The Leeds Cloth Halls were exchanges or markets for trading woollen cloth that was woven in towns and villages in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Wool was the source of much of Leeds’ wealth in the 18th century. Six cloth halls have been built in Leeds since 1711 and the remains of two survive. Four were for white cloth, one for mixed or coloured cloth and one for cloth made by unapprenticed clothiers.[a]Clothiers, from the Middle English clother, are people who make or sell cloth.
Leeds became the market for mixed and coloured broad cloth, produced not only in Leeds, but also in the Aire Valley in Baildon and Guiseley and the area around Batley, Dewsbury and Morley. White cloth (undyed broad cloth) was produced in Idle, Shipley, Kirkheaton and the Spen Valley. Thousands of clothiers, assisted by family members working in their own cottages, could produce one cloth per week.
The earliest cloth market was held twice weekly in Briggate from trestles with boards laid across them that lined the street. On Tuesdays and Saturdays after the market bell was rung, the clothiers sold their wares to merchants who walked up and down the street, and the trade was completed in about an hour. After Wakefield built its Tammy HallFormer piece or cloth hall, a specialist market for selling worsted cloth. Paid for by subscription, the hall opened in 1778. in 1710, Leeds merchants lobbied Lord Irwin of Temple Newsam for a hall in Kirkgate.
The White Cloth Hall was built by 1711. It had a U-shaped plan, the open side facing the street. Rooms for the clothiers, who had to have served a seven-year apprenticeship before they could sell their wares in the hall, were built on arches above the quadrangular court. Ralph Thoresby, a merchant clothier and Leeds historian, described the building as “a stately hall, built on pillars on arches in the form of an exchange, with a quadrangular court within”. Cossins’ map of 1725 suggests the main facade faced south and two lanes, either side of a large tenterground linked it with warehouses, dyehouses and wharves on The Calls. When it fell out of use, the hall, set back from Kirkgate, became an alehouse and shops. Two houses were built across the courtyard and its two arms were converted to houses by James Boyne in the early 19th century.
The hall has Grade II* listed status. Nikolaus Pevsner described it as “an important survival”, but the remnants of the hall are in a much altered and dilapidated state. Permission to restore the hall were approved in 2018. Work started in 2019 and archaeologists were commissioned to survey the ground and uncover the buildings history. Timbers from the roof were discovered to be older than the building.
As trade expanded larger premises were required, and a second hall, paid for by the clothiers, was built to the south of the River Aire in Meadow Lane in 1756. The three-storey Second White Cloth Hall was 70 yards (64 m) long and 10 yards (9 m).
The producers of mixed or coloured cloth had remained in Briggate but, they too wanted better facilities and built their Coloured Cloth Hall at the end of Boar Lane on what is now City Square and Infirmary Street in 1756–1767. The hall was U-shaped in plan, 127 yards (116 m) long and 66 yards (60 m) wide. The clothiers each paid £2 10 shillings which entitled them to one of the 1770 stalls. Inside, stalls arranged in rows allowed trading to continue as it had done in the street. The hall was demolished in 1890 for the creation of City Square.
A Third White Cloth Hall, parts of which remain, was erected by the clothiers in 1770. It was built around a quadrangle with Assembly Rooms at its northern end. Two parts of the third hall survive from when the North Eastern Railway’s viaduct was constructed in 1865. The Grade II* listed entrance gateway has been converted shops and on its roof is the cupola from second hall housing the bell from previous hall. The hall’s north wing, separated from the gateway by Assembly Street, has an arcaded lower storey. The upper storey containing the Assembly Rooms had a reception room and ballroom with plaster decoration and Palladian style windows. It is also Grade II* listed.
The railway company provided a Fourth White Cloth Hall as compensation in King Street in 1868. As merchants were by then dealing directly with producers, the fourth hall lasted only until 1895. Its cupola was reused on the Metropole Hotel on King Street.
In 1793 the “Irregulars” or Tom Paine Hall was built in Albion Street for clothiers who had not served an apprenticeship.
- Cloth Halls from Leodis