Briggate in Brief

Local History Librarian, Ross Horsley, celebrates Black Friday with a special deal of ten FREE facts about Briggate, one of the oldest streets in Leeds.

Whether you’re on the lookout for seasonal deals or finally getting to grips with your Christmas list, it’s likely you’ll find yourself on Leeds’s main shopping street at some point over the next few weeks. And, if you can tear your eyes away from those attention-grabbing window displays to look up at the architecture above ground level, you’ll find dozens of vivid reminders of the city’s past – from a huge, elaborately carved ‘lndia Rubber Manufacturers’ sign, to a multitude of stone gargoyles. Take along a copy of the new Children’s History of Briggate walking trail (by our librarian Louise Birch) and you’re ready to sneak in a bit of exploring between shop visits.

Here are ten facts about this historical Leeds street to whet your appetite:

1. The name Briggate means ‘road to the bridge’ – a mixture of the Old English word for bridge, and the Old Norse gata, meaning way.

2. It’s not actually known if a bridge had been built at the time the street was formed. There would definitely have been a crossing-point of some sort, however.

3. Some of the world’s first ever moving pictures were recorded on the bridge at the bottom of Briggate by Louis Le Prince in 1888. (You can see the surviving film on our Leodis photographic archive page.)

4. Briggate is shown on the earliest map of Leeds from 1560 (below) but dates back to 1207, when the Lord of the Manor of Leeds, Maurice Paynell, first proposed the ‘new town’ that became Leeds.

5. The city’s longest-running pub, established in 1715, is reached via a yard from Briggate. It’s name, Whitelock’s, is actually a nickname that stuck. It’s original name was The Turk’s Head but locals began calling it after the name of its landlord in 1880.

6. Speaking of heads, three (which had been severed from the executed bodies of traitors, Robert Atkins, John Errington and Henry Wilson) watched over Briggate from outside the Moot Hall building for thirteen years in the 17th century… until they blew away one stormy night in 1677.

7. Briggate was almost the site of Leeds’s first skyscraper. Proposed in 1938, the structure was to have 23 floors and a similar style to the Empire State Building, but plans were scuppered by the outbreak of WW2.

8. The oldest surviving photo of Briggate is from the 1860s, and shows various shops, people, and the tower of Holy Trinity church.

9. The Market Cross, a circular structure with Doric columns, once stood in the middle of the street, close to the junction with the Headrow. The only pictures of it are in a stained glass window in St. John’s Church and on Cossins’ map of Leeds from 1726.

10. While the city’s famous trams ceased running along Briggate in the 1950s, one did make a brief appearance there in 2014 as part of Light Night. The authentic Manchester 173 featured colourful illumination and ghostly projections.

For a look at Briggate from another angle, see our post Unexpected Perspectives #3, from October 2015.

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