John Betjemen – A Poet Goes North – 1968

gnorm by Alfred Rory given to the cities where Leeds along with a lot of other nymphs by alderman harding in nineteen three of course it represents the triumph of that new and hygienic invention the electric light and when you come to a city you generally see the city square here we are in the city square of lead so there's such a lot to see in Leeds and it's so full of individuality I don't know where to start except that the skyline is very important and you can see there the Black Prince who symbolizes the cloth trade which brought prosperity to Leeds who can see him out climbed against the sky designed by Brock and skyline seems always to have mattered until just lately and leaves look at the Queens Hotel rebuilt I think in the 30s even there they've bothered to put little pavilions on the top of the building not so next door where I think British Railways has put up that extraordinary thing which blocks out all sky and has no thought for the skyline at all but see the Midland Bank next door 1890s a classical lovely curve of the corner and then see soaring up out of scale with everything around it what a relief it is to come down to the Unitarian Church 1847 nonconformists Leeds sturdy and prickly against the sky even the post office from the 1880s you see has got a bit of consideration for the skyline though it's not exactly an inspired building but when we look at Leeds I think you'll find that it's very human and individualistic and it will continue to be so provided it isn't spoiled by the now old fashioned idea of building huge slabs so as to get as much money out of the ground as possible like that brute of a thing there which only says cash and doesn't say anything else the townhall that's the place for civic pride it symbolized all the wealth and industry of the north of England and probably one of the best Victorian town halls anywhere is this one Leeds town hall it was opened in 1853 and the architects was cut but Broderick a hull man and he was only 29 years old when he designed it and he used local stone and a splendid sense of scale he had these columns here they come from Darlie Dale in Derbyshire this is York stone at my feet and those white lions they come from the South of England they were done by a sculptor called noble who went to the London Zoo and carved them out of Portland stone but the grandest exterior feature of this Town Hall is the tower Broderick's tower with its sense of outline when you see it above the old houses of leaves of course it was an awful row on the Town Council about that tower a lot of people said it was spending too much money on ornament but you know the spirit behind building this grand Town Hall while something more than just showing you were rich it was to show that in the middle of all the noise of Industry and the nuts and bolts and the Stevens smoke there was a love of the Arts and leads had always been a musical place back in the 18th century and here in the town hall they had musical festivals and the idea was that the Town Hall should draw people from all over the world and when it was built he has a quotation from ASA Briggs his essay on the opening of the Town Hall they hoped that Leeds Town Hall would attract to our town the visits of strangers delete' aunty tourists that's you and me and the lovers of Arts from distant places and that tradition of loving music has gone on in Leeds to the present day what strange scene is this here in the middle of the river air modern architecture no these sort of pyramid things are skylights which light what used to be a flex spinning mill Marshalls mill and it now lights very effectively what is a mail order service and it was built by John Marshall in 1840 and he chose the Egyptian style I think because he wanted to have a sort of temple of Industry in the meadows of the air an Egyptian temple and also because Leeds owed a lot of its prosperity to the Napoleonic Wars and there was the campaign in Egypt well that's tile with only one of the many curious tiles that leads industrialists favored in the last century look over there isn't that giotto's campanile II from Florence and you know if this sort of style was used in Leeds in the last century John Baron the clothier must have been inspired by the Arabian Nights when in 1879 he got Tom assembler to design st. Paul's house there in Park Square and come onto this roof again of Marshalls mill look at the Egyptian detail round the corner here nothing skimped look at those urns carved above the pigeon droppings and behind the mill of Marshalls you can see the earlier sort of local brick yorkshire mill that goes with children working in factories in the days before the fact reacts and then back to this amazing Leeds 19th century skyline far in the distance 20th century the versity tower then some more chimneys and one with an outline which looks to me Italian it or Romanesque and beyond that the dear old town hall and to the right of that Vincent Harris's Civic building and that is the end of the old lead skyline because to the right of it you see the Battle of the cubes just money-getting slabs built since the war with the lift machinery like parcels left on the top and that noise you sometimes hear pickaxes and falling walls his old leaves being destroyed around us Benjamin got the enlightened mill owner died in 1839 and his tomb was moved into this great