Big idea

Quite simply, Leeds knows how to put on a show.

Oh…and how to adapt to changing fashions quickly (with that in mind, it’s no wonder the World’s biggest retailer, WalMart, is stationed in Leeds).
You see, Leeds has a wonderful history to tell in the manufacture of clothes, but built into the city DNA is the effective display of those clothes.
Add to this the huge breadth, variety and expansion of entertainment and shows on offer; plus the clear premium that the people of Leeds place on shopping (who else has a dedicated Shopping Week to celebrate the act?), and it’s quite clear that Leeds could lay claim to be the Show City of England.

Showtime in entertainment

Musically, Leeds boasts a huge breadth of experiences.

From free chamber recitals at Leeds Town Hall during the day, to the renowned Pianoforte competition, celebrating World-class pianistic excellence since 1961; from theInternational Concert Season- the largest local authority music programme in the UK- to the Big City Jazz Festival every August and the world famous Leeds Festival…what’s not to like?
Homegrown Opera North continue to win numerous awards for the classics and bringing lesser known works to attention; and FuseLeeds offers a bi-annual contemporary music festival, encouraging new creative collaborations across styles.
In terms of venues, the Leeds Academy’s recent investment, converting a listed building back to its magnificent theatre style tops a great live scene with venues like the Refectory, The Cockpit and the Faversham.
If you’re interested in dance, the Northern Ballet theatre- one of the Country’s top dance companies, and now in their 40thyear- is based in Leeds; for more contemporary dance there’s the Phoenix Dance Centre. Momentum, a new dance centre being built to house them both will offer the largest dance space outside London.
Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera house is visually stunning and covers the spectrum of performing arts; whilst West Yorkshire Playhouse is the largest rep theatre outside London and Stratford.
Leeds international film festival, 23 years old, offers over 200 screenings and events held in a variety of unusual locations.
Running alongside this is the 4-day Thought Bubble, celebrating graphic and comic book art. And talking of comics, Leeds boasts a cracking live comedy scene.

A love of shopping

The shopping in Leeds splits into seven areas, over 1000 shops, and numerous individual and unique stores.

The bigger malls and markets are Trinity Leeds, currently being refurbished (it’ll be well over 1million square feet of shopping when completed), Clarence Dock-the £250m waterside shopping area which combines urban lifestyle shops with entertainment outlets and food and drink (oh, and is the home in October for Leeds Shopping week) and The Light, a retail and entertainment complex near the City centre
For a shopping experience that takes you back visit the Victoria Quarter, including over 75 top end retailers.
But away from these bigger areas look out for several thriving independent music retailers, the famous OK comics store, Thorntons Arcade, the many delights of Queens Arcade

The essence



Leeds’ history is marked by a constant renewal of itself, an entrepreneurial zeal to adapt quickly to changing markets, and a seemingly ever increasing rate of growth, catapulting it to the forefront of the Country’s attention.

It evolved originally because of its’ strategic position as a convenient stop on the route from East to West; and from its’ early Medieval days was dependant on the wool trade.

Growth was steady, but nowhere near as fast as surrounding powerhouse cities like Hull and Wakefield (indeed, in the mid-16thCentury, just four streets made up the city)

But even at this stage it was gaining a reputation for good quality cloth, helped hugely by the location offering soft water ideal for clothiers.

