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.
HISTORY OF THE ROYAL ARCADE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nothing has emerged in documentation to show how successful the Royal Arcade was in returning Turner and Fowlds' investment but it didn’t stay in joint ownership for long. Turner died in 1915; at that time the Royal Arcade was owned jointly with Hiram Faulds but by 1919 it was in the sole ownership of Turner’s sons Ernest and Wilfrid. As soon as they had taken control of the site, the Turner brothers began a piecemeal disposal of the property. By 1933 a large proportion of the arcade was owned by Frank Butterfield.
Butterfield had been a partner in Gott & Butterfield’s iron mongers who had been tenants at the arcade since at least 1919. Their shop was once described as an ‘Aladdin’s cave’ selling household goods, bicycles and camping equipment and the whole arcade was popularly known as ‘Butterfield’s Arcade’.
Frank Butterfield Ltd. continued to run the arcade but by the 1980s the business was in decline and the arcade was in a very poor condition and it finally closed in 1987. Although some of the flats above the shops remained in occupation for some years after that, the arcade was largely derelict for 12 years until it was acquired by Kingfisher Developments in 1999. They proposed renovating the Grade II listed building to its former Edwardian splendour.
During the early stages of this renovation a clearance programme was undertaken including the cellars which by that time were almost completely full of rubbish. It was at that time that the true nature of the cellars was discovered for the first time.
Once the cellars had been partially cleared it became apparent that there was a complete lower level arcade of shops below ground along both sides of an underground ‘street’. Some of the shops still have their glass windows intact, together with front doors, letterboxes and door numbers.
A number of enamel advertising signs were also found indicating that the shops were probably used from an early date, perhaps even from the opening of the Royal Arcade and Crown Buildings in 1901.
The accessible shops and cellars run around three sides of the plot of land bounded by Low Street, Fleece Street and the Royal Arcade. The original pedestrian entrances to the arcade was down stone steps in Hanover Street and to the rear of Fleece Street but these stairs have now been sealed and the only access to the underground area is down a flight of wooden steps at the rear of the Royal Arcade and a flight of stone steps from an open yard in the middle of the site, this was originally the end of a short cart track used for deliveries to the shops.
Originally most of the cellars had wooden stairs up to the shops above; most of these have now gone although there is still access from one or two of the shops. The arcade was lit by ‘pavement lights’ set into the pedestrian walkways and streets but these have all now been covered over and the cellars are in darkness.
Once the restoration of the arcade had been completed it was officially reopened as by Keighley historian Ian Dewhirst on 27th June 2003. The arcade consists of nine shops on the ground floor and 23 flats on upper floors and it quickly had 100 per cent occupancy.
There are no immediate plans to open the lower level of Edwardian shops to the public on a regular basis although part of the site has been made safe with occasional public open days. Seven of the shops can be viewed and this area now has low level lighting. A further five shops have yet to be cleared and as yet there is no public access to this area.
The main entrance for the public tours is down the wooden steps at the rear of the Royal Arcade. This opens onto the communal cellar area described above. At the end of this area there is a steel door leading through to the arcade. Adjacent to the door there is a bread oven set into the wall. Once through the door there is one shop on the right hand side then the walkway turns to the left through 90 degrees with a further three shops on the left and three on the right. Beyond this there is a wooden door leading to steps up to the yard and a further five shops that have not yet been cleared.
A large enamel sign has been used to block one of the windows, it says ‘Use Hart batteries for motor car electric lighting and starting’. There is also a large advertising hoarding for ‘Butterfield Iron Mongers and Tool Specialists’.
- ‘Structural Perspective’ - An archaeological report on the Low Street site
- Frank Brook - Kingfisher Development