Where Are You Inspired By?

View of Leeds From Beeston Hill
View of Leeds From Beeston Hill

The other day The Culture Vulture got an email from the American Express who are working on a campaign to find the most inspiring hidden places around the country: These experiences/locations should be free, the email said, hidden havens and hideaways, not the obvious tourist hotspots. That’s interesting, I thought – I like free, I can do free quite happily. But what I thought was brilliant was the list of examples of what inspirational places are

The bench hidden away in a park where you feel inspired to read and write. The subway with amazing acoustics. The cobbled backstreet ideal for people watching for fashion inspiration …

Well, maybe not so much the fashion inspiration – what I know about fashion could be written on the label of my Oxfam shop tank top – but the bit about park benches and subways. That was right up my cobbled street.

The task was to find a dozen or so inspiring places in Leeds. These would then be put forward for a list of the most inspirational places in the country – so there was a bit of a competitive edge to this project too. I’m all for tooting the trumpet for our home city, especially as we’d be up against London and that other place over the Pennines half-way to Liverpool … I can never remember what that place is called, Malchester or something.

So the other day I went out with my camera, a slab of Kendal Mint Cake and a few vague ideas about the places that inspired me, and here’s what I came up with. Obviously it’s a very personal, provisional, partial selection. It would have been wildly different on a different day – say a day with sunshine. It was a very wet and windy wander about the lesser known attractions of our great city. I’m sure there are plenty of places I’ve missed or don’t even know about. Let us know, we’d love to find out more about the city. If there’s a place you think should be on the list/map then tweet us or put a comment below …

Anyway, here’s my list.

1. Temple Works


I couldn’t not choose Temple Works. What’s an exact copy of an Egyptian Temple – the Temple of Horus, at Edfu to be precise – doing in Holbeck, less than ten minutes walk round the back of the train station? Well, I haven’t the time to explain here, but it’s big, it’s bold, and it’s beautiful, and it’s Leeds at its most breathtaking. It’s under repair at the moment but there’s always something going on, check the website.

2. Slung Low


Around the back of Temple Works and based in the Holbeck Viaduct (once the biggest brick structure in the world, it dominates this part of town) next to car repair workshops and small engineering firms, there’s a theatre company called Slung Low. It may not look like much from the outside but behind that blue door they’ve transformed a piece of industrial grime into a genuinely magical space, which is never the same twice. Slung Low encourage other groups (not just theatre companies, Culture Vultures had our fifth birthday party here) to use the space too so you never know what you might find going on in there. The other weekend they seemed to take over the whole of Holbeck with an enormous circus. What I like best about Slung Low is that they have pioneered a “pay what you can afford” system for their own productions and they genuinely encourage you along even if you’re a bit skint so they get an audience unlike most normal theatres. They have a big loyal local following. And a toilet named after a certain theatre critic.

3. Holbeck


Holbeck is a fascinating place, crammed with curious historical facts. Czar Nicholas 1 came to Holbeck in the 1880s to study the factory system – which is why there’s a Czar Street running down the middle – and a lot of the early engines on the Russian (and Indian) railways were built here. Many of engines that powered the steamboats along the Mississippi were built here too, which means that Huckleberry Finn may have begun his adventures on a Holbeck powered boat (or may not, it’s just a likely story.) The Coop was founded here, and the railway trades union ASLEF.


And there’s the oldest surviving Working Man’s Club in the country, which is about to rename itself simply, The Holbeck.

Holbeck also once had the prettiest public library ever! It’s now home to a digital agency but it’s well worth a look

The cemetery also has the oldest surviving secular building in Leeds, Cad Beeston Manor, dating from the 1400s. And, incidentally, it’s got the best view of Leeds. When it isn’t raining you can even see Bradford.

4. Canal Tow Path


The canal is 200 years old this year and stretches 127 miles all the way to Liverpool. How they made water go uphill over the Pennines never ceases to amaze me.