By the 18thCentury Leeds was still pretty much a pleasant market town, but the emphasis was very much on the manufacture and, crucially, the display and selling of woollen cloth products...for this, Leeds possessed a cloth market which was unequalled in the World for its’ scale, and had huge cloth halls for merchandising that were described as ‘one of the wonders of the age’- an early hint of what was to follow in spectacular fashion.
Growth flourished so that in Georgian times Leeds was responsible for a third of all woollen cloth exported outside the Country, thus enjoying a global reputation for West Riding cloth and even clothed BOTH sides in the American civil war.
One of the lesser known things about Leeds’ current status as one of the pre-eminent cities in England is the speed with which it was achieved. As already noted, it was only a market town, much smaller in comparison to nearby Wakefield and Hull, in the 18thCentury, but the people of Leeds’ ability to turn their hands to so many different things and not be held back by tying themselves to any one industry, has ensured a phenomenal rate of growth and invigoration since.
At the end of the 18thCentury came the Industrial revolution...when Leeds experienced rapid industrial expansion; this, and the building of new railways and canals, drove a boom in housing and a population that grew from 10,000 in 1838 to 150, 000 just 2 years later.
You see, this was the time of the entrepreneurs: Benjamin Gott built the first woollen mill in the World, John Marshall grew in linen drapery, Matthew Murray in large scale engineering, and Joshua Tetley ensured the booming town was suitably refreshed.
As Leeds approached the mid 19thCentury, much of the traditional textile industry was declining and production shifting to nearby Bradford.
Ever resourceful, Leeds entrepreneurs shifted their focus to producing other types of clothing such as cotton, silk and leather goods; then in the late 19thCentury the town invented a brand new industry; ready made clothing, pioneered by the tailors Hepworth.
Also at this time, the early signs of Leeds booming entertainment scene were starting...1832 saw the formation of the Choral Society; 1874 Leeds hosted its’ first International music festival and in 1878 the Grand Theatre opened (as a further example of the resourcefulness of the people, Leeds didn’t have a rep theatre until the 1960’s... now it boasts the largest one outside London and Stratford!)
Finally, entering the 20thCentury, the love of shopping was becoming evident. In 1901 the first department store opened, and for the rest of the century the shopping scene developed into a series of grand arcades giving weatherproof shopping and over 1000 shops.
Amongst these was another of Leeds’ famous clothing stories, Burtons, which at the height of its’ success boasted Europe’s largest clothing factory and over 560 stylish shops around the country, all boasting stylish frontages, and introducing the concept of off-the-peg clothing to the country
For this heritage in developing innovative clothing breakthroughs, the explosive growth of entertainment and its expertise in putting on a show, Leeds deserves its’ accolade as The Show City.

How you’ll feel visiting Leeds

Leeds makes you feel alive.

This is a place you come to if you want to have some fun, if you want to be entertained or if you’re on a hot date.
It simply can make you feel good about how you look, inspire you to jazz things up, and to maybe even recharge your creative mojo.
A great place for anyone interested in fashion, retail and entertainment.

How to experience Leeds

To experience, and get under the skin, of Leeds, you’ve got to shop, listen to World Class international music, embrace change, and see the visual beauty of much of the architecture of the entertainment venues.
Let’s start with the shopping…
Start at Kirkgate Market, home of the first stall from a certain Mr Marks (one half of a rather famous clothes retailer today). This is on the eastern side of the main City streets, so afterwards you can move through the Victoria Quarter. Once inside this grand arcade look up at the largest stained glass ceiling in Europe and marvel at the merchandising displays of the Victorians.
From here make your way through the pedestrianised centre, to the four streets that made up the original heart of the town nearly 500 years ago: Briggate, Kirkgate, Swinegate and Boar Lane.

This’ll give you a great perspective on how, and how fast, Leeds has grown, and then choose from any of the shopping malls highlighted above, dependent on what types of shops turn you on, for a contrast on merchandising between 2 centuries.
Make sure you get into the Town Hall, just along from The Light shopping and entertainment mall; spectacular when it was built in the 1850’s, and modelled on London’s St Pancras station.

In the Town Hall you’ll be able to pick up details of the International Concert Season, and decide amongst the hundreds of different musical styles to experience, with more than 200 concerts per year, covering classical, chamber, World and brass music, through to the Leeds Festival…the only large music festival in the North.
Shopping and entertainment are in the DNA of Leeds, but this ability to put on a show extends to other areas of the Leeds experience.

Try the Leeds Art Gallery for a World class collection of 20thCentury art, or Project Space Leeds for modern art.
Visit the Royal Armouries Museum for horse shows, falconry shows, jousting shows and 8500 objects in 5 themed galleries.
A visit to the Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills will give you a sense of perspective of the transition of Leeds in the 19thCentury…here’s where Gott built the first woollen mill in the world (oh, and if you want to see one of the great cloth mills visit Pizza Express in town…the little blue plaque tells that this was site was once home to Leeds third White Hall- one of the most important places in the World for selling un-dyed cloth)

And for a quite unique experience, try the Thackray Museum, which brings the showtime touch to actually make medicine an experience you’ll enjoy.
Finally, to appreciate the importance of surroundings for putting on a show, you must visit the beautiful Grand Theatre, for productions ranging from La Boheme to Ken Dodd to Jayne MacDonald, and next door, the distinctive Victorian Howard Assembly Rooms, the home of Opera North.

When to visit

City pics