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The famous Kirkgate Market on Vicar Lane, in the centre of Leeds, is one of the largest indoor markets in Europe. With hundreds of market stalls filled with fresh foods, cosmetics, clothing, music and knick-knacks, the market is a lively destination in the heart of Leeds. Locals come here to buy groceries, enjoy a cup of coffee or chat with the fishmonger.
The market was first held in 1822 at Briggate, one of Leeds’ large wide shopping streets. After years of searching for a suitable location, the market finally found a permanent home in 1857 on the corner of Vicar Lane and Kirkgate. With 35 indoor stores and 44 outdoor stalls, the market immediately made a name for itself. In 1884, this is where Michael Marks opened his Penny Bazar, the little shop that would later become the world-famous chain Marks & Spencer. Today there is still a ‘heritage stall’ of the M&S chain, among hundreds of other colourful shops including Jamie Oliver's Ministry of Food.
The success of the market was largely due to Mr Tilney, the Borough Commissioner at the time. In 1850, he had big plans for the market, envisioning a hall with international appeal, where vendors and shoppers from across the UK would gather. Inspired by the original Crystal Palace built in London's Hyde Park, the market soon became the great pride of Leeds. And it still is today, thanks to innovative contributions by architects and developers. In 1891-1895, a domed glass roof was built to connect the old building to the new section. In 1894, a refrigerated area was completed in order to process fresh fish, and in 1899 a meat market and abattoir were added.
In 1975 a fire destroyed most of the steel and glass building. There were no casualties, but merchants had to watch their hard-earned businesses go up in flames. Fortunately, the front section from 1904 and the landmark glass roof were spared, and after a few days of hard work the market reopened its doors to the public. The original vaulted structure, the stones and pinnacles at the entrance have been restored.
The market continues to be a landmark monument. The impressive Edwardian building is now on the list of 'special architecture of historic interest'. It has a Grade 1 listed building status, which the United Kingdom gives only to buildings of extraordinary historic importance.