If you walk from Office Lock, once you’ve left the clank and grind of the train station behind, it’s almost like you enter a different world. Slower, quieter, gentler somehow. You’ll often find people fishing, feeding the swans, or simply sitting and idling away the odd few hours beside the water.


One of the less well known features of the canal towpath is the amount of really good public art along the route. It’s part of the National Cycle Network, and did you know Sustrans own the largest collection of public art in the country.

The tow path is currently getting an upgrade as part of the City Connect scheme to build a cycle lane and footpath linking Bradford and Leeds – a pretty inspirational idea too!

5. University Edible Garden


All the plants in this eco-friendly garden are edible and anyone can harvest what they like. It feels warm and friendly and human scale, like a well tended allotment, in striking contrast to the famously brutalist architecture that surrounds it. It’s a perfect juxtaposition. And if you fancy a bit of extra salad for lunch you just reach out and grab a bit of wild rocket.

6. City Square


Forget the Black Prince lording it over everything in City Square, it’s the eight nymphs surrounding him that are just gorgeous. As Colonel Harding, one of the great Leeds figures said as he opened City Square in 1903:

I know quite well that there are many persons who think that works of the kind – works for instance like Mr. Drury’s beautiful figures in City Square – are quite out of character in a business place and in a dirty place like Leeds, let us by all means be proud of our great factory and workshops, but let us too be able to rise above the sordid and rejoice in the beautiful.

I agree with the Colonel about rejoicing more in the beauty of our cities, places like …

Trinity Church because it is such an unexpected place for a music venue – I saw the best British Sea Power gig here!


Victoria Gardens – great place to people watch in Leeds, and if it rains you can nip in the Tiled Hall for coffee.


The Tetley – they’ve done a lovely job with the renovation and there’s always something interesting going on.


St John’s/ Arch Cafe the oldest, and most beautiful church in Leeds, and next to it probably the friendliest cafe, The Arch.


St George’s Field – hardly anyone knows it’s there, right in the middle of the Uni campus, with my favourite bench anywhere.


Angel Inn – Leeds has plenty of trendy bars, this is a proper pub … occasionally quite improper.


The Grand Arcade – Hardly hidden, but it is a gem.


The Song Tunnel – When the email mentioned subways this was the first place I thought of. Subways have a dark, dangerous, depressing reputation, but this place is remarkably cheerful and welcoming.


And finally,

just Look Up!


Most people walk around a city with their eyes glued to the pavement – or worse, to their iPhone. Look up! See what you are missing. Some of the most interesting, odd, unpredictable and inexplicable stuff in a city is happening above your head. Leeds has some amazing statuary, friezes and reliefs decorating loads of buildings above door level. And it’s fun to spot.

So that’s my dozen or so inspirational places – and yes, I am aware I may have counting issues, but I do think Leeds is full of out of the way, inspirational places.

What have I missed? What are your favourites? What would you put on the map?


  1. Lots of places I agree with there! And I must check out St George’s Field.

    Here are a few more off the top of my head:

    * Hanover Square: Bigger and quieter than nearby Park Square. Surprising how little-known it is.

    * The unnamed square in front of the Arena: When there’s no gig on it’s like being in that first scene of 28 Days Later.

    * Kirkstall Valley Nature Reserve: 15 minutes’ walk from the city centre and you may as well be in the heart of the countryside.

    * On top of Woodhouse Lane car park: Leeds is pretty short of high places with great views, but this one makes up for it.

    * Any unexpected amazing building on a back street, like The Priory (Springfield Mount) or Algernon Firth (St George’s Road).

    1. Ha, the Arena comment made me laugh out loud. Very true.

      The highest place in Leeds is Middleton Water Tower I think – could be wrong – and there’s a great view. But the best is still from the Bartons in Beeston. I miss that view.

        1. You aren’t meant to climb the water tower … ahem.

          That is some view! Have you been to the top of the Candle House? That’s probably the best inner city view. Or The Pinnacle.

  2. Excellent stuff here Phil

    Highest place in Leeds – Cookridge Communications tower??

  3. What a fantastic topic.

    As the places I tend to sit down in aren’t free, my list arises more from my walking around the city.

