Tuesday, June 2, 2020


Small-scale Leeds (2): Doing the office proud

This building not far from the gigantic town hall in Leeds is grand, but not gigantic, and compared to its more famous neighbour, it’s on a small scale. It’s the sort of thing that still survives here and there in Britain’s large cities: a compact office block in the Gothic style. For Leeds, it has a special significance because it is said to be the first dedicated block of office chambers in the city. It was built in the late 1860s and housed the offices of Charles Fowler, a Leeds surveyor who also acted as architect on some buildings. He may well have designed this one.

It is not an unusual building for the 1860s: Gothic in style, red brick with stone dressings, and quite ornate. Its triple lancet sash windows have slender stone shafts that hold up stone arches. The windows on the ground floor also sit above a stretch of wall that’s stone and decorated with quatrefoils. These are more quatrefoils in the stretch of parapet at the top of the building between the two gables.

But the really striking feature is the doorway. This is pointed, with a cinquefoil inner arch and two pairs of shafts. Around the main arch run several bands of carved ornament – a mixture of dogtooth and stylised leaves. All this is the kind of thing seen on medieval Gothic arches too, but the difference is the band containing the name, Britannia Buildings. You would not normally see such a name panel on a medieval structure, and if there were an inscription it would certainly not use the very Victorian letterform that features here, with its fancy capitals – very rounded Bs, a curly G, and an I with extra ornament halfway up.* With such a bold architectural statement, we can have no doubt where we are. 

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* It’s worth clicking on the photograph to enlarge it.


Hels said...

I would not have liked neo Gothic architecture in the 1860s, but I understand that classical Regency architecture had run out of popularity. The refined elegance of fluted Greek columns and moulded cornices were replaced by red bricks, triple lancet sash windows arched doorways.

Michelle Ann said...

Its interesting that the modern office block next door pays some tribute to it.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

A very satisfying building. I notice the lower buildings to the left of it - they can't be a lot older, surely? Survivors of the old two-storey Leeds before it began to build upwards?

bob said...

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