Site Records

Site Name: Keighley - Royal Arcade

Low Street
West Yorkshire
OS Grid Ref: SE061410

[Source: Nick Catford]

During the renovation of the Royal Arcade in Keighley, West Yorkshire in 2003, a lower level of Edwardian shops was found underground during the clearance of the basement area.

Photo:Shops can be seen on both sides of the underground walkway
Photo by Nick Catford

Until the mid 1860s, the site of the future Royal Arcade had been Devonshire Estate land in common with virtually the whole of central Keighley. William Senior’s map of 1612 shows the land extending north as a series of parallel strips from the eastern end of what was to become Low Street.  Each strip contained a substantial house with gardens fronting onto Low Street with more extensive gardens to the rear.

By the 19th century the town had expanded with the coming of local industries and commerce and the houses in Low Street had all been demolished or converted. The earliest map showing the future site of the Royal Arcade in reliable details was published between 1825 – 1838. This shows that one property had been selected and a conversion had taken place with the house forming a core building, added to and extended by various wings and attachments. The 1847 Ordnance Survey map shows the house as part of a continuous line of buildings although it retained gardens at the front and rear.

50' to 1" plan of 1850 shows the site that was later to be developed as the Royal Arcade

The land remained part of the Devonshire Estate until the middle of the 19th century when financial instability forced some land disposal by the Duke’s agents. The Low Street site seems to have been amongst the earliest to be affected and had been disposed of by 1860.

By the end of the 19th century the site was in the ownership of Turner & Fowlds who already owned a yard and showrooms on the opposite side of Low Street.

In March 1899, five months before the last phase of the land purchase was finalised, Turner & Fowlds applied to the local authority for permission to build a covered shopping arcade. While the older buildings on the site would be retained the other buildings would be demolished to make way for the new arcade.

10' to 1" plan of 1890 shows the site that was later to be developed as the Royal Arcade

The fundamental element of the plan was to provide the maximum amount of shops with shop windows fronting onto publicly accessible roads or walkways. The proposed covered arcade formed a ‘T’ plan with its entrance on Low Street. The east – west axis of the Turner & Fowlds site ran from Fleece Street to intercept the cross bar of the arcade.  To avoid confusion the north – south section of the arcade will now be referred to as the Low Street Arcade and the east – west section as the Fleece Street Arcade.

The Royal Arcade - Gott & Butterfield ironmongers, seen from the upper floor gallery

Within the roughly rectangular plot of land it was proposed to build 12 shops back to back with 6 units having windows onto Low Street and six with windows onto the Fleece Street Arcade. On both ends of this block there were further units fronting onto Fleece Street and the Low Street Arcade. On the west side of the Low Street Arcade there were to be a further five shops fronting onto the arcade. Two further shops were added at the north end of Fleece Street,

The most distinctive feature of the Royal Arcade was located at the north end of the Low Street arcade where the covered walkway terminated in a single large covered area that occupied the yard space of the earlier buildings with a suspended gallery projecting from the north, east and west. The arcade was to be built within a plot of land bounded by Low Street, the proposed Low Street arcade, Fleece Street and the proposed Fleece Street arcade. (click on picture to enlarge)

As the full depth of the shops at ground level was given over to retail sales, merchandise storage had to be provided elsewhere. For the largest shops, the solution was to provide cellar space accessed by individual flights of steps from the shops above. Below the smaller shops the space was undivided and accessible only from a door and steps in the Low Street arcade.  It is probable that this portion of the cellar was communal and may also have been available to the south range of shops in the Fleece Street arcade which appear to have been single room lock ups only. Further access to the storage cellar units was by corridors that lay below the arcade walkways.

The application was approved with some minor amendments and the complex of shops, arcade and living accommodation above was completed by 1901 and formerly known as the Royal Arcade and Crown Buildings.

For further information and pictures about the Royal Arcade click here

[Source: Nick Catford]

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Last updated: 04 01 2011
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