Arches of Loaf: The Royal Bread Structures of Leeds & Rothwell

Librarian Antony Ramm digests the strange stories of the weird & wonderful phenomena of the ‘bread arch’ in Leeds’ history…

6th October 1894. The image shows the 1894 Royal visit to Leeds to inaugurate the Yorkshire College Hall, library and other buildings in connection with the medical school. (Leeds Library and Information Service, www.leodis.net, (c) Thoresby Society)

It’s doubtless a tenuous connection to make, but the recent wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle put us in mind of the many Royal visits to Leeds over the past years and centuries. Among the more conventional, and the better known – most famously, the 1858 opening of the Town Hall by Queen Victoria – the 1894 visit of King George V, then the Duke of York, remains by far the most memorable.

Arrival of Queen Victoria at the Town Hall, during her visit to Leeds in 1858

This wasn’t really because of anything the Duke and his Duchess specifically did during their visit. As Local and Family History Librarian Helen has described on a previous blog article, the Yorks’ visit was “to open the new Medical school and Library at the Yorkshire college (later to become the  University of Leeds).”

18th October 1929. School of Medicine, Thoresby Place, designed by W.H. Thorpe, opened in 1894. (Leeds Library and Information Service, www.leodis.net)

Instead, the visit is recalled to this day because of the actions of a various local business, including the proprietor of the Mitre Hotel, Henry Child, architect Thomas Winn (the Uncle of a Maud Dightam, the subject of a previous blog article), and local baker, W. Morris, who together created what can only ever be described as a “Bread Arch” to commemorate the occasion, on the 5th of October, 1894.

1887. Image shows the entrance to the Horse and Jockey Hotel at number 48 Commercial Street when the proprietor was J. Robertshaw. The public house dated from 1744 but was later replaced by the Mitre Hotel, built by Henry Child (1850 to 1921) and designed by Thomas Winn in 1899. (Leeds Library and Information Service, www.leodis.net)

Lest any readers find themselves thinking that such a phrase could not possibly mean what it says – let us assure you that it really does. Yes, that’s right: W. Morris constructed a literal “arch of loaf,” right in the centre of Leeds. Once more, Helen provides some additional information: “built on Commercial street out of 1500 loaves baked by W. Morris over an iron and wooden frame, the arch was only in place for the day of the visit. The bread was distributed to the poor the next day along with soup and tea!”

It’s hard to envisage what such a structure must have looked like. The Central Library is, however, proud to hold a copy of an 1895 calendar produced on behalf of W. Morris, which displays the “Bread Arch” in all its undoubted glory. The image below is a relatively low-resolution copy of that calendar – please contact the Local and Family History department to view the original print.

Sadly, it is not known whether the Duke and Duchess actually even saw the Bread Arch; certainly this extract from an article in the Yorkshire Post (6th October, 1894, p.9), which gives the route of the royal couple from their entrance into Leeds via the northern route, through the city centre to the Town Hall, doesn’t mention Commercial Street at all (and the journey from the Town Hall to the Medical School – Thoresby Place, just to the west of the Leeds General Infirmary, immediately to the north of the Town hall – would not have required a visit to Commercial Street either, as can be seen on the map extract below the newspaper article, from a 1909 6-inch to 1-mile Ordnance Survey plan of Leeds.)

Yorkshire Post, 6th of October, 1894, p.9
Extract from a 1909 OS map for Leeds (6-inch to 1-mile). The Town Hall and the new Medical School are both circled. Commercial Street is to the far south-east of both.

*****

You might think that would be the last word in Leeds’ dalliance with what contemporaries must have known as the “eighth wonder of the world” – but you would be wrong. For just three years’ later, another bread arch appeared in the area, this time in the town of Rothwell, south-east of Leeds itself – constructed to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Strangely, Rothwell’s bread arch was also constructed on its Commercial Street!

This edifice, however, is not thought to have been a literal arch of loaves; being, instead, erected at a location known to have been the “place where food left over from the public teas was shared out between the aged and the paupers.” A wonderful photograph is available on the Leodis image archive, and is reproduced below (eagle-eyed visitors to the Rothwell branch of the Morrisons supermarket may also spot a copy of this image near to the checkouts).

The Rothwell ‘Bread Arch’ (Leeds Library and Information Service, http://www.leodis.net)
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