The County Arcade, Leeds
Architect: Frank Matcham (1898-1900)
Photograph: B. Toomey (1950s)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection
During the Victorian period, shopping habits and environments changed greatly. With widespread affluence and greater leisure time, many-floored department stores and sparkling shopping arcades were built across the land. Perhaps the finest group of surviving arcades can be found in Leeds, and of these, the most distinguished is the County Arcade (1898-1900).
Who would have thought that this glittering display was once the site of the city’s meat markets? The area was redeveloped at the end of the nineteenth century, and the designer Frank Matcham was brought in to build three linked arcades. Matcham is best known for his theatre interiors. Certainly, the combination of mahogany, marble, mosaic and faience make this look more exuberant than most: this is a stage set to tempt shoppers in to buy the finest wares.
This photograph (c.1950) captures the arcade just after the war, a time when Victorian architecture was little appreciated. Windows have been lowered; shop signs stick out at different heights; columns have been concealed. Rhythm and uniformity have been lost. How times change; the restored arcade now regarded as one of the most attractive buildings in Leeds.