Leeds and Potts clocks


Queens Hotel, Leeds. Can I call it stripped classicism? Remodelled and reconstructed 1937 by W Curtis Green and W H Hamlyn

One of the first sights that you see as you leave Leeds station is City Square – perfectly named – with the wonderful Art Deco Queens Hotel (which, like the less wonderful Ibis Hotel in Cologne, has an exit direct to the station) facing the old Post Office.

Sadly, there is also much stripey-columned ziggurat shite too:


So last century

but the old Post Office does have a pepperpot Potts clock adorning it. Potts of Leeds made public clocks for Victorian buildings, and there are plenty of them left, both in Leeds and the country as a whole. (Public clocks – useful or totalitarian? Discuss.) Disappointed that the city art gallery is closed for much of this year (roof repairs – I know the feeling), I sought an alternative diversion for a bright afternoon.

After a cup of coffee in the Tiled Hall cafe in the gallery:


Once the library reading room, this space was neglected and covered over for several decades. It sounds like vandalism now, but I have a hunch that in the days of the kind of pollution that turned whole buildings black, these glories would have seemed like more trouble than they were worth. There’s a reason why everyone ripped out Victorian cornices in the 1960s.

I went Pott-hunting with a vengeance.


Potts clock no. 1, old Post Office, 1896, Sir Henry Tanner

The second Pott was, of course, on the over-sized tower of Leeds Town Hall:


Town Hall and art gallery/library. Town Hall – Cuthbert Broderick, 1853-58. Gallery – W H Thorp, 1886-88

There’s another Pott in the courtyard of the Carriageworks, and you can actually go up and look at the internal workings of the clock. In a world dependent on the magic of digital manipulation (which, now I think of it, suggests something very hands-and-fingers-on), it’s reassuring to look at the fathomable exchanges between pendulum and gears.

More Potts clocks in Leeds’s lovely shopping arcades; a striking clock in Thornton Arcade:


The mini-skirted monks – ??? And a crusader. Richard the Lionheart and Robin Hood apparently.

I didn’t see a clock in County Arcade, but it’s still worth a photo:


Why isn’t Preston’s Miller Arcade as prestigious as this? Is it purely down to Harvey Nichols?

Also Pott-free is the market, but the sun caught it as I turned back to look at it. I realise how inconsistent it is of me to sneer at post-modern architecture when I take great pleasure in buildings like this one. What is it? Angkor Wat crossed with St Paul’s? [Later I caught a glimpse of it from a different angle and saw Hôtel de Ville.]


And before that was a street of interesting gables in Central Road:


There is a Pott on the exterior of the Corn Exchange:


Sorry about all the signs. Cuthbert Broderick (again), 1864

and one inside:


and another, personalised, one on the Griffin Hotel in Boar Lane:


Italy comes to Yorkshire

Here’s an intriguing building in Briggate:


Presumably 20th century with a steel frame rather than the Greek temple this India rubber manufacturer is pretending to be. Did the India rubber bounce into Thornton’s Arcade?

I did enjoy my wander around the city, but I can understand that post-war planners were heartily sick of neo-classical-cum-gothic pastiches in red brick – particularly blackened by decades of industrial grime – and wanted to sweep many of them away. The maintenance of them! And their unsuitability for modern life. Moreover, perhaps I wouldn’t appreciate what remains of them as much if they were more numerous.

And finally . . . the bit of Leeds station that I enjoy arriving at:


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