The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Department stores

Debenhams – Leeds

Nominated by: C20
Have C20 acted upon before? yes
Region: North East
Former names: Matthias Robinson
Dates from: 1930-31
Built for: Matthias Robinson
Architect: Chorley Gribbon and Foggitt
Listed: Curtilage listed
Conservation Area: Yes

Debenhams, Leeds

Credit: Motacilla, Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)

121-126 Briggate adjoins a Grade II listed building, built as part of Frank Matcham’s County Arcade development which began in 1898 and was completed in the early 20th century. 121-126 Briggate was built in 1930-31 following the demolition of 19th-century commercial and retail buildings on the site. It was built to provide a new department store for Matthias Robinson by the noted Leeds-based architects Chorley Gribbon and Foggitt. The 5-storey building is designed in a sophisticated Art Deco style. An article in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer (2 October 1931) describes the continuous shopping arcade on the street level and the huge floors, displaying a variety of goods. Furniture, curtains and linoleums were displayed in the basement; haberdashery, perfumes, hosiery, gloves, handbags and laces were on show on the ground floor; the first floor was devoted to fabrics and was reportedly “one of the largest floor spaces devoted to fabrics anywhere in the North of England”; and on the second floor were mantles, gowns, furs, millinery, blouses, ladies’ underwear and children’s wear. The third floor was devoted to a commodious third floor restaurant and the top floor contained associated facilities. The 1931 article describes the store’s exterior in detail:

“The arrangement of the windows in a wave-like formation is an interesting modification of some of the more vigorous Continental examples, and combines an attractive modernity with dignity […] The whole of the surrounds of the shop front, embodying an imposing fascia surmounted by a moulded cornice, are carried out in black granite, a feature being the small show cases which are inserted into the pilasters. The whole of the shop fronts are carried out in extruded bronze metal with a frieze treatment of electro copper glazing.”

The store was acquired by Debenhams in 1962 and in the 1990s the interiors of the buildings (both Victorian and 1930s) were completely reconstructed. As a result of the 1990s alterations, only the 30s facades remain.

Debenhams collapsed in December 2020 and the Leeds store permanently closed in May 2021. In August 2021, Leeds City Council approved an application by Orchard Street Investment Management “for the redevelopment of the existing buildings to include rooftop extension and conversion of upper floors to student residential use with ground floor reception entrance” (reference 21/02997/LI). Last update: November 2021.

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