Saturday, 15 January 2011

The History of Victoria Quarter

The buildings that now house Victoria Quarter are more than 100 years old. During the early part of the 19th Century, the area sold a completely different range of products. Vicar Lane was a mass of slaughterhouses, butchers, fruit and vegetable stalls, while the western end of County Arcade housed The Bazaar. This occupied two floors – the lower level selling meat and the upper level trading in fancy goods and haberdashery.

Men and women worked on separate floors (men downstairs, women upstairs), under strict rules – no gossiping would be tolerated, no drinking or eating behind the counter, no women wearing bonnets!The area continued to trade in this guise until it was cleared by the Leeds Estate around 1900. It was then that the famous theatre architect Frank Matcham, responsible for building more than 200 theatres and music halls, including the London Palladium and Coliseum, was brought into design an elaborate Victorian Arcade. He used rich marbles, gilded mosaics, handsome cast and wrought iron, as well as carved and polished mahogany, to create two streets, an arcade and the Empire Theatre (now the site of Harvey Nichols).By the late 1980s, this once prestigious and elaborate area had fallen into commercial decay and ruin. Fortunately for Leeds, the Prudential recognised its full potential and began a painstaking restoration program. Their vision encompassed taking what Matcham had started back in the 19th century, moving it forward to the 20th century and beyond. The company preserved the best from the past and introduced the style and creativity of the present.

This clever blend between old and new is a key feature of what Victoria Quarter is today. Two of the most dramatic elements of the Quarter are Brian Clarke’s breathtaking stained glass roof, which runs the full length of Queen Victoria Street – featured in the Guinness Book of Records for being the largest stained glass window in Britain – a staggering 746.9 square metres! And three stunning mosaic floor panels by Joanna Veevers in County Arcade.

Thanks to the fact that one of the original shop fronts remained in pristine condition, designers were able to use it as a blueprint to recreate the ornate mahogany frames and gilded art nouveau lettering which now graces every shop.
Despite the restoration program being completed in the midst of an economic downturn, the Prudential held firm, keen to establish a development that was truly individual and one that stood out from the crowd.

And, that’s exactly what has come about. After one forward thinking retailer opened a branch at Victoria Quarter, others were quick to follow bringing together a collection of names that today are second to none. The Prudential passed on the baton when it sold Victoria Quarter to Highstone Estates in the Summer of 2001. Highstone carried on the development with an ambitious £5m program before handing centre on to the Bank of Ireland in August 2006.

Even if you've not visited VQ yet, you may nevertheless feel you've seen it before. The centre is a firm favourite with television companies and film producers. It's featured in Alan Bennett's Childhood Memories, The Innocent starring Caroline Quentin, Diamond Geezer with David Jason, The BBC's Travel Show and Street Doctor, Trinny and Susannah's “Undressed” as well as on local television in programmes such as Calendar and Look North news magazines.

More recently it was used in Spooks spin-off Spooks: Code 9, seen on BBC1 in Spring 2009, and is regularly seen on BBC's The One Show. In 2011, the centre will grace screens once again in Gok's Fashion Fix on Channel 4.