Friday Comment: Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

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Leeds Changes
by Morticia Maguire-Broad (@ladylugosi)

A conversation with some chums the other night got me thinking how Leeds has changed in the past few years – in some ways lots and in some ways hardly at all. So here are my entirely subjective ramblings on what I think has changed.

I moved to Leeds from a small town in Greater Manchester in October 1986 and aside from a brief and unhappy sojourn to Bristol in 1995-6 I’ve lived here ever since. I’ve lived in student dominated scruffy Woodhouse, the not very well reputed Harehills and for the last 16 years I’ve been lucky to live in lovely Meanwood – an area of Leeds with good local amenities and a nice sense of community. Of course I’m writing this only from my perspective and I am lucky and well aware that my perspective is one of someone who has spare cash to enjoy the attractions of the city I live in.

To look at Leeds has changed lots – when I first moved here the buses were green and yellow (not the faceless white homogeneity of First Bus which you see in every city you go to now), the fares much cheaper, people still smoked upstairs, the tickets were small and square and didn’t have adverts for burger chains on the back.

Plus the buses went up and down Briggate as it wasn’t pedestrianised then. Frankly I wish we could turn the clock back and I’d take my chances with the traffic rather than the endless don’t take no for an answer chuggers who accost you these days.

My memory also tells me there weren’t chain coffee shops and the places you could get a cup of tea in town were of the greasy spoon variety and also did a fine line in bacon sandwiches and full english breakfasts.

Sadly these places are much in decline now and this makes me sad – I don’t want to see another chain coffee shop or another chain fast food restaurant, I want to see individual places with character and characters using them.

My current favourite place to get a decent bacon buttie in town is the Olympic Café sort of opposite the Corn Exchange. Their spam fritters are also v good and my Mum says their beef pie is delicious.

Speaking of the Corn Exchange – just ARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Why oh why did they have to price out all those lovely quirky independent retailers and make it such an empty hollow miserable shell? Oh yes the thought of more money that’s why, though how empty shops boost takings I’m not sure.

Yes it’s starting to fill up again and there is the opportunity to have a swankier non chain cup of coffee but for me it’s lost the vibrancy and life it used to have and it makes me sad. There also don’t seem to be as many babygoths and emotypes hanging around outside there now – this makes me sad too. I still mourn the loss of the market and shops there used to be in the Dark Arches – though maybe those will eventually come back…

And the Market itself – it’s still by far the best place in Leeds to get fruit, veg, fish, meat, haberdashery and the wool shop near the Vicar Lane entrance has good inexpensive wool and really helpful staff that have assisted me with many a knitting question but it’s looking a shadow of its former self – empty stalls? Plus the lovely old fashioned ladies toilets that were at the end of the meat row have closed now. I don’t remember empty stalls twenty years ago and the amount of secondhand stuff on sale on the outside market has increased loads – both in number of stalls and the fact that secondhand stuff is now on sale on days other than Thursday.

Although if my memory serves me correctly Leeds Market was under threat in the late 80’s too – I vaguely remember a band called Zoot and the Roots who sang a song which IIRC went ‘Save My Market, Save My Vegetables, Don’t Let Them Pull It Down’. I really hope some kind of recovery plan can work for the market and take it back to its full vibrant and most importantly inexpensive and non corporate self.

I was once stood behind an elderly lady in the clock and watch repair shop near the stocking stall at the top of the market, her alarm clock had stopped working and all she needed was a battery to get it going. The shop owner split open a packet of batteries which were 5 for £1 and charged her 20p and made sure it was working again alright – you’re not going to get that kind of caring individual service in a corporate environment.

Buildings wise Leeds has changed a lot too – the tatty characterful shops along Boar Lane where I got my first pair of DM’s have long gone, I do hope the new Trinity Centre isn’t going to be too ugly but I doubt it will be quirky and I will forever miss the tat shop that used to be in that arcade (it sold the most fantastically bad light up religious pictures) and of course the Merrie England Coffee Shop which was never really that merry but did a nice egg custard. It also seemed to have an Athena long after that chain had gone into administration and a clothes shop which seemed to sell bunches of hangers far more often than any clothes.

I’m not a fan of Bridgewater Place either – I think it’s a really ugly looks not-thought-through properly kind of building as are most of the flats that have sprung up around the river and the train station, and don’t get me started on the ones that have wooden slats on them – slats that are looking mouldly already. Someone told me (I forget who) that that was a design feature and they were supposed to look weathered – well I think there is a difference between weathered and mouldy and the ones down by the New Roscoe look definitely mouldy. And ugly.

Speaking of the river though – that has been cleaned up lots and apparently there are now lots more fish in the River Aire than there used to be and canal trips along the Leeds Liverpool Canal don’t encounter so many shopping trolleys or bits of floating polystyrene.

What else has changed – many moons ago Leeds lost its 0532 phone prefix and went to 7 rather than 6 digit phone numbers, we’ve lost both the Cannon and the Odeon cinema for them to be replaced by the Vue – a rather characterless place that seems to attract people who think it’s okay to talk and text throughout and sell popcorn first and seems to show films as an afterthought.

I miss the huge auditorium of the Odeon and the lovely staircase up to the smaller cinemas where I saw Evil Dead 2 with a chum who watched the entire film from behind a cushion. Thank goodness for the ongoing loveliness of the Cottage Road, Hyde Park Picture House and of course the Media Museum just a train ride away in Bradford.

Music-wise I still bemoan the loss of the Duchess – even if I once got a flea bite there during a Fall gig and the Cockpit is okay but I could do without having to wade to the toilets but don’t get me started on the price of tickets and the complete rip off that some booking fees are.

The Art Gallery continues to be lovely and the Tiled Hall Café is a lovely addition to its attractions, part of me missed the slightly cramped and tired exhibits of the old Leeds Museum but the new facilities and exhibitions in its new home are great. I can still remember the excitement of the new West Yorkshire Playhouse opening and the play about the threat of changes to the NHS from the horror of a conservative led government – some things never change do they?

What’s now Fab Cafe will always be the Pig and Whistle to me and over the road will always be The Coburg – in spite of passing it on the bus regularly I have no idea what it is called now.

Creeping corporatisation is common to all cities and towns but the underlying Leeds – the Leeds of friendly down to earth people who like fun things to do and value for money is still there but I do worry about the what is the increasingly forgotten Leeds – the increase of people seeking help from foodbanks for instance – St George’s Crypt is busier now than at the height of the Great Depression in the 1930’s and the increase of the numbers of people seeking help from advice agencies at a time when advice agencies grants and opening hours are being cut. I can’t help but wonder what they would have to say what changes they have noticed over the last twenty four years.

Morticia Maguire-Broad is a part time knitter, part time photographer, full time Peter Cushing and John Waters fan and Buns and Roses WI member

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One Response to Friday Comment: Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

  1. Tilla Brook says:

    I love this. It had me going all dewy eyed about the places we’ve lost along the way. The Peace shop on the front of the market stands out in my memory. And many of the places you’re talking about here. They are part of our collective memory of the city many of us chose to move to at some time in our adult lives – I arrived when I was in my early 30s, and knew it from childhood.

    Love the cinema references – The Odeon was a favourite, even more so The Lounge. Much missed.

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