Kirkgate Market, Leeds

The Victorian Society’s West Yorkshire Group commend the recent work to restore the Victorian part of Kirkgate Market.

Photo credit: Eric Carter

Renovated blockshops viewed from the 1904 hall.

Kirkgate Market is said to be the largest covered market in Europe and one of its claims to fame is that it was the venue for the original market stall of Mr Marks and Mr Spencer. Years of redevelopment and the occasional fire have resulted in a complex of different areas of varying ages and architectural styles.

Preeminent is the Edwardian 1904 hall of ornate iron and glass that is an architectural highlight of Leeds and earns the market its Grade 1 listed status. Next to this are the Victorian “blockshops” which date from 1875 and are the oldest surviving structures within the market complex. Each Blockshop is a two storey building housing six retail units which are leased out to market traders. Over the years the Blockshops had suffered from neglect and inappropriate alterations leaving them unattractive and many units were vacant. In some cases the alterations had left the Blockshops structurally compromised.

Photo credit: Eric Carter

A blockshop before renovation with inappropriate modern shop fronts.

Generally the appearance of this area was detrimental to the other areas of the market so Leeds City Council initiated a project to renovate the first four of the blockshops. This was a complex project balancing the need to respect the historic significance of this Grade 1 listed building with the need to update and develop the commercial viability of the retail units.

Photo credit: Eric Carter

Stripping out underway.

Old photographs and drawings showed that the Blockshops originally had canopies although these were not of a unified design. A new standard design of canopy was agreed based on cues from the photographic evidence and general style of the period. The distinctive decorative Corinthian columns that are such a feature of the 1904 hall were reproduced for use on the new canopies by taking moulds from the originals in which reproduction details were cast. The colour scheme used matched that of the 1904 hall to reinforce the identity of the market as a whole.

A certain amount of modernisation was necessary in order to make each unit suitable for all types of businesses. Ventilation, drainage, mains water and upgraded electricity supplies were provided to modern standards along with energy-efficient LED lighting. Structural issues were addressed and level access to the units improved.

The blockshops were reopened to the public in October 2023 and there has been a very favourable reaction to the revamped market area but the project team cannot rest on their laurels as there are the four remaining blockshops to renovate in the next phase of work.

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s deputy leader and executive member for economy, culture and education, said:

“Leeds Kirkgate Market is an important and much-loved part of life in our city and, as such, we’re determined to keep on giving it the kind of care and attention it deserves.

“The blockshops scheme is a fine example of how this approach is delivering real and tangible benefits, with its now-completed first phase set to make a huge difference to traders and customers alike.

Photo credit: Eric Carter

 Renovated blockshops along Butchers Row.

Photo credit: Eric Carter

Renovated retail units.

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