First impressions; Leeds is all arms and legs. There are leg statues and arm statues. Actually there are a lot of statues, but that’s okay, we like a bit of sculpture. In Millennium Square we found a welcoming pair of outstretched arms, cast in bronze, called Both Arms sitting on an impressively high pillar in front of Leeds Civic Hall. Sculpted by Leeds artist Kenneth Armitage, it’s slightly reminiscent of a work of art we came across at the chateau formerly owned by the Marquis de Sade in Provence. Not that there’s ever been any hint of sadomasochism in Leeds!
Kenneth Armitage – who’s obviously considered important enough locally to be termed Kenneth rather than the far too familiar ‘Ken’ or even ‘Kenny’ – turned up again in City Square, (Leeds has a lot of Squares), and this time it’s Legs Walking, the title says it all.
A friendly local, or busybody, take your pick, followed us around the plinth like a tour guide. He said, ‘the Council are only borrowing this one, it belongs to some rich bloke who hasn’t got room for it in his house.’ Hmm! The owner would have to be very, very wealthy to have a front room big enough to put these massive legs in.
Our would-be tour guide insisted we should be visiting ‘the arcades’ which he insisted were the eighth wonder of the world and better than anything in Milan. That’s a claim we were to hear repeated more than once, but as we judged the best way to lose our chatty (Marigold said ‘gobby’) new best friend was to follow his advice we set off to look at arcades.
In fairness, Leeds is great for shopping and the arcades are spectacular, but we were not remotely interested in anything more than a bit of light browsing, so the shopkeepers gained no benefit whatsoever from our visit. Queens Arcade, Thornton’s Arcade, Grand Arcade and the jewel in the crown, in my view, the twin arcades making up Victoria Quarter, the actual buildings were magnificent. Victorian facades, glass domed roofs and original floor tiles, a slice of history faithfully preserved and given over to indulgent shopping.
Our personal favourite, even though it lacked any real ‘shops’ was The Corn Exchange, a true architectural gem.
‘I need a coffee,’ Marigold announced after we’d traipsed around for a bit. I noted the specific ‘need’ rather than ‘want’ and cast my eye about the place for adequate choices of refreshment.
‘If it’s coffee you’re after, follow me,’ announced a man wearing beach shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, ‘my coffee is the best in Yorkshire (pronounced Yarkshire) and I’m an Independent, not a Chain.’
Marigold, without hesitation, accepted these unfrequented blandishments at face value and set off into the arcade, I forget which one, at top speed. The café was quite evidently Independent being a total one-off in style. The coffee smell mingled with pungent smoke from a man with an enormous moustache smoking a pipe on a chair outside the entrance.
‘Not here, Hugo,’ Hawaiian shirt man said, ‘not allowed’ and the pipe smoker reluctantly departed, still puffing away.
‘He’s tried vaping, can’t take to it,’ said café owner.
‘He’s a regular then?’ Asked Marigold.
‘He’s my chef, brilliant he is and all. Hang about until he gets back and he’ll do you proud.’
We settled on just a coffee, served by a young lad who looked about 12. It turned out his name was Eric, he was 16, (yes of course we asked him), and this was his first job. Eric, who was very chatty, told us the café was ‘dead’ since the onset of Covid but the owner kept going out and bringing back strays like us.
There was a big, really big, picture on the wall, a likeness of David Hockney. I liked this, a lot. Eric said, ‘that’s an artist, he came from here I think.’ Well, he didn’t actually he came from Bradford and soon decamped to Los Angeles but Bradford is close enough. I’m pretty sure Damien Hirst came from Leeds, but the picture on the wall is undoubtedly of Hockney. He painted literally hundreds of self portraits, including a quirky one I remember seeing in the National Gallery.*
*Yes, we ‘do culture’ occasionally, it’s not all coffee stops.
‘You like that?’ The owner sidled up to me as I was studying the picture.
‘Very much. It’s not actually by Hockney, is it?’ I felt pretty safe asking the question, a genuine Hockney, this size, would be be worth a fortune.
‘One of his students did it. I bought it at a charity auction. Paid a fair bit for it an’ all. Make me an offer if you want.’
