One of Leeds city centre's outstanding features is the spectacular group of shopping arcades built at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Even into the present century the buildings of the centre of Leeds have reflected the developing taste and changing habits of generations of shoppers. Eight arcades were built in Leeds up to 1900 and four survive intact. Although the covered shopping arcadeGlossary Term was fashionable with the aristocracy in the 18th century (for examples London's Burlington ArcadeGlossary Term) it was the expansion of the wealth of the Victorian middle class in England's major cities that prompted its popularity in the 19th century.
They began in Leeds in the 1870s when the old commercial centre Briggate had become packed with tenements and shops. In response to the wealthy middle classes' demand for luxury goods Charles Thornton developed a prime site at the junction of the Headrow and Briggate in the 1870s, which offered not only a place where shoppers could promenade under cover but also a theatre. Indeed the relationship between theatres and arcades has always been closeGlossary Term and as we will see many architects who specialised in theatre design easily turned their hand to arcades, with flamboyantGlossary Term results.