Off then to Leeds, to introduce the great Liverpool film ‘Of Time and the City.’ And to look at a good few glass rooves.
At Leeds I’m met by Phil Kirby of The Culture Vulture. Introduced by our mutual friend Rob Greenland who tells me ‘Phil knows Leeds like you know Liverpool.’ He’s also what some call ‘an urban walker’ too.
We’ll eventually walk out to here, the lovely Hyde Park Picture House for the film showing. But first, time for a walk around the city centre. I’m not a complete stranger to Leeds. But I haven’t had time for a good walk round the middle for many years. And things have been happening.
People responsible for the Eden Project in Cornwall created it. And this BBC film calls it ‘iconic.’ We stare up at it remarking that time and public opinion are the ones to call a thing iconic, not its developers.
Turns out it’s supposed to be a roll of carpet, representing the textile heritage of Leeds. Even worse public sculpture is to come.
My fingers just can’t be bothered copy typing a load of Greek and Roman Mythology out here, but, briefly, this goddess of variously war, wisdom and – see what she’s carrying – spinning, weaving and needle-work, gets upset when mere mortal Ariadne gets better at textiles than her. So she challenges her and smashes up all of her equipment. Eventually getting celebrated for this with her statue in front of this corporate temple.
And bearing an uncanny resemblance to somewhere close to home.
Last mention of Liverpool for a while, honest. The inspiration for Trinity’s roof?
All’s not entirely well in this lovely place though. I remember it as a bustling, friendly place. Full of food, clothes and a bit goth, a bit hippy. Not now. There’s apparently been a determined attempt to push it up market and many former tenants have been eased out to create a large café space on the ground floor. Which is now empty.
All flagged up for the World Cup, this is Kirkgate Market. The largest covered market in Europe and as fine a glass roof as we’ve seen, even today.
They began here in 1894 and I express how touched and surprised I am that they’re still here. Phil slaps me round the chops with a handy wet fish (he doesn’t really) and snaps that they only reappeared a year or two back. Pure ‘Heritage’.
Next to Kirkgate developments are underway which have been threatening to take up some of its space.
‘Popular with locals’ Phil tells me. Will the new places not be for the likes of them?
Empty for years and a memory of when the post war Socialist government (bless their memory) briefly nationalised Britain’s haulage industry. A final bit of shopping? Not that either of us has done any so far.
This has apparently had a rough time in recent years, but through investment and confidence is now being positioned as a key part of an emerging ‘Northern Quarter.’
And it’s quiet, the day after a bank holiday. The independent shops and cafés here are getting ready to close.
But we can’t stop as we’re soon due at the cinema. So it’s through the University and across Hyde Park.
Introducing the film, I talk about Liverpool, of course I do:
- About how, when I first saw ‘Of time And the City’ I wanted to make my own version of it;
- The eventual result of that being this blog;
- About growing up here a generation younger that film maker Terence Davies. But still in a rationed Liverpool very slow to recover from the war;
- Where in fact the last bomb sites weren’t built on ’til Liverpool One just a few years ago;
- And how I constantly walk around Liverpool now to see and feel how it’s doing;
- The importance of walking around a city to understand it;
- And how it’s doing relatively well now compared to previous decades;
- But it’s still a city, so always in movement, never in a perfect state;
- Still with a tendency to destroy things – HMRI, Great Homer Street market;
- And a weakness for handing over land to corporate developers;
- But how we all love it, openly and passionately. I think I talked about this more than anything.
Then we watch the film. And afterwards we talk about Liverpool and Leeds:
- About how, on the whole, the Capital of Culture was good for Liverpool, if not for everywhere in Liverpool. A party after years of near failure;
- About how graphically the film illustrated the desperation of having to live in most of what got built in the 60s and 70s;
- How similar it all looked to growing up in Leeds;
- People say they like how I say ‘we’ whenever I mention Liverpool;
- I’m pleased with this, I hadn’t realised I do;
- But for me Liverpool is as much a community of people as it is a place;
- And we talk about Leeds being a Capital of Culture;
- Of whether Leeds could have an ‘Of Time and the City’ for itself;
- A personal statement, warts and all, unhindered by sponsors, that dramatically illustrates and inspires about Leeds.
A splendid time, it seems, is had by all. In the morning I walk again, alone this time.
Because my partner Sarah runs a blog that’s attempting to catalogue all of them. Someone’s got to.
Nearby I find an independent record shop on The Headrow, Crash Records. I support them in the most meaningful way possible by buying an LP. A lovely shop and they tell me about two others, Jumbo and Relics. But by now the rain is sheeting down, so I’ll come back another day for a longer look around.
Before catching the train though I meet my friend Rob Greenland for a cup of tea. He asks me about how the film show went and about my initial impressions of Leeds. And it’s only at this point I decide I’ll definitely do this post. Though I’ve been taking all these photographs I’ve been in no way certain that such a short visit would really entitle me to have any opinions. But if you came to Liverpool for a day I’d be interested to see where you went and what you thought.
So I offer this gently to the people of Leeds. A great city, a lovely place. But like my own place, joyously imperfect.
Closing thoughts? It is a faster place than Liverpool. Feels like too many cars. And the inner ring road is definitely a problem for the places just on the other side of it. And though it’s not a huge city centre it feels like there are already enough shops. Possibly more than enough. So yet another shopping centre, even if it does contain a John Lewis, might end up damaging the businesses you already have.
But I loved my time in Leeds and will definitely be back for a longer explore. These are mere first impressions.
Big thanks to Phil and Emma at The Culture Vulture and everyone at Leeds Society of Architects for inviting me and looking after me. Come and walk round Liverpool with me any time you like. Our cities are too similar to not learn from each other. And you can actually view the whole of ‘Of time and the City’ online. But it won’t look as splendid as it did in the Hyde Park Picture House.
And more about why I was invited to Leeds in the first place here.