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Thornton's Arcade

Victoria Quarter, Leeds. This image is copyright free

Thornton's Arcade, built by Charles Thornton, opened in 1877. It was the first of Leeds' famous shopping arcades, and has beautiful Victorian architecture. A clock at the west end includes animated figures of Robin Hood, Friar Tuck, Richard the Lionheart and Gurth the Swineherd, who appear to strike the clock's bell with their fists. This is shopping as a show, as an activity in itself, rather than a utilitarian means to an end. Thornton's arcade is an early indication of the way shopping would develop. The arcade was built in Briggate, one of the oldest streets in Leeds, with a long history of trading. Briggate is also home to County Arcade, another Victorian masterpiece of shopping design. This is part of a larger development known as the Victoria Quarter, built around 1900.

 

Thornton's Arcade was built at the height of the Industrial Revolution. Shopping played a vital role in creating demand for goods that industry had to supply. Four fifths of industrial production during the Industrial Revolution went into supplying the home market, so shopping streets like Briggate, played an essential role in encouraging industrial development. Industrial development which led to the modern world could not have taken place without shopping. This might be something to think about next time you're wandering around the shops, and having a cup of coffee in a coffee shop.

 

Leeds is famous generally for its shops, and one of Britain's most famous retail companies began its life here. In 1884 Michael Marks, a Lithuanian Jew started trading in Leeds with a street bazaar where everything cost a penny. Later he moved to Wigan, teamed up with John Spencer and founded Marks and Spencer, branches of which can be found in most high streets today.

Directions: Briggate, Thornton's Arcade, and the Victoria Quarter are right in the centre of Leeds, close to the A61. Click here for an interactive map centred on Briggate.

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