Unexpected Perspectives #4

  • by Ross Horsley, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library

Now that the remodeling work has finished on the new sandwich shop, Simply Eat, next-door to the traditional Headrow pub, the Horse and Trumpet, it’s safe to once again poke your nose through that rather arty circular gate to the rear of the City Varieties Music Hall.

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Of course, this wasn’t always the back of the theatre, as you might guess from the still-visible words painted above the doors in the photo above, which read CIRCLE & BOXES. For a long time, in fact, this now rather uninspiring alleyway served as its main entrance. The City Varieties grew out of the White Swan public house on Swan Street in 1865, when landlord Charles Thornton (yes, he also built Thornton’s Arcade) decided to turn its popular singing room into a separate – and lucrative – entertainment venue. Entry was still via the pub for a while but, after the Horse and Trumpet arrived on the scene ten years later, someone (probably Thornton) had the bright idea of capturing foot traffic from both sides of the building. Now take a look at this photo from 13 June 1930, taken from our Leodis webite, and see if you can spot said entrance:

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Yes, that’s it, towards the right of the image. The photo shows the south side of the Headrow, of course, with the top of Briggate visible beside the white building on the left (which is soon to reopen as a new Samsung store). The big difference is the open land in the foreground… In order to stand in this position today, you’d probably have to jog along at the top of an escalator inside TK Maxx, as if you were on a treadmill. Back in the early Thirties, the block had been cleared in preparation for the building of the new Lewis’s department store, which opened in 1932 and lasted until the 1990s. (There’s a nice article about it, with photos of the shop under construction, on the Yorkshire Post website.)

Next year, Lewis’s is set to make a comeback to Leeds in the form of a big new John Lewis store, which will be the centrepiece of the new Victoria Gate development further down the street. How’s that for circularity?

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