Breakfast in Leeds Market
Leeds is a very different city these days. I first knew it in the mid 1980s when I lived in nearby Huddersfield. In those days, it was grey, dark and threatening. Leeds United fans were at the peak of their reputation, making exits from the lovely, Art-Deco station foyer a risky business on Saturdays. Clothing was shopped for at the emerging independent shops such as X Clothes, Sprite ’58, and Ark – places which, as I recall dimly, would be playing The Smiths on their CD players, whilst the young and in-the-know would browse the black zip necked jumpers, faded Levis, the ubiquitous MA-1 bomber jackets and Doc Marten shoes on perpetual display. Don’t forget to pick up a little red metal Soviet-styled badge on the way to the counter!
The evening entertainment would be provided by the Duchess of York, [and yes, I am conscious how suspect that sounds – it was a pub famous in these parts for live music, not a ginger royal irritant!] where many a notable band played, or for something more mainstream the University would fulfil the need. In my case, that meant my first sighting of the Ramones. But now, quarter of a century later, things have changed. Harvey Nicholls. Glitzy fashion shops in restored Victorian arcades. Conspicuous wealth alongside rank poverty. The Knightsbridge of the North?
Except some things have, mercifully, remained as they were. Leeds is too feisty a city to be tarred with the ‘posh’ brush. One of my favourite areas is hidden away from the new shops like a disgraced relative who is mentioned in hushed tones and only allowed out at weddings and funerals. Leeds City Market is the place in which Michael Marks opened his ‘Penny Bazaar’ in 1884, following a fortuitous meeting with Isaac Dewhurst, the owner of a Leeds warehouse. By 1894, when he was joined by a new investor, Thomas Spencer, the focus of their growing operation moved – stock, top hats, lamb chop sideboards, paternalistic Victorian attitudes and all – to the then gang – free Cheetham Hill area of Manchester. The rest, as they say, is history. But Leeds Market remains today, undefeated and as willfully eccentric as ever.
Following a pleasant afternoon and, inevitably, evening enjoying Pale Ale in some of Leeds’ finest pubs [more of which soon], there can be nothing more nourishing to the soul than taking an unhealthily fried breakfast the next morning, with a large mug of strong tea at one of the fine cafes that feed and water the Market’s workers and patrons. Sitting bleary eyed under those glorious wrought iron ceiling beams, taking in the intricate Victorian decoration, it is one of the reminders that not all of life has to be modern, shiny and inevitably patronising. Won’t you join me?