Kirkgate Market

What happened?

Leeds Markets were hit by a combination of incendiary and high explosive bombs at around 1.45am.

One bomb destroyed a brick air raid shelter and warden’s post outside the market, killing six civilians and two Air Raid Wardens. This was the greatest single loss of life during the raid – but was not fully reported at the time.

Another bomb caused a fire in the main market building. The Yorkshire Post reported that Mr H.F. Pearce (who managed the nearby Union Street Baths) saw the damage and helped to run hoses that ‘pumped water from the swimming baths to tackle the market fire’ (‘Leeds Town Hall Hit in Raid’, 1941, p. 4). He was helped by stallholders and their families.

Part of the market was closed on Saturday 15 March, but the damage was quickly repaired and the building opened fully on Monday 17 March.

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The busy Kirkgate Market in the 1930s
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The busy Kirkgate Market in the 1930s
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The busy Kirkgate Market in the 1930s
Painting of Kirkgate market in 1930s
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Painting of Kirkgate market in 1930s
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Painting of Kirkgate market in 1930s
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“There was next to no panic” (Fraser, 1980, p. 442)

Bomb damage at Kirkgate Market

Kikgate Market The damage to the roof of the indoor market

How did the damage affect morale?

The Kirkgate market had opened in 1857 and was the largest of its kind in Europe. It was a source of real civic pride and an important part of the city’s social fabric (‘History of Kirkgate Market’, n.d). The attack could therefore be expected to have weakened morale, but it is “hard to detect any shifts” (Fraser, 1980, p. 441) in morale at a local level.

The attack on the market also gave newspapers an opportunity to show how the people of Leeds had come together to protect themselves. By focusing on Mr Peace’s actions, the Yorkshire Post presented the Leeds Blitz as a sign of strong morale rather than an attack that had undermined it. This approach echoed the city’s Civil Defence leaders, who concluded their special report on the raid by praising the citizens of Leeds ‘for their courage and fortitude’ (Civil Defence Emergency Committee, 1941, p. 12).

After the war, Leeds markets were improved through a £55,000 scheme to create more space and create new stalls (Kirkgate Market, n.d.). The market has recently undergone another re-development. Next time you happen to be in Leeds, it is worth visiting to remember the deep history rooted within such buildings.

Kirkgate market after the war

Kirkgate Market The now quiet market in 1947