1:00 AM 20th November 2021
Let’s Keep Kirkgate Relevant40 plus blogger Claire Marie
on why Kirkgate Market has a special place in her heart, and her city’s.
As a Leeds lass, I have such fond memories of Leeds Market. My sister and I would stay with both sets of grandparents in the school holidays, and back in the 80s, our family shopped the old fashioned way. We’d take the bus into Leeds from Belle Isle several times a week, which was a treat in itself. Occasionally we were allowed to sit upstairs on our own, and even though in those days it was smoky up there, it didn’t bother us. In fact it almost added to the sense of adventure.
At the market we’d buy everything from fruit and veg to meat, fish and baked goods. Some of the stallholders knew my Grandmas and would chat to them - and us - while we made our purchases. The banter at the fruit and veg stall in particular was an education in building rapport with customers while shifting product. But underpinning the sales was a very genuine interest and affection for the regulars, as well as a passion for the trade.
You can see why some members of the community depend on the market; that light-hearted interaction might be the only engagement they have all day. For some, visiting the market is so much more than a transaction; it’s a foray into a vibrant, three dimensional world that’s an antidote to the shades of loneliness.
My Grandma, Mary Wakefield, was a voracious reader, and so were we. We’d get our reading material from an indoor stall called Stringers. If you left the label on your book, you could swap it for another one, just like a library. I remember my Grandma telling me off for removing the label on one of my books. My uncle got told off too, for swapping loads of labels around as a prank.
There was an outdoor stall called Browse too, which I shopped at well into my twenties but is sadly not there anymore. In fact it was while shopping at Browse that I received a call to tell me my beautiful Grandma had passed away, which is incredibly poignant.
In my late teens, I’d meet my Grandma Kitty (her name was Catherine Kenny) for a drink at the General Elliot pub opposite the market, where some of the traders drank after work. It was a proper, unpretentious slice of Leeds and those memories are vivid and precious.
Now that my base at work is near the market and I’m tentatively getting back into the office, it’s been awesome to revisit it (the market, not the pub). I recently did a few early morning meetings in the (new?) food hall, where the wifi’s free and the independent tea and coffee stalls are great value, with taste and quality to rival any chain. And at lunchtime last week I stocked up on fruit and veg and got a takeaway (a planet-sized jacket potato with tuna salad) from one of the many cafes inside. There’s even a proper posh restaurant – The Owl - in the seafood aisle! This could not be further up my street and is definitely one I’ll be visiting asap.
Lots of local people are nostalgic about the market, and some are worried about its future. If that’s you, why not show your support by shopping there instead of one of the supermarkets? Everything’s astonishingly cheap, the lemons and limes have actual character rather than looking like identikit ping pong balls, and the sights, sounds and smells are a refreshing change from the muzak and mediocrity of big stores.
Let’s keep Kirkgate relevant. Go, even if it’s just to buy lemons for your gin or flowers for your weekend treat.
I guarantee you’ll be impressed.
Claire can be found on Facebook and Instagram at My40pluslife.me