Spaces and Places – Leeds Kirkgate Market

Grand glazed entrances to Kirkgate Market

When people talk about Architecture, the word ‘iconic’ is often overused. But when it comes to the architecture of Leeds, we don’t often talk about our icons.

I love a good building. I enjoy clever architecture. Colours, textures and materials fascinate me. But for me, a building has to be more than a collection of these to be an icon. It has to form the heart of a place. It has to have heart. It has to be in peoples hearts. For me, Leeds’ greatest icon is Kirkgate Market.


The Grade I listed Kirkgate Market hall is fantastic. Built at the birth of the city, and the largest indoor market in Europe, Leeds has grown around it. The building itself is one of the true landmarks of the city, used by locals and tourists alike for wayfaring. Build yourself a mental map of the city and the Market is likely to be one of the pins.

The architecture itself might be seen as being a little over the top. The luxury of the exterior is a bit excessive, with domes, spires, lanterns and all sorts of other twiddly bits. The interior is vast with massive glazed ceilings and decorative metalwork. It wouldn’t be built these days, but it’s a symbol of Leeds’ industrial past, of pride in the city, its produce and its enterprise.

Glazed roof seen from the balcony
Glazed roof seen from the balcony

But what makes it a place in its own right – rather than just a building – is life of it. By virtue of its function, it’s full of life, of colour, eccentricity and ethnicity. It’s not just a cathedral to shopping, but a place for art, food, music and performance. It’s open to everyone and used by a cross section of the population. As a child I found its bustle intimidating, but I was still always fascinated by the sensory experience that was a market trip. It’s not just visually impacting, but loud and quite frequently smelly. It’s real. Kirkgate Market occupies the social, visual, functional, temporal and perceptual identity of Leeds as a city.  There aren’t many other buildings, places or spaces that do that.

Bustle in the fish and game row
Bustle in the fish and game row

I hope beyond hope that the breadth of the Market’s value is appreciated -that the building isn’t seen as a maintenance black hole and mothballed, or turned into an upmarket food hall. It should change with the times, but the value of the place in its totality has to be understood. It has to be championed protected and preserved, otherwise the city will lose its icon. It wouldn’t be one if it was just a building.

Kirgate Market
Kirgate Market

The indoor market is open Monday to Wednesday 8am to 530pm and Thursday to Saturday 730am to 530pm. There are also outdoor markets and speciality markets. More information can be found at or

Jenny Booth is a freelance Architect based in Leeds and can be found at or


  1. My first experience of Kirkgate was as a student going down butcher’s row trying to work out whose £10 bags of meat had the most in it. Then going back looking for obscure cans of dizzy POP with a mate who’s half West Indian. I agree with you, hope it survives without needing to morph into Leeds’ version of poncy Borough Market in London.

  2. Interested to read your wonderful appreciation of the Market. We’ll be doing our own thanks to iMove. The gifted Black & Asian writers of Young Inscribe will seek out the stories of Kirkgate’s people: from Victorian characters like ‘Cheap Jack’ and Mr Marks & Mr Spencer to the traders and customers of today. Their stories will be uncovered in the Spring of 2012 through interactive performance tours and poems traded for travelling tote-bags, celebrating the voices of Kirkgate Market past and present. “To Market, To Market” is a collaboration between iMove and Inscribe, part of Leeds-based Peepal Tree Press.
    Dorothea Smartt, Co-Director, Inscribe

  3. That sounds great. As I said in the article, it’s great that the space is used for such different reasons. Have you seen the work that Invisible Flock did in the market for Bring the Happy?

    Thanks for your comment.


  4. Hi Jenny,

    Yes Dorothea and I have seen the Bring the Happy work. Steve Dearden recommended it to us. Our work will have similarities.

    I’m very excited for spring when the project kicks off! x

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