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A Tale of Three Markets

August 16, 2014

Long, long ago in a not-so faraway land there were three villages a day’s walk from each other. Each had a church and a market cross where farmers brought their produce and pedlars sold their wares. As the years passed the villages grew into towns, each centred on the original village street which was called Kirkgate, meaning Church Road.
Industries grew up in the towns and people from the countryside moved in to work in the mills, followed by immigrants from all over the world. Bradford, Wakefield and Leeds became thriving multicultural cities and splendid market buildings were erected housing traders selling cheap food to the factory workers, exotic goods to the foreigners and quality produce to the emerging middle classes, right in the heart of the cities where of course the land was most valuable.
One day in 1970 a property developer came to Bradford Corporation and told them they needed to demolish their magnificent Victorian market hall and replace it with a shopping centre. Petitions by residents and protestations from luminaries such as Sir John Betjeman and JB Priestley cut no ice with the Council, who declared that the site “was not contributing its full potential to the shopping attractions of the city”. The market was pulled down and a dismal concrete shopping arcade was built in its place. The developer was John Poulson, later jailed for corruption.
Wakefield had already lost its market hall in the 1960s but a new market had grown up to inconvenience the council. One day in 2008 the Trinity Walk Shopping Centre offered to build a new market hall which would be a “milestone in the transformation of Wakefield”. Six years on, despite more petitions and protestations, it is being demolished and the market traders scattered randomly around the shopping precincts to “improve the vibrancy and viability of the city centre”.
Leeds still has its glorious market hall where all classes and nationalities can mingle while they shop, but the Council has aspirations to “rise in the retail rankings and “enhance the city centre environment” with the Victoria Gate development promising to bring a taste of luxury branding directly opposite the market. The building itself is now too iconic to demolish but it is all too easy to imagine a future Kirkgate Market as a purveyor of boutique, vintage and artisan goods while the community of customers is scattered to the discount sector, and the traders dispersed to some remote and unpopular site. It happened in Bolton. It happened in Sheffield. Don’t believe it can’t happen in Leeds.

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