This week, Leeds will celebrate its dynamic present – when the new Victoria Gate shopping centre – and John Lewis store – open their doors for the first time.
But that present rests on a long past – and the very name ‘Victoria Gate’ recalls that. ‘Gate’ is the old word for ‘street’ in this part of Yorkshire
– and it is preserved in some of the oldest street names in the city – Briggate [Bridge Street] and Kirkgate [Church street].
So it’s very appropriate that this week will also see the publication of a new book exploring the history of Kirkgate – the oldest street in Leeds.
Its co-authors -Steven Burt and his co-author Kevin Grady – are both well known as local historians.
– Steven is one of our own members here in Leeds North West.
It’s a fascinating read.
Kirkgate began as land connected with its church. When wealthy Tudor clothiers came to the area the nature and type of business carried out on the street began to change.
These uses carried on for a significant period of time resulting in the Georgian properties that are still on Kirkgate today.
The book illustrates the heritage value of Kirkgate, the First White Cloth Hall and the other properties which lie within the current Lower Kirkgate Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI).
The THI aims to protect and restore the historic character of a number of buildings in the lower Kirkgate area.
One of those historic buildings, which is also referred to in the book, is 92 Kirkgate, which has been part of the street’s landscape since the 18th century.
The property was awarded a grant last year to restore the building as a café, bar and bakery – you’ve probably noticed the work going on there.
The restoration has recently received a commendation from Historic England Angel Awards – in the best rescue for a heritage site category.
This year the second project in the scheme – 93 Kirkgate – has also been offered a grant to bring historic floorspace back into use, the property will be renovated as a vinyl café and open by spring 2017.
For the first time, this book will allow readers to trace the history of Kirkgate, which was part of the foundation of modern Leeds.
As Judith Blake, Labour Leader of Leeds City Council puts it: “The book tells the fascinating story of one of the oldest and most historic streets in Leeds, which was once one of the cornerstones of the cloth industry.
“Historically, the Kirkgate area was a centre for the cloth industry, with the First White Cloth Hall being the first covered trading hall in Leeds.’
The publication has been funded by the Lower Kirkgate Townscape Heritage Initiative, which is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Leeds City Council.
It will be available for purchase from October 21 at the Tourist Information Centre, Leeds and the Central Library and Leeds Civic Trust bookshop.
Sales will contribute to the future enjoyment of Kirkgate by Leeds people.
“Proceeds will be ring-fenced to sustain the awareness of the area’s historic past after the Lower Kirkgate Townscape Heritage Initiative project ends in 2020.”
So when you visit Victoria Gate, to glimpse Leeds’ future, pick up this window into Leeds’ past at the same time.
You won’t regret it.