Kirkgate contains the only surviving remains of medieval Leeds, Dr Kevin Grady told the Leeds Civic Trust at their Annual General Meeting (AGM) last night. It’s this archaeological link to the city’s past which makes Kirkgate and its surrounding area such an important part the city.
Grady presented a lecture for just over an hour about the history of Kirkgate to try to put into context the importance of a street that the Leeds Civic Trust, along with Leeds City Council have been working hard to try to win as much award as possible from the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore the street – and in particular the First White Cloth Hall.
Last week LOL! Leeds Online gave you an update of where those efforts were. Grady stressed the concern they all had for the “decrepit condition” of the street, which was particularly highlighted after the part demolition of the First White Cloth Hall. He was hopeful that proceedings regarding redevelopment would be moving forward soon.
LOL! Leeds Online can now present to you a brief history of Kirkgate based on the findings that Dr Kevin Grady and his research team have so far found that were presented last night.
The name Kirkgate itself is a Viking name. ‘Gate’ is the old Norse word for ‘Street’. Shortly after 1086 – after the Doomsday Book was produced – Gilbert de Lacy granted the Manor of Leeds to an important Norman baron, Ralph Pagnell. The manor at that time was reported to have a priest, a church, a mill – which a significant piece of capital equipment at the time – and was occupied by 35 families.
In 1089 Pagnell decided to give part of his manor away to the Holy Trinity Primary in York as a way to guarantee his place in heaven. He gave them the Church of Leeds, the village of Leeds along Kirkgate and the income of the church. As a result the village of Kirkgate became a completely separate manor to the rest of Leeds, controlled by the Prior of the Holy Trinity Primary in York.
16th & 17th Century
One of things that the donation of Kirkgate to the Holy Trinity Primary did was cut off the people of Kirkgate to the open fields that were in the manor of Leeds. As a result the people who lived there were forced to find other ways to earn a living. Many became day labourers but a culture of crafts arose in the area – in particular weavers.
Grady explained that evidence found showed that the building next to the manor house in Kirkgate was the home of a weaver – John Paulson. Five of his neighbours were also weavers at that time.
John Cossins’ map (below) from that time shows Kirkgate running from Briggate to the Parish Church – a layout that is still familiar with those that use it today. On this map (from 1726) White Cloth Hall is clearly marked.
The First White Cloth Hall was built in response to Wakefield building a Cloth Hall in 1710. The Leeds merchants felt that this was an attack on their monopoly in the wool and cloth trade and so proposed to Lord Ingram that a Cloth Hall be built on a vacant plot of land on Kirkgate. Grady noted in his talk that many of the features of the Cloth Hall became much more noticeable after the part demolition took place.
The character of Kirkgate began to change in the late 18th Century. The population increased rapidly from 1700 – where it was around 8,000 – and had risen to around 30,000 by 1800. There were hardly any new streets built so the extra population lived in the yards of Briggate and Kirkgate.
The large yards in Kirkgate continued to be packed and the state of the yards were extremely poor. There was a cholera epidemic in 1832 in which 2,000 people caught the infection and around 700 people died. Dr Robert Baker showed a direct connection between the poor sanitation in Kirkgate with it being the main area in which people caught cholera.
During this time the National School was built on the site of the old Tithe building and the Improvement Commissioners bought the site of Vicars Croft and created a Free Market as a way to relieve the congested Briggate market. During the mid-19th Century the open Free Market was replaced by a Crystal Market Hall.
There was an introduction of the railway – which still to this day separates the Parish Church from the rest of Kirkgate - during this period. As well as cutting the church off from the rest of the street it meant that the properties in the area were involved with the dirtier trades that were connected with the railway, meaning that Kirkgate never really had a chance to recover from its earlier problems.
Around the 1860s New York Street was built which cut through the south side of market. One of the buildings that went up was St. James’ Hall. It was mainly used as a place to buy drinks of all nature, but also held office space and social areas for Trade Unions to gather. On the top floor it had 30 booths where working men could lodge having come to the area looking for work but hadn’t found anywhere to live.
Grady briefly mentioned 20th Century developments: The 20th Century saw the replacement of many buildings in the area, offering a new look to Kirkgate as well as accommodating for new industries. One of the major developments came in 1904 which saw the building of the City Market.
Other Leeds Civic Trust News
The AGM last night saw Martin Wainwright MBE re-elected as President and Jeremy Burton re-elected as Treasurer. Jenna Richardson, Richard Voss and Meryll Wilford were re-elected to the Civic Trust Council and were joined by John Gyngell who was elected onto it as well.