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The celebrated history of Leeds Kirkgate Market

Leeds Kirkgate Market: The History

Leeds Kirkgate Market has long been celebrated as the largest indoor market in Europe, but it’s not just the array of traders and products that set it apart as a truly unique shopping experience.

Having witnessed years of city centre development, Leeds Kirkgate Market remains one of the city’s oldest and most important retail developments. Completed in 1857 the original iconic building was developed in response to growing public demand for markets and food halls. Mr Tilney, the Borough Commissioner in 1850, had high hopes for Leeds Kirkgate Market and unveiled ambitious plans and designs inspired by renowned architect, Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London.

Welcoming shoppers from across the region, Leeds Kirkgate Market grew in popularity and reputation, leading to further expansion. In 1875 less than 20 years after completion, land was acquired to the south and east of the market for further redevelopment. Throughout the latter years of the 19th century Leeds Kirkgate Market continued to expand creating the largest indoor market in Europe.

Leeds Kirkgate Market
Leeds Kirkgate Market

As shoppers continued to flock to the market, planners, architects and developers pushed the boundaries of technology and innovation creating ‘fish row’, a dedicated, and more importantly cooled, area of the market for fishmongers bringing fresh produce from the coast. The new fish market, completed in 1894, was large enough to accommodate wholesale and retail customers, making Leeds Kirkgate Market one of the most important trading sites in the region.

From 1891 -1895 the domed and glazed roof was added to the market bringing old and new sections together to create the largest indoor shopping experience in the country and protect traders and their produce from adverse weather conditions, after all this is the north of England!

The final phase of this grand period of expansion was a meat market and abattoir added in 1899. Amidst the backdrop of booming retail, commerce and textile industries Leeds was granted city status in 1893 and the new Leeds City Council were eager to ensure that their city was worthy of its title. Leeds City Council agreed to create a new and ornate market hall that the city could be proud of. In January 1899 an architectural competition was held by the council and was won by John & Joseph Leeming.

The plans were accepted and construction was soon started. At the start of the project the estimated cost was £73,000.
The construction ended up costing £116,750. The new market hall was officially opened on 1st July 1904.

Trade continued to flourish and shoppers continued to visit from miles around as Leeds Kirkgate Market gained in reputation. Surviving the First World War and playing a vital role for those struggling through the economic depression, the market continued to trade throughout World War II with a reduced number of traders and became the home of the Ministry of Food in Leeds providing rationing in the city.

Marks Penny Bazaar
Marks Penny Bazaar

On 14th March 1941 during the peak of World War II, the market suffered from the German army air raids across the north of England but damage was limited and trading continued. The ever enterprising city planners took the opportunity to further grow the market adding a new open market, alongside warehouses and 20 new butcher’s units, what is now known as Butcher’s Row.

Sadly this was not to be the end of Leeds Kirkgate Market’s unlucky streak.

On 13th December 1975 as traders were already welcoming festive shoppers from across the country, fire spread throughout the halls destroying two thirds of the now famous market. Traders battled to contain the fire as it spread throughout the halls destroying businesses and livelihoods.

Nobody lost their life in the blaze but the city counted the cost of the jewel in its retail crown, and traders mourned businesses that had served generations of locals throughout the years. Miraculously the 1904 hall remained intact and with a fighting spirit the market re-opened for trade just three days after the fire, with work to rebuild the damaged areas starting early in 1976. We are immensely proud of our rich heritage and that’s why we are proud to announce that we can offer FREE Heritage Tours of Leeds Kirkgate Market. Each tour will include a 35 minute talk in our comfortable Kirkgate Suite about the history of markets in Leeds. The group will then be taken onto the first floor balcony overlooking the ornate 1904 hall, it’s a beautiful vantage point for photographs.

If you’re interested in joining one of our FREE Heritage Tours then please email markets@leeds.gov.uk or call 0113 378 1950 to register your interest.

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