We are delighted to have worked with Shaun to deliver a special podcast to kick off our three year project: Hidden Histories of New Briggate.
East Street Arts are working in partnership with Leeds City Council and Historic England and to lead a group of organisations based on or near New Briggate, in Leeds as part of a national programme called the High Streets Heritage Action Zone.
New Briggate is a busy high street in the centre of Leeds and is a gateway to the heart of Leeds’ shopping and entertainment district.
The high street is frequented by a wealth of people each day and hosts some of the city’s most popular bars, takeaways and shops. It is also home to Opera North and The Grand Theatre and until recently a number of bus stops enabling the public to travel in and out of the city daily.
What makes New Briggate so important is its rich and diverse history and the fascinating stories from the many people who use the street for work or play each day. Each episode of Leeds Echoes explores different aspects of Leeds’ history, sharing these interesting and insightful snippets and stories.
In this episode, in collaboration with East Street Arts, Shaun unearths some forgotten stories of the people who visited this single High Street in Leeds.
Shaun takes you on a journey through time, highlights and titbits from the podcast include Mr Adam’s circus known for their ‘amusing and agile’ clowns, the Plaza cinema with its reputation for showing B movies and risque continental films and the Almshouses of New Briggate which was home to a group of elderly widows.
Mr Adam’s circus,based on New Briggate between 1875-1876 unlike other circuses of the Victorian era, appears to have been an ‘innocent family circus’ compared to some of the Victorian horror shows of its time. The circus was not around for long and closed prematurely to make way for the construction of the new Grand Theatre.
New Briggate was home to a number of cinemas over the years. Cinemas on the street included Tower Picture House and the Assembly Rooms cinema, which later became the Plaza Cinema and then later home to Leeds Grand Theatre. The Plaza Cinema opened in 1958 and had a reputation for controversial screenings of shockumentaries, horror films and pornography leading to multiple protests and was an important part of Leeds history.
Alongside the businesses were the Almshouses that housed a group of elderly widows who were crammed into ‘poor, tightly packed living conditions’. These properties were funded by wealthy merchant and Royalist John Harrison, who also funded St John’s church and the nearby grammar school.
New Briggate has a lively history of nightlife that stretches back to 1880 with the opening of the Wrens Hotel which still exists today. Situated at the top of New Briggate was Belgrave chapel and later Sunday School. Today Belgrave Music hall sits in its place although no longer a place of worship, many make the pilgrimage to Leeds to visit this key music and nightlife hotspot.
As time moved forward towards the 20th century, New Briggate had become a busy commercial high street with tramways connecting the city centre to Meanwood, Chapeltown, Harehills and Roundhay.
Join Shaun as he takes a trip back in time to unearth the hidden histories of New Briggate, an evolving High Street.
Season 4 Episode 1 of the Leeds Echoes podcast will be available to stream on all good podcast sites 17 February and can be accessed via the link below.