You’re more likely to be looking for the next gap in the crowd to weave through as you’re walking up Briggate, but if you look up, you’ll be treated to an incredible view of some of the city’s most unnoticed architecture.
We’re under no illusions as to why – when you’re strolling down Briggate, you’re either pondering your latest bargain or looking for the quickest way through the crowds. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a second to appreciate the buildings that have made Briggate the destination it is. Above the store fronts, there’s plenty to see…
The Exuberant Gap
While the bottom floor has been taken over by Gap and Costa Coffee, the exuberance of the grade II listed former Post Office Exchange Building at 133-137 Briggate still catches the eye. Designed by Percy Robinson in 1907, who also did 4, 6 and 8 Duncan Street, as well as Armley Library, the red brick and pink terracotta patterning is complemented by intricate depiction of figures, swags and foliage. The top storey, you’ll notice is a different brick and was added in 1920, but only adds to the building’s charm.
The Imposing Marks and Spencer
You’d be forgiven for taking the building Marks and Spencer resides in for granted but there’s plenty to appreciate about it. Designed by Robert Luytens specifically for the company in 1939 as they continued to grow into the national company they are today, it’s the only building with the remarkable black granite frontage, apart from Luytens’ own Oxford Street shop in London. It’s a unique home for a long-lasting Leeds institution that is worthy of anyone’s attention.
The Imperial O2 and Virgin
This is a building of two halves, so to speak. Where you’ll find the O2 and Virgin Money, is the former home of the Thornton & Co, India Rubber Manufacturers. The symmetrical building is actually two different ones – the one on the left (O2) came first in 1918, before they realised they loved it so much they built the same again next door a few years later. Those imperious classical columns, built using the famous Burmantofts Marmo are quite something.
The Classical McDonald’s
While McDonald’s might not scream out architectural beauty, the fast food joint on Briggate is in something of an unheralded gem. Parts of this building are the same as when it was first built at the start of the 17th century, although much has changed over the past 400 years too. There’s a timber frame and tiled facade hidden away, but the four storey and three bay windows are eye-catching, with the classical detailing keeping it in touch with the history of the street it’s on.
The Curving Santander
Having been a bank for the best part of twenty years, you’ve probably averted your eyes from 60 Briggate. But, regardless of its use, the Grade II listed building also known as Brook Street Bureau (the sign that adorns the building’s corner) is an impressive example of early 20th century Edwardian architecture. The intricate masonry above the bay windows is impressive while, as it spreads up along Albion Place, the urns perched on top shows the building’s influences.
The Never-Ending Body Shop
Just opposite the Brook Street Bureau, there’s another striking use of brick and terracotta in a structure that again tips out onto the corner of Briggate with the rest stretching up Albion Place. Look down and you’ll recognise the Body Shop, but look up and you’ll see the Edwardian style at work once more, but this time over four storeys. The dominant columns, extravagant scrolls and fancy gables help 64 Briggate make its mark at the heart of the high street.
The Two for One Debenhams
The influence of the Victoria Quarter on the rest of Briggate is hard to deny – it’s the street’s most impressive and elaborate construction. King Edward Street just adjacent to the main arcades is built with the same Burmantofts faience, but have you ever noticed that it’s main resident, Debenhams, isn’t confined wholly to one building? Such is the size of the department store, it has stretched into an adjoining post-war edifice that really tests how two buildings of such contrasting design can co-exist.
The Future Lloyds
The list of what 65/68 Briggate has been over the years is quite something – the famous Kardomah Cafe, Dixons, Curry’s, USC and Republic to name a few. But look above the shop front and it’s remarkable that a building with such simple beauty is yet to get proper recognition. Renovated in 1989, the symmetrical facade is brought to life by the classical colonnade and intricate joinery. Left empty last year, it’s now set to be a Lloyds – make the most of the view before they move in.