I looked at Marigold who appeared more interested in her coffee than art appreciation just at that moment.
‘I turned down £16,000 a few weeks ago, reckon it’s worth a bit more than that,’ added the café owner/fine art dealer, somewhat expectantly. I told him I’d give the matter some thought and rejoined Marigold.
I’m still thinking. Mainly thinking, it’s a no then.
Coffee drunk we told chatty Eric we were heading for the indoor market. ‘You’ll never find it’’ he said, ‘I’ll take you.’ They’re a helpful lot in Leeds.
‘Are you sure it’s okay for you to be out, hadn’t you better ask the boss?’ Marigold asked. Eric shrugged. ‘He won’t even notice,’ he said, ‘I went and had my hair cut yesterday and he never even noticed I’d gone.’
We set off, after a slight delay as I realised after we were two minutes away I hadn’t paid for our coffee. Despite Eric suggesting ‘forget it,’ I trudged back and left the money next to the cups as the owner had evidently gone off to drag someone else in off the street.
I rejoined Marigold outside a cat café which Eric advised against visiting as it was ‘full of cats.’
We got to the market eventually and said goodbye to Eric who wandered off to see if any of his mates were ‘knocking about.’ I suspect he’s significantly lacking a full understanding of what an actual ‘job’ entails.
The Leeds Kirkgate market with yet another splendid domed roof, is the largest indoor market in Europe and Leeds folk are not shy about mentioning it. Despite it being nowhere near the coast, the fish section of the market has become one of the most important fish trading sites in Yorkshire and the Yorkshire fish trade is vast.
Kirkdale Market is also where a certain famous name on the High Street first set up in business as a Penny Bazaar. Michael Marks turned up in Leeds 130 years ago as a penniless immigrant from Belarus and after a period as an itinerant pedlar set up as a market stall holder.
Belarus remains the only country in Europe we haven’t visited – we were turned away at the border, which still rankles with me – but that’s ancient history now.
Michael Marks spoke very little English, but obviously had a ferocious work ethic (Eric, take note) as he soon needed to find a partner to help develop the business. A local man named Isaac Dewhurst turned him down, but suggested his senior cashier, a Mister Tom Spencer instead and the firm of Marks and Spencer was born.
There’s now a very handsome clock commemorating the Centenary of the company. M and S offered an entirely different form of shopping, unique to them, in their Penny Bazaar Stores with the slogan ‘admission free.’ It may sound odd now, but back then the offer to shoppers to wander around, browsing but with no obligation to buy, was unheard of. It certainly caught on!
We walked, browsed and shopped until we (almost) dropped, without significantly enriching any of the shop owners and had lunch at a restaurant attached to Leeds Railway Station. You see all sorts in a Railway Station and we certainly did on that occasion.
The opportunity to see a group of middle aged people wearing togas with Roman helmets on their heads enter a restaurant is unusual, but even more so when they were followed by four very overweight cyclists wearing unforgiving Lycra who brought their bikes in with them. Four men, but only two bikes. It’s difficult to overstate the chaos caused by four fat men wheeling two tandems through a restaurant in a busy lunchtime.
‘It’s not dull here, is it?’ Marigold said. No, indeed. The middle aged couple at the next table had a slice of cake each in front of them. If you must know the details, I suspect carrot cake, definitely, and, almost certainly, coffee and walnut cake. The man took immense care to slice each portion, lengthways - not an easy task - into precise ‘halves.’ The woman watched him, impassively, then after he had carefully arranged one half of both cakes on their respective plates to form ‘sharing platters,’ announced, ‘you can have the lot, I fancy an Eccles cake.’
They then launched into a fierce argument that only appeared to have been interrupted by the arrival of cake. Marigold muttered, ‘I really hate it when a couple argues in public, and I’ve missed the beginning so now I don't know whose side I'm on.’
She re-tuned in to their conversation after hearing the woman announce, ‘when we get back, remind me about the kitchen fitter arriving on Tuesday to discuss waste pipes, I must tell Tasha not to come.’
‘Tasha,’ hissed Marigold. The name pleased her immensely.
More to come, after some photos.