    Holbeck, yes, of course. I’ve spent hours, days, wandering around the area wrestling with the oxymoronic concept of “urban village” – what is one? – taking photos and then communing with my note book over a pint in the Midnight Bell or the Cross Keys or the Grove. The fabulous Joseph Bonomi mill has already been mentioned above (and I was fortunate enough to get a brief tour of the interior when I attended the Toby Latham exhibition there last year).

    I would love that disused railway that curves across Holbeck and beyond to be opened as an elevated walk – something along the lines of the Promenade Plantee in Paris. There are wonderful little culs-de-sac in the village like Triumph Close where you encounter colours and textures of buildings as gorgeous as – no, more gorgeous than – anything in Canaletto’s Stonemason’s Yard. Also coming across sights quite unexpectedly like little meadows in full bloom where you’d least expect to find them in the midst of dereliction. They were intoxicating. I like the old Holbeck Library building. I used to spy it from a distance every morning coming in on the train and thought it was a church until at long last I went to look at it. It seems rather forlorn and isolated out there on the edge of the village but I always go to have a look when I’m stalking the environs. I daresay that eventually it will be swallowed up by development.

    And absolutely agree with Phil about the richness of the buildings above eye level. Park Row, Boar Lane, the Headrow, there are some sumptuous details above the bland shop fronts. Last week a contributor to another post inspired me to go to have a nosey around the old Chinatown area and in particular the Lyon’s Factory building all now rather sad and boarded up. It was belting it down with rain which only added to the rather forlorn scene. I took shelter in the lee of the old bus depot at the other end of the car park and happened to look up at the roof of the Lyon’s building. And, wow! The chimneys looked just liked people bending over in an effort to protect themselves from a buffeting storm. Given the actual wind and rain it made a dramatic scene.

    Other places at random:

    Leeds Bridge from the Adelphi side. If you look carefully at the first building you come to on the south side of the bridge, you’ll see a blue plaque commemorating Louis Le Prince, the man who shot the very first moving film images in the world from this very spot. I’m preparing a piece on Le Prince which I’m hopeful Culture Vulture might print so won’t go into further details here.

    Linda Schwab’s exquisite bollards at the junction of Commercial Street and Park Row. The five bollards, collectively known as “Threads” are that rare thing – a really intelligent invocation of Leeds’ textile heritage and beautiful to behold. I walk past these every day on my way to and from work and they rarely fail to attract a glance.

    The tiny cricket ground of the Meanwood Club on Parkside Road near the Myrtle pub.

    Kirkgate which contains Leeds’ oldest buildings

    I’ve omitted obvious tourist attractions such as the Woodhouse Lane Car Park.

    1. Those bollards are good. Thanks for pointing those out. It’s little things like that that makes walking through a city wonderful.

      Agree with the roof of the Lyons building. I think they look a bit like Jacob Kramer figures – I forget what the painting is called, it’s in the art gallery.

      Btw I know someone who is working on a documentary about Le Prince (some of it has been filmed at Temple Works.)

  4. I like the walk to Dark Arches, especially the bit when you’re on the bridge over the river, but underneath the viaduct. I like knowing that the railway station is built on a bridge over the river. I suspect most of the passengers have no idea and assume platform level is ground level… maybe the new south entrance will awaken them?

    hmm… before the footbridge there used to be a subway under the tracks, there were toilets down there… that tunnel must still be there…

  5. Personally I don’t do “inspired” – hopefully I can think things out for myself without having to look up to some “inspiring” role model or inanimate object.

    Some place that “make me think” include

    Office Block – Gledherd Trading Estate – last surviving example of Hunslet Grange type systems building: were people really supposed to live in this?

    Roof of Woodhouse Lane Car Park – excellent for urban picnic before the suicide fencing was put up.

    Ventilation outlets at back of Yorkshire Bank HQ – perfect for selfie with me strat – you’ll know what I mean if you know it – also blobby 60’s cladding on the Merrion Centre.

