If you’re anything like us, you’ll be savouring this first taste of freedom after what felt like an eternity of being house-bound; enjoying the trips that are just a little bit further out, and making the most of the spaces we have missed so dearly.
We believe that lockdown, for many of us, has instilled within us a newly-found appreciation for some of the venues and spaces we regularly visited before the pandemic; stopping to take in our surroundings and appreciating what they mean not only to ourselves, but everyone around us that we share them with.
One of the ways we can do this is by discovering what our much-loved Leeds venues were before they were just that! And so, here we have given you a guided tour to learn the history of Leeds’ buildings, discovering their former purposes.
We can’t think of a better way to do this tour than to do it by bus; using First bus’ aptly named ‘Taste of Freedom’ ticket, which lets you and 4 others enjoy unlimited travel across Leeds for the whole day, you can spend the weekend discovering Leeds’ past with your family and friends. Check out the First Taste of Freedom ticket here!
(We’d recommend sitting on the top deck to get the full view of all of Leeds’ beautiful buildings whilst you’re at it!)
So without further ado, let the tour commence!
Old Red Bus Station
Unlike many repurposed buildings, The Old Red Bus Station pays homage in its name to its former life as… you guessed it, the old Leeds Central Bus Station. This original bus station was opened in August 1938 on Vicar Lane; built at the same time and in the same distinguishable style as the Quarry Hill flats, creating what would soon become a back-drop for the opening credits of the Yorkshire TV sitcom, ‘Queenie’s Castle’.
In 1990, Leeds Central Bus Station was closed, and the buses of Leeds were re-homed to the newer and larger bus station on York Street, leaving the original building on Vicar Lane unused, and a whole lot quieter. That is until 2016, when the latest cultural food and drink venue, The Old Red Bus Station, decided to set-up shop in the building, ready to begin a whole new journey of its own.
The bar, music venue and vegan eatery that is the Old Red Bus Station, was created by ‘Champion Up North’, a Leeds based creative agency, magazine and event promoter. The team at Champion Up North saw huge potential in the building and chose it as their venue of choice for creating a thriving hub to showcase Leeds’ culture and creativity.
Rather fittingly, just in front of the Old Red Bus Station, is the Vicar Lane bus stop (U7). So whether you’re a bus fanatic or not, we think this is a pretty good reason to hop on the bus and take a trip down memory lane.
104 Vicar Ln, Leeds LS2 7NL
Bus stop: Vicar Lane (U7)
Located in Leeds’ buzzing Northern Quarter, Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen has been a vibrant bar, eatery and music venue for as long as most of us can remember. Many love Belgrave for its relaxed and spacious atmosphere, thanks to its tall ceilings, wide rooms and large windows, which many would believe has been purposefully built with a laid-back bar in mind. However, the building which houses Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen was originally established as Leeds Children’s Palace in 1934, a 3-storey recreation hall and nursery school created to provide childcare support for the working families of Leeds.
The nursery closed in the mid-century, leaving the building empty for many years, until 2013 when it was restored by two Leeds-based music promoters, Simon Stevens and Ash Kollakowski, who have created what is now one of the most popular bars in Leeds.
Cross Belgrave St, Leeds LS2 8JP
Bus stop: Vicar Lane (L)
Hyde Park Book Club
Considering the somewhat unconventional shape, size, and structure of Hyde Park Book Club, it may come as no surprise to learn that this multifaceted venue, which has over the years become a cultural hub in Hyde Park, was once a much less charming petrol station.
Established in 2015, Jack Simpson, owner of Hyde Park Book Club transformed what would have been a fairly lifeless shell of a building into what is now known as one of the cosiest venues in Leeds. Quickly after opening its doors, Hyde Park Book Club quickly established itself as a loveable, quirky, off-beat and eclectic cafe which was destined to be a hit amongst the young people of Leeds.
Now, a successful combination of cafe, bar, events venue and plant shop, Hyde Park Book Club have held regular small-scale music festivals, magazine launch parties, jazz evenings, and plenty more. You could say that the venue is now a million miles away from the petrol station it once was!
27-29 Headingley Lane, Headingley, Leeds LS6 1BL
Bus stop: Cumberland Road
Cottage Road Cinema
Cottage Road Cinema, which lies hidden on Cottage Road just off the main stretch of Otley Road, is argued to be one of the oldest cinemas in the country, having been continuously showing films since 1912.
This independent cinema was formerly known as ‘The Headingley Picture House’, and was not originally purpose-built, and instead, the building began life as a motor garage and motor assembly shop for the nearby Castle Grove, a Victorian Mansion built for a wealthy Leeds silk merchant, in far Headingley.
During the 1900’s, a Leeds local named Owen Brooks took over the garage from the previous owner, and as well as his interest in the vehicles, Owen was also a pioneering film-lover and cameraman; short news films which Owen made were shown at the Tivoli Theatre in Leeds.
In 1912, Owen Brooks partnered with friend Reginald Smith and together the pair converted the building into the ‘Headingley Picture House’ which ran successfully until Reginald died in 1922. The picture house was then sold to Frank T Thompson (of Golden Acre Park fame) in 1937, but was sold again after only a year to Associated Tower Cinemas, who changed the interior, adding a balcony, and changed the name to Cottage Road Cinema.
The company invested in the small cinema, spending a further £20,000 in modernising the premises in 1972, after a decision was made to continue its use as a cinema. The Lounge and Cottage Road Cinemas continued to cooperate successfully until 2005, when the Lounge Cinema closed. Cottage Road Cinema almost suffered the same fate until a last minute deal was made, and the cinema was then taken over by Mr Charles Morris, making it part of the Northern Morris group.
Since becoming part of the Northern Morris Group the cinema has introduced a special classic film night every 6 weeks. “Classics at the Cottage” has almost become a tradition where patrons can watch the classics in the fitting environment. Recent classic films have included: Cabaret, Casablanca, Some Like It Hot, The Godfather, Breakfast At Tiffany’s & Top Hat.
Cottage Road Cinema, Cottage Rd, Leeds LS6 4DD
Bus stop: Weetwood Lane, Otley Road
Channel 4 Majestic
Leeds’ notorious Majestic building has resided on City Square since it was originally built in the early 1920s as a cinema, during a boom in the construction of picture houses and a widespread newly found love of motion picture. Hundreds of people would gather for screenings at the Majestic, many of which were often accompanied by the Majestic Symphony Orchestra. The premises also included a restaurant and a dance hall, where afternoon tea dances and evening dance classes were held. After a long and successful stint as a picture house and dance hall, it later closed in 1969 and was used as a bingo hall before reopening as the Majestyk nightclub in 1996 and later closing in 2006.
The Majestic building stood empty for many years until a fire broke out in 2014, destroying almost all of the building’s original interior features. After many years of redevelopment by Rushbond, the Majestic building is soon to reopen as the new Channel 4 HQ, as well as a new office space for Knights Plc Solicitors.