What most people don’t realise is that the buildings that make up the Victoria Quarter are more than 100 years old. They were constructed during the early part of the 19th century to redevelop a former meat market into a more functional and productive site.
Frank Matcham from the Leeds Estates Company was behind the transformation, after he decided much better use could be made of the area. Vicar Lane had previously played host to a number of slaughterhouses, as well as fruit and vegetable stalls.
Meanwhile, the west end of what is now the County Arcade was home to a two-level bazaar, where the people of Leeds could buy everything from meat to haberdashery supplies.
Matcham was largely known for his theatre building abilities, which is reflected in the structures that make up the Victoria Quarter. During his time, Matcham designed in excess of 200 theatres throughout the country, with two of the most notable being the London Palladium and the London Coliseum. Another of his projects as the Empire Theatre, which is now home to Harvey Nichols in the Victoria Quarter.
He was keen to create an area of Leeds that showcased its wealth, and so the designs for the Victoria Quarter came to life. No expense was spared, with luxury materials such as marble, wrought iron and mahogany used to create top quality interiors.
The Victoria Quarter is still to this day known for its impressive roof. Queen Victoria Street was covered over in 1988-90 to create the newest arcade in the collection, and a glass roof was installed to protect the walkway against the elements. It runs along the length of the arcade and appeared in the Guinness Book of Records for being the biggest stained glass window in Britain, measuring at 746.9 square metres.
It became clear by the late 1980s that the area was in need of a revamp. A restoration programme was undertaken by the Prudential, which aimed to bring the arcades back in line with the vision Matcham had at the start of the 19th century.
In the present day, the Victoria Quarter arcades are protected by Grade II listed status, demonstrating just how important they are to the city. Visitors continue to marvel at the ornate décor and detail that is no longer typically seen in shopping centres throughout the UK.
Over recent years, the Victoria Quarter has been passed between various developers. International property developer Hammerson acquired the premises in 2012 and has attracted a number of big name retailers to the site.
Nearby Victoria Gate is currently undergoing an extensive redevelopment project, due to be completed by autumn 2016. This will bring yet more shoppers to the vicinity, who can already benefit from luxury retailers such as Harvey Nichols, Mulberry, Louis Vuitton and Vivienne Westwood.