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The best restored buildings in Leeds

Written by
Jon Howe

The recent fire in the Majestic building in City Square has reminded us of the prolific beauty of Leeds’ Victorian architecture and also the city's dogged insistence in preserving such buildings and restoring them for ongoing, and often completely different, use.

Leeds is awash with structural charm and elegance. Here's a whistle-stop tour of Leeds' reappropriated gems.

The Majestic itself is no stranger to re-invention. Opened in 1922 as a cinema and ballroom the building became a bingo hall in 1969, a nightclub in 1997 (called Majestyk, just to mess with your head) and, prior to the devastating blaze in September 2014, had been lavishly refurbished as a potential mixed-use leisure and retail space.

Majestic, LeedsFlickr – Carl Milner

Cuthbert Broderick's 1858-built Town Hall has been given a good scrub down numerous times over the years, and his Corn Exchange (pictured top) has lent its cavernous domed interior to various incarnations since 1864, from its original use in the corn trade, to independent retail and now boutique shops. Broderick’s third major Leeds development was the Mechanics Institute in Millennium Square in 1865 – a combination of lecture theatres, libraries and workshops for, well, mechanics and now the Leeds City Museum.

Leeds City MuseumBeverly Cottrell

Does anyone know that the former La Senza shop on Albion Place, now home to a Byron burger joint, was originally the 1866-built, Gothic-themed Church Institute? This was another educational establishment and home to an 800-seater lecture hall and library containing 10,000 volumes.

Behind the Corn Exchange is the quaint-looking White Cloth Hall, now home to BrewDog, but once regarded as the most important market place in the world for the sale of un-dyed cloth between 1776 and 1865, and central to Leeds' all-powerful cloth trade. 

White Cloth Hall, LeedsFlickr – Tim Green

The Electric Press, now housing a mix of food and bar ventures, was once four different buildings, all built in 1840. It was home to cabinet manufacturers, printworks (look out for Chorley and Pickersgill's initials on the wrought-iron gates) and the West Riding Carriageworks (see the original floor rails between the two doors off great George Street), which is now the Carriageworks Theatre.

The Electric Press building, LeedsFlickr – Daniel Robert Chapman

In Leeds’ central shopping areas, the streets feature buildings lovingly resurrected by pioneering city folk with a proud hold on the heritage around them. How many remember The Light building as the mammoth headquarters of the Leeds Permanent Building Society until the listed building was restored in 2002? The eagle-eyed among you might spot it in its earlier incarnation, alongside other Leeds landmarks, in the 80s TV series The Beiderbecke Affair.

Back in City Square, the home of the Old Post Office, which closed in 2004, is now a mixture of restaurants and serviced apartments that retains its stately appearance despite being close to the site of one of the few Luftwaffe air raids that bombed Leeds during the Second World War.

Calls Landing was part of the docks development servicing the Leeds-Liverpool Canal and was a vital cog in Leeds’ contribution to the Industrial Revolution. Today it's a series of bars and restaurants with views across the Leeds waterfront. What would those hard-working souls think, hey?

Calls Landing

Tim Green/Flickr profile - Calls Landing

The most recent example of showing pride in Leeds' civic heritage with creativity and innovation is The Tetley, a former landmark brewery (you knew that already though, right?) and now a pioneering art space. Add the faithful restoration of the City Varieties, where Harry Houdini and Charlie Chaplin both performed, and Grand Theatre into the mix and you can see that Leeds loves to celebrate its history.

So, what’s your favourite restored building?

More about the textile trade on Time Out Leeds.

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