OPINION | Temple Works: Going, Going, Gone…

Phil Kirby has an insanely optimistic feeling about the news about Temple Works.

I suppose we all saw the news about Temple Works last night? The building’s going up for auction.

I saw the news on the Leeds Civic Trust Twitter. I think that was the first most of knew about it. The Civic Trust broke the story.

But it wasn’t actually news. Before the weekend someone sent TempleWorksLeeds a private Facebook message asking why the building was on Pugh Auctions.

I’d never heard of Pugh Auctions. I ignored the message. I thought it was random junk. A mistake. Someone ‘aving a laugh.

If only I’d thought to take it seriously. If only I’d Googled Pugh Auctions. I’d have had a scoop!

Oh well, bang goes my Pulitzer for another year.

Ordinarily I’d look upon this news with a jaundiced eye.

As I think I put it in a tweet earlier today, what better way to show you care for an “iconic building” than to call in David Dickinson? And I have to admit, I am struggling to locate the positive, exterminate the negative and catch on to the affirmative.

An auction does seem, on the face of it, not the most rational and sustainable way to find a new owner for the place. Someone who’d love and cherish and restore it to its former glorious self. Temple Works is not an easy proposition.

But, what the hell, it’s almost Christmas. So, in an uncharacteristic bout of festive cheer, let’s all look on the bright side.

I will if you will.

Let’s imagine this auction will be the best means to find the best owner for the best building in this best of all possible cities.

Go on, try. Imagine. Frame yourself.

After the hammer goes down and Temple Works is in the possession of the highest bidder, let’s indulge in a flight of fancy. Conjure up with all your might a vision of Temple Works reborn. A phoenix arising from the ashes (hopefully, there’ll be no ashes necessary.)

And what do you see in your mind’s eye when you see a resplendent, renovated, redeveloped Grade 1 listed Mill on the South Bank?

Well, tell you what I see.

I see Live people.

On the telly.

I see Channel 4.

I see the feisty independent broadcaster relocating to the Southern shores of the Leeds and Liverpool canal.

I see Jon Snow doing the news in Holbeck.

Yes, I know that’s insanely optimistic (what am I like!) but you know, if we all just squeezed our eyes tight shut, crossed our fingers and toes, and all Leeds all at once wished a wish as hard as hard could be, then… well, who knows?

Stranger things have happened.

The BBC are in Salford. (For readers unfamiliar with the other side of the Pennines, Salford is a bit like Bradford but minus the glamour.)

Come on everybody. We can do it.

It’s what Temple Works is waiting for.

Bags be the first person to be interviewed by Jon on the roof.


  1. You’ll have to indulge me this time Phil as I’m really not commenting directly about your enthusiasm for Temple Mill but trying to make a
    wider point about what it means to value buildings of historic interest.

    The basic point I want to make is that when one is making a claim for the survival, regeneration or repair of a historic building it is never just about the architecture or the physical identity of the structure. It is as much about memory.

    Now I’m not an architect so I can’t judge architectural “merit” as such but clearly it helps a building’s survival if this recognised and it is listed by Historic England. But today listing involves more than just the architectural quality of the building itself but requires some assessment of its historic and cultural significance. I would say all these criteria and especially the last two open the doors to a variety of interpretations or as we might say these days “narratives”.

    I guess there are competing narratives surrounding the historical and cultural significance of Temple Mill. I can think of three.

    The first might be called the “official” story which revolves
    around a “great man of enterprise” approach to the Victorian history of Leeds. Someone who builds a business, investing in the latest technology and building design, shows a caring attitude to his workers and leaves behind an outstanding piece of heritage architecture for the city. What’s not to admire and venerate in the story of this great city of ours. This I would say is the dominant view of how we are expected remember the mill.

    Well, narrative two, would suggest otherwise by locating memory of the mill in the context of the labour history of Leeds and its critical social history. Probably less well known are the two major incidents of industrial unrest at the mill, the Plugs Riots of 1842 and a strike over pay
    1871. We can also say that the Marshall’s attempts at philanthropy were limited to the degree that the second cholera epidemic in Leeds in 1849 in the early years of the mill, probably killing hundreds in the surrounding area.

    Finally, in narrative three we have a more contemporary remembrance of the Mill as a nine-year arts venue during which time there were screenings of independent films, party nights, heritage tours and projects and visual arts exhibitions. Anyone who organised (such as yourself) or attended any of these events or organised them would hold a memory of what they were and their aspirations for the building at that time.

    Each of the narratives might be predictive of a new future for the building – hi tech, hi value manufacturing hub (we’ve sort of had that with Burberry), People’s Museum (like Manchester or Glasgow not remotely on the horizon here) or arts or media centre (the northern home of Channel 4? – sadly I somehow doubt it)

    In the end the market will decide and given the costs of repair my prediction would be that the façade will end up being retained with
    some more utilitarian structure behind. Overall, the history of Temple Mill in recent years seems to overturn my view that the city reveres its Victorian architectural legacy for all the wrong reasons and that perhaps this reverence is at the end of the day largely immaterial.

    1. Agree with your historical analysis, and often mentioned the labour history whenever I did tours of the place. I would also mention John Marshall’s pre-Yorkshire history, and why he wanted to whitewash that with a spanking new, socially conscious, spectacularly impressive but basically silly facade up North (the Egyptian frontage is just like the icing on a cake, pure confection. I would often point out the obvious join where a bare brick box met the pharoanic frontage.)

      In terms of the future, I’ve always argued against the museum crap. We used to get John Thorpe around all the bloody time, swanning in and talking about his vision of the place as a museum.

      “John”, I’d quietly say, “it’s a privately owned building. They don’t need to take any notice of you.”

      What I always liked about the place was it was genuinely local. We had to monitor every person who entered the place for health and safety reasons – it’s a building site. Almost 70% walked. 25% came by car. A few people claimed to arrive by unicorn… you know what bullshitters artists are!

      But if you walk you are local. Not many arts venues (in Holbeck) could claim that.

      And the council didn’t fund anything. We got no grants, subsidies, investment whatever. If we put on an event and made no money we didn’t pay the mortgage that month. Brutal, but I think more venues should do that.

      My piece is pure silliness. My guess is the building will be bought by a speculator – there’s rumours the council will stump up some cash, but that would be ridiculous – allowed to collapse (rain, snow etc are bad for an exposed building, and nature will take its course) and the cute facade will be saved to be the face of Leeds’ newest mixed housing/retail/workspace development. And right next to the HS2. How handy.

      But what do I know. I’m a pessimist.

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