Leeds,Capital of the West Riding

Leeds is everything a major regional city should be. It has a rich history. Mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, it became an agricultural town in the medieval period and then a merchant town manufacturing woollen cloths in Tudor times, and eventually growing to become a major industrial city, facilitated by a transport system involving first the River Aire, then the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and finally the railway.

Now a city of almost half a million, it has two Universities and a University College, major hospitals; one of them – St. James – known as ‘Jimmy’s’, has featured in several TV programmes. It boasts a large development of riverside properties, has a vibrant night life, and was recently designated as Britain’s Best City for Business. It has an amazing mix of architectural styles and the richly decorated arcades in the city centre are amongst the reasons why Leeds can be a rare paradise for keen shoppers. Typical of our larger cities, it enjoys a rich multi-ethnic and racial mix, which brings an added dimension to its community life.

It has a plethora of festivals and a vivid cultural life. Its massive Town Hall is a monument to Victorian triumphal architecture. English National Orchestra is based here and plays for its resident opera Company, Opera North. I have often seen the superbe productions by its resident company. It is about to reclaim its Opera House, The Grand Theatre, now near to the end of its £31M re-development. Re-opening is scheduled for 7th October, with a production of Verdi’s Rigoletto. The City has its own Theatre Company playing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and an exceptional Art Gallery. Since 1963 the Leeds International Piano Festival has been held here every three years, and the Film Festival is the largest in England outside London. It also has a re-developed railway station, now completed after a long period of gestation, and which I find almost impossible to make sense of.

Doubtless the locals do better.

But Leeds is really about the locals. This is, they would say, the centre of West Yorkshire, and the bravest of them might say, of Yorkshire itself. Despite its new gleaming image, the city and its outskirts retain much of its traditional northern pride and produces some of the best fish and chips in the country! It also has the distinction of being the place where my wife was born and where her father played for Leeds United F.C. in its earlier glory days, to which hopefully it will soon return.