The Arcade, Ilkley, West Yorkshire


The Arcade in Ilkley opened in 1895, with lots of small businesses typical of a Yorkshire market town like this.  By the time of Margaret MacKeith’s 1983 book, it was a ‘very quiet arcade struggling to exist, far from modern shopping centre.’

But in the middle of the Covid pandemic, Outside the Box moved in, taking on the whole building and setting up what is now an extraordinary social enterprise helping people with learning disabilities achieve their potential. The ground floor as you walk in to the arcade is now a café, serving up excellent food and drink, and providing employment opportunities for the charity’s client base. It’s super friendly, and good quality.

Upstairs, up the beautiful wrought-iron banistered staircase are rooms where Outside the Box holds workshops and training courses to help people gain new skills and adapt their talents to the wider world.

Apart from the staircase, there are few original features inside this arcade, but the frontage is original (and looks a sight cleaner and clearer than the photo in that book from 40 years ago showed). And really, with the arcade now thriving, instead of slowly fading away into dilapidation, this is an excellent initiative, once again offering a different model to the future of run-down arcades, maybe?

My favourite shop today

Not much choice, really. There is only the cafe run by social enterprise Outside the Box, but what a great place: good food and coffee, and really lovely staff.

My pick of the arcade’s past

Early tenants included Stirk’s Noted Stores, selling ‘good flour’, ‘pure lard,’ and ‘granulated sugar’. (Wharfedale & Airedale Observer, 17 July 1896), and William Watson a fine art dealer trading out of No 4 until he declared bankruptcy in 1898. Then there was Mrs Woods, with her ‘Show of Prize Cattle” in the arcade in December 1898, and a draper’s called Hughes in 1899. Simpson’s plumbers and glazers operated out of the arcade in the early 1900s.

There was a plan in 1920 to make the arcade in Ilkley into a cinema, known then as a kinema. John Lambert, who owned a Leeds cinema, bought the building with the intention of making it into a modern movie theatre. But this never seemed to come to anything, and there is no record of the arcade ever being used as a cinema in the end.

This arcade in films or books

Another that I’ve yet to find in any movie or TV series or to read of as the setting for any drama or novel. Have you spotted Ilkley’s arcade anywhere?

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?

Have you see The Arcade in Ilkley in any film or book?

Is there a website for this arcade?

No, but Outside the Box Cafe is active on Facebook and Instagram.

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