Decorative Leeds

I did promise myself that I would look up at turrets in Leeds, but I decided to include towers too . . . and then that led to any ornamental detail that caught my eye. By the end I was wondering about the fantasies of Victorian industrialists and architects. Did they see themselves as inheriting the mantles of Venetian merchants and Florentine magnifici  . . . or mediaeval robber barons? Their buildings certainly suggested grand ideas. Temple Works (which predates much of this) was beginning to look quite restrained. Or perhaps it was a standard to beat?

First was the old Yorkshire Penny Bank head office (G B Bulmer, 1894.). Perhaps the bank’s frugal savers felt more secure depositing their coppers in a building that works nicely as a backdrop to a jousting tournament.

The look-out tower must have come in handy when pirates raided.

At the end of Infirmary Street was another grand building, which had had the pattern book thrown at it:

Round the corner into Quebec Street, where I was transfixed by the Leeds & County Liberal Club in leprous Welsh terracotta:

Then into St Paul’s Street, twinned with the Grand Canal. Every other building cries out for attention:

and some 20th-century interlopers (not seen at their best):

followed by the utterly astounding St Paul’s House, a Victorian warehouse and cloth-cutting house out of Alhambra. It takes up a whole block, from St Paul’s Street to Park Square.


St Paul’s House, Thomas Ambler, 1878

The detailed decoration is tremendous:

and it’s interesting to note – in these days of segregating industry and housing – how enormous industrial premises could occupy the whole side of a high-class Georgian square where lawyers and doctors had once lived. I particularly liked this noughts and crosses tiling on one of the old lawyers’ chambers:


As an aside, I also discovered that there are advantages for some in the new form of litter bin with a dimple in the top to extinguish cigarettes. It’s far more convenient for dog-end collectors.

After refuelling, I headed up Park Row, past what seems to be only the façade of perhaps an early telecommunications office (assuming Mercury was a phone engineer) – definitely stripped classical:

then more turrets, gables and scrolls:

towards Leeds University. I could hardly miss the new Leeds Beckett University tower en route:


Old Broadcasting House and Broadcasting Tower, Feilden, Clegg, Bradley, 2009

It wasn’t just the shipping-containers-on-end look that was remarkable but also the glorious rusty colour in the sunshine. It dwarfs its neighbour, but I don’t have much sympathy for a building that housed such a 20th century institution in a neoclassical idiom.

I wanted to see the Parkinson Building at the University of Leeds. The style was a bit puzzling until I read that it was started in 1938 and only finished (due to the war) in 1951.


Parkinson Building, T A Lodge & T G Lucas, completed 1951

I went in to buy a postcard and ended up looking for the Eric Gill frieze of Christ driving the moneylenders from the temple.


Christ driving the moneychangers from the temple, Eric Gill, 1923, Portland stone

It was conceived as a war memorial, which is not immediately obvious from the scene. However, the implication was understood to be that some Leeds merchants had profited from the war, suggested by the contemporary dress (top hat and spats) of some figures:


which made me think again of all those industrialists who left such a mark on the Leeds I wander around today. Yes, I’m glad that they had such grandiose schemes, but it wasn’t done out of philanthropy.

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