salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.” (Isaiah, 51:6).

The new church was consecrated on May 25th 1962, the same day that Coventry Cathedral, destroyed by German bombs in 1940 and rebuilt alongside the ruins, was also consecrated.

The parallels with Coventry Cathedral are powerful, and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is a recipient of a Coventry cross of nails, which is displayed next to the damaged statue of Christ which stood on the original altar.

The only surviving interior of the 1895 church is the entrance lobby, rich with gilding and mosaics, the cracks resulting from the bombing filled but left visible like Japanese kintsugi []. 

It’s an overbearing space, lightened a little by the contrast of the modern exhibition dedicated to peace and reconciliation.

It’s easy to see why the Allied administrators were not anxious to preserve the unstable walls of the bombed nave, a temple to the aspirations of Wilhelm I’s newly united Germany from which had sprung two world wars.

The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church lacks the sense of wholeness of Coventry Cathedral, where the ruins of the old become a prelude and a pendant to Sir Basil Spence’s 1962 church, or the integrity of St Martin’s Church, Coney Street, York or St Luke’s Church, Liverpool, where in each case the altered form of the bombed church reminds the visitor of what happened and invites reflection.

But after even a moments’ consideration of the rigours of life in late 1940s Berlin, we must be grateful that some raised their voices and persuaded Egon Eiermann to keep the tower as a reminder of the darkest days of the city’s and the German nation’s history.

Stopping for coffee

Knaresborough Railway Station, North Yorkshire

I have several mates called Richard, and the one who lives in Selby is seldom seen because of his demanding job.  We meet up when we can, usually at a halfway point between Sheffield and Selby.

Recently we agreed to rendezvous at Knaresborough, which has a good train service via Leeds, and we met on the railway station where I’d noticed a coffee shop as I arrived.

It’s apparent that Knaresborough Railway Station is itself a destination.

We parked ourselves in a sunny bay window at The Old Ticket Office, which is exactly what its name suggests. We’d much to catch up on and stayed on for lunch – excellent hot and cold sandwiches made to order. Indeed, we’d have stayed on in the afternoon if they hadn’t closed at 2.00pm, so we had a further cup of coffee at the Mitre pub across the road.

Richard questioned why a small town like Knaresborough has a such frequent train service, and I suggested the present-day answer is that it provides Knaresborough and Harrogate with a link to main-line services at Leeds and York, just as Barnsley railway station gives its locality access to Leeds and Sheffield.

The Beeching Plan envisaged closing the line through Knaresborough, but Barbara Castle, as Minister of Transport, subsequently reprieved it in 1966. 

In 2019-20, before the pandemic, the unstaffed Knaresborough station served over 400,000 passenger journeys and it’s been promised electrification at some undetermined future date.

Its Grade II listed buildings are an attraction in their own right. 

We didn’t get round to looking at Northern Line Antiques, nor did we sample the award-winning gin and ale bar, The Track & Sleeper.

We’ve agreed to return to Knaresborough sometime to look at the town.

Knightsbridge of the North

Victoria Quarter, Leeds, West Yorkshire

“In Briggate nothing of note,” is Pevsner’s comment on the ancient heart of Leeds, an oddly offhand remark which is immediately contradicted when he goes on briefly to mention two “examples of the characteristic Leeds Arcades”.

When the existing tiny settlement was developed as a new town in the early thirteenth century the landholdings were laid out as narrow burgage plots on Briggate, the approach to the bridge over the River Aire.

Many of these boundaries have survived to the present day, and in the nineteenth century they engendered the city’s distinctive arcades as places for shopping and entertainment.

Along with the surviving City Markets the arcades provide a wonderfully atmospheric experience of the best of Victorian retail enterprise, and are sufficiently well recognised to gain the attention and investment of present-day developers.

The earliest of these long corridor-thoroughfares, covering over the ancient yards and providing access to premises away from the main street, is Thornton’s Arcade (1877-8), built on the site of the Old Talbot Inn and Yard by Charles Thornton.

Several imitators followed – the Queen’s Arcade (1888-9), the Grand Arcade adjacent to the earlier Grand Theatre (1896-9 for the New Briggate Arcade Co), and the Victoria Arcade (1898). 

Most sumptuous and celebrated of all was the complex designed from 1898 onwards for the Leeds Estate Co by the great theatre-architect, Frank Matcham, consisting of County Arcade, Cross Arcade and the open Queen Victoria Street and King Edward Street, all designed in “freestyle” with mahogany shopfronts and elaborate façades in Burmantofts terracotta. 

Frank Matcham based the shopping arcades on the opulent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (1877) in Milan, and within the same block of buildings stood his Empire Theatre, built at the same time but demolished in 1961. 

The County and Cross Arcades came into their own as a result of Prudential Portfolio Managers’ commissioning of a high-quality redevelopment scheme by Derek Latham & Co, completed in 1990 and named the Victoria Quarter.

For this scheme Matcham’s arcades were lovingly restored, with new mosaics by Joanna Veevers and ironwork by Jim Horrobin.  In addition, Queen Victoria Street was roofed in a sympathetic modern style which features nine hundred square yards of stained glass by Brian Clarke with iron street-furniture by Alan Dawson. 

The spirit of the late-Victorian covered malls has been reaffirmed and updated by enclosing Matcham’s outside walls and encouraging passers-by to slow their walking pace and look upwards. 

And on the footprint of the Empire Theatre an unremarkable 1960s shopping mall has given way to the first branch of Harvey Nicholls outside London, opened in 1996. 

Since that time, Leeds has continued to develop as the “Knightsbridge of the North”.  The Light (2001) occupies a site south of the Headrow.  Trinity Leeds (2013) embraces the eighteenth-century Church of the Holy Trinity on Boar Lane, and Victoria Gate was opened alongside the Victoria Quarter in 2016 with a distinctive flagship John Lewis store.

And yet the burgage plots remain.

The intact and celebrated City Varieties music hall, dating from 1865 and originally Thornton’s Varieties, stands near Charles Thornton’s arcade, embedded within the block of buildings and completely devoid of any façade, and in a narrow alley off Briggate stands Whitelock’s, a three-hundred-year-old pub-restaurant that was originally the Turk’s Head, described by John Betjeman as “the very heart of Leeds”.

For all these reasons Leeds is a place to shop until you drop, and afterwards eat, drink and be merry.