Queen’s Arcade, Leeds


Queen’s Arcade in Leeds has a classic glass ceiling with solid, but decorative ironwork holding everything up, and an attractive series of vintage lamps hanging down from the ceiling. There is an upstairs balcony with more wrought-iron railings running the length of both sides, though no longer accessible to the public these days.

My favourite feature in Queen’s Arcade is the tiling on the floor, with the numbers of the shops still figuring at the entrance to more than half of the shops today, and since we know quite a few of the original tenants of this arcade when it opened in 1887, it feels nice to stand and compare who occupies the shop now and who was in there at first.

There’s a vintage clock up above the Briggate end of the arcade, and at the Lands Lane end, before the glass ceiling begins, there is decorative coving in pale green up on the ceiling as you walk in to the arcade.

Like its neighbour – and slightly older sister a few blocks up Briggate – Thornton’s Arcade – Queen’s Arcade’s tenants are all independent businesses, with only Levi’s as a worldwide recognised brand over the door. The others deal with bodywork like piercing, tattoos, men’s grooming, clothing (a boutique, a leather goods shop and a bridal shop), along with a jeweller’s, a café, a Chinese tea shop, and a charity shop. There were three vacant units at the time of our visit in February 2024.

Sadly the Arcade Hotel, which later became a café, and then a cinema, and which fell foul of moral crusaders so frequently in the arcade’s early days is no longer there, and there is no sign of any access to the area it once occupied upstairs. If anyone has seen inside this section, I’d love to hear in the comments below.

My pick of the arcade’s past

One of the first tenants was a tailor and costumier for ladies and gents, who began trading at No 1 even before the arcade was officially opened on 26 July 1889. Other early tenants: corsets and underwear at No 8; steel goods and jewellery at No 20; sweets & chocolates at No 5; a confectioner’s at No 22; a pharmacy at No 19; another chemist at No 14; a bakery; a music shop at No 28; a bookshop and stationer at No 7; and a milliner at No 24, though she declared bankrupt by end of 1890. Billiards tournaments were held at the Arcade Hotel. 1898 tools and knives at Fred Shaw’s at No 10.

A cycling club was formed out of the arcade hotel for Wednesday morning runs in 1892. The local newspaper reported 20-30 “Leeds wheelmen” had the inaugural ride from the arcade to the (now in 2024 closed) Dyneley Arms on the Otley Road, where breakfast was had ‘with a rare appetite’.

There was a fire in a shop in Queen’s Arcade in July 1907. The drapery business affected stretched over both sides of the arcade, though the fire broke out on the premises of a milliner’s upstairs. As the blaze occurred in the late evening, nobody was on the premises, though the fire did take the life of the ‘pet of the arcade,’ a cat. One shop assistant was delighted to find that her savings in cash kept in a tin box on the premises had survived the fire.

Later that year, the manager of the arcade hotel bar was prosecuted for allegedly allowing ‘women of ill repute’ to linger longer in the hotel bar than would be normal for someone having a legitimate drink. Various vicars were in the public gallery when the case came to court, as there had been a local ‘moral crusade’ to try to clamp down on ‘loose women’ in Leeds, which some churchmen had branded the ‘worst city in England’.

During World War 1, a photograph of a young woman was found on the battlefield by a sapper who sent it back to Leeds, as the photography company’s address in the arcade was on the back of the photo. The picture was published in the Yorkshire Evening Post on 5 October 1916 in an effort to trace the woman in the photo. (No follow up article, but presumably she was the fiancée or wife of a young soldier at the front).

Sources for these stories: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk British Library Board. 1) Dewsbury Chronicle 7 May 1892; 2) Yorkshire Evening Post, 6 July 1907; 3) Leeds Mercury 15 November 1907; 4) Yorkshire Evening Post, 5 October 1916.

This arcade in films or books

I have yet to see or find Queen’s Arcade in any film or book, but given its vintage beauty, it has surely figured in one or the other. Can anyone help?

What memories do you have of visits in years gone by?

Have you got any good stories to add on the past of this arcade?

What’s your favourite shop in the arcade today?

My favourite shop in the arcade

I have to confess I visited this arcade a little bit on the run, and didn’t have time for more than a swift takeaway from Olive & Rye, but it was very good, and the cakes looked delicious too.

Is there a website for this arcade?

Yes, Queen’s Arcade in Leeds has an excellent website with details on all the businesses and organisations based in the arcade. Here is a link to the arcade website.

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