    Sweet Street West (round the corner from Low Slung) best urban dereliction outside Detroit

    Clayton Court Flats – Latchmere estate – best viewed from the Broadway early morning or in mist.

    Any of the bog standard Council shopping parades e.g. Brackenwoods, Ramsheads, every estate had them.

    Non-places – Latchmore Road (find anywhere more anonymous), South Leeds retail park (nice sheds), Aire Valley Office Park.

    Colton Village if you like your private housing 80’s style off the peg.

    Boiler House LGI – Bauhaus NHS style

    Former labour Club New Wortley and many other closed down estate pubs

    Find the worst PFI – lawnswood school, Bexley wing St james hospital, South leeds Academy.

    Savile Hall Clarence dock – Or did I get the names wrong.

    Shoutey car garages Whitehall Road – very ed Ruscha or Stephen shore

    That’s without Grumpius’s “eyesore” Milgarth Police station.

    In Leeds there is just too much urbanism to “inspire”.

    1. Find the worst PFI! That made me laugh out loud. Would make an interesting competition. There are so many.

      And Sweet Street as best urban dereliction? There’s a very nice new road that got built through it a few years ago … right to the door of the new hotel.

  6. Yes, please keep pulling me up on my language, Sour. I meant “recommended” rather than “inspired”. I was recommended to go to look at the Lyon’s factory building. Which brings me to your word “urbanism”; you’ve employed it twice now. Elucidate.

    (En passant, I don’t believe that “being inspired” and “thinking things out for yourself” are incompatible. I would take the former to mean being struck suddenly and unpremeditatedely (and perhaps even viscerally) by something – for the sake of argument a building caught in a previously unremarked light or from a fresh perspective; a piece of music unheard before or heard properly for the first time that cuts through your habitual playlist – and being thrilled, provoked, challenged by what you’ve experienced). You then think it out for yourself – or it could work the other way round; thinking it out can lead to a revelation which has the intensity of inspiration – has you leaping out of the bath and running down Whitehall Road deshabille shouting “Ruscha”.)

  7. “Urbanism” combines two concepts

    (1) “Built environment” – that means the physical form of the city -its buildings, streets, squares, infrastructure etc. Some might say architecture but this is debateable.

    (2) “City life” – the culture of the city both in the sense of the way in which “the Arts” reflect city life but also in the way of life and lived experience of the various groups of people who live in the city.

    The word derives from the Latin “urbs” – “Urbis” a city or town.

    But I’m sure you knew all that.

  8. “Urbs” and “civis” in fact. The reason I asked is that in another topic you said that we obviously prefer different kinds of urbanism and I wanted to be sure I knew what you meant. Thanks for the clarification. I’m off for one of my urban rambles tomorrow so I might check out the vents at the back of the Yorkshire Bank (don’t call it inspiration; let’s just say you’ve roused my curiosity).

    And, yes, Phil and Stuart that Kramer “Day of Atonement” reference is spot on now that you’ve pointed it out; it never occurred to me.

    Meanwhile, beyond the periferique, on bank holiday Monday last week I went for a day trip to Cross Gates (or Crossgates) – I’d never been before – and was delighted to find an old style exoskeletal (column-guided) gasometer lurking behind the Arndale Centre car park. There are pictures of it on Google Image; it is gorgeous.

  9. My immediate thought was St George’s Fields. Great little spot. Best enjoyed with a Bakery 164 sandwich in hand. Though it looks like we may be in conflict over which is the Best Bench Anywhere – it’s definitely the one in front of the little chapel, with this view http://instagram.com/p/SI_9BdQVXP/

  10. Grumpius

    If you like exoskeletons try Thomas Danby college Roundhay Road – very Skidmore Owings and Merill or SOM to you

  11. The “slab of Kendal Mint Cake” – like, without a magical cake you can’t find magical places. Chain smokers can’t enjoy their peace, they need to think of the next “pull” all the time. By the way, I think George’s Field looks the most tranquil of all. Only I feel funny about American Express asking for “free” places. Sounds so out of character …

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