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.
I’m very grateful to Stephen Johnson for providing me with a copy of his book The Other Mr Brown’s Business: a short history of the firm of Brown Bayley’s Steel Works Ltd, Sheffield (2021), which is a significant contribution to the history of the Sheffield steel industry.
My granddad was a furnace bricklayer at Brown Bayley’s until shortly after the end of the Second World War, but my memory of the works in the 1950s is the common sight of their steam wagons, forerunners of the modern lorry, chugging around the streets.
The steam wagon like its contemporary, the electric tramcar, occupies the window between the initial superseding of horse power with mechanical traction and the eventual dominance of the internal combustion engine.
They were powerful and relatively fast, capable of 20mph fully loaded, and in their heyday far superior for their purpose to early petrol lorries.
Brown Bayley’s wagons were Sentinel Standard flat-bed lorries, mostly dating from the time of the First World War, bought to transport heavy materials around the company’s extensive Attercliffe steelworks and on occasions used for delivering materials further afield.
A well-documented journey in 1925 transported five-ton lengths of chain in three trips to stabilise the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, taking just over two days each way, with a day to unload at the destination.
The Brown Bayley fleet consisted of at least a dozen vehicles at its maximum, almost all of them registered in Shrewsbury rather than Sheffield or Rotherham by the manufacturer, Sentinel Waggon [sic] Works Ltd.
Brown Bayley’s wagons survived because they were robust and dependable, but they required a two-man crew like a railway steam locomotive, and they took ninety minutes to prepare from cold and used 1½cwt (1,524kg) of coke per shift.
Nevertheless they continued to work until 1970, when the last three were taken out of use. The remaining wagons were snapped up for preservation by enthusiasts, apart from No 6 (AW 2964) which the Brown Bayley company exhibited at rallies. It remains on static display at the Riverside Museum, Glasgow.
“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.
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