Church of San Bartolome Longley which was built in 1872 and it was to be a sort of Turks dollar a be translated onto the hill but Benjamin got did not build these brick houses these leads bit back to vex and the steps of one of which I'm sitting they have their advantages and they have their disadvantages one of the disadvantages is communal sanitation no back garden the only front garden the street but you could if you lived in a house like this see your children and what was happening to them you could see your neighbors and you were part of a kind of village life of the street and now they're being destroyed in leaves very fast tongues and cities aren't just places for brand civic display there are also places to get out of the wind and the weather in and Leeds is full of alleys and down one of these alleys you'll find white clocks look at the riot of color look at those tiles and then what a rest and what a welcome this place is on a windy day when you come in from the streets white clocks I suppose in origin maybe 18th century or earlier but mostly what one sees here is Victorian and a little bit later I think wherever you look you see things have being cared for and polished and you're obviously in the north of England it's a city dining rooms with a bar mixed I mean look at that glass work like you get on a roundabout box fuels and let's treat the place like a church I mean there the stained glass and the harvest festival display above it and more than that the lettering on mirrors and the names of firms that have long since been amalgamated with other firms and then the stained glass in the windows to spend field wheat wood which is the plan of Wimbledon on the north side of Leeds and it was built in 1877 and inside here you'd think you're in a church wouldn't you this is the staircase hall above me our man's pursuits in the open air and to right and left of me there are women's work shown in the home woman's place was in the home every detail is expensive it was built for the oxley family they were bankers and really it's worth looking at the detail even here in the staircase hall no expense spared look at the browns and yellows of this inlaid wood leaves brass the suspended lamps standard gas originally there and from the woods around Leeds hand-carved plants but that's only one little bit of this amazing collection of expensive detail it's very nice to see money spent and enjoyed in this way and the architect was Carson who did the brand theater leads come downstairs and see some more the last of the Ox lives left this house in 1948 and until then gas likes and everything it was a private house full of furniture trophies of the chaise and a few books and detail everywhere which has been carefully preserved I mean look at it there Aberdeen granite here local stone here for these leaves and then a great bit of luck and foresight to the Leeds corporation gave this house over to the Water Works Department and the waterworks people being engineers appreciated what was well made and they've kept it all so you see some of their things about in it but you'll cut if you come over to here the other side of the hall you go to the ladies part which is the withdrawing room which is really unbelievable and thank goodness it's still as it was come on Duke there you are this was redesigned for the ladies as a drawing-room in 1888 by George Faulkner Armitage and I think the influence on him must have been the famous peacock room by Whistler which was down in Chelsea and he brought it a version of it here to Leeds Oriental China it was a great time for collecting that and these brackets all along the top here well for the display of Oriental China and the grandest China of all was to be in this cabinet which is part of the design and you'll notice that the leading here in the glass suggests peacock feathers and is very elaborate and you'll see again peacock coloring in these panels bold green and blue and a lot of care over detailed to how to keep dust off the books look the hinged flap but the pierced resistance of the room was the fireplace peacock feathers above it inlaid wood set in word walnut rosewood and then look at that for an hour Nouveau gas fire or pre our Nouveau and look at the half that goes with it in colored marble in this amazing room I think the only survival of course ins more robust design is the ceiling and that wonderful guest Beckett they're made of a piece of one looks like thistles in copper but you get back to the peacock room again with the stained glass along the tops of the windows oh how fashionable and marvelous it must have seemed in 1892 the ladies of Leeds when they came here and felt themselves in touch however gray and dark it was outside felt themselves in touch with Paris the world of art in Bond Street and Chelsea and if you want to see really you never it work of the same date my Armitage look at that door plate as I go out welcome the coming speed the parting guests beam carline Kel Maz brave stamp McBaine this is woodhouse cemetery where many of the richer families of Leeds were buried and in front of each of these stones at one time in another the family assembled while the house are often heading there or maybe Chapel eliten waited empty and the light streamed through the stained glass of the front door onto the tiles of the entrance hall and then the family returned and the lawyer read the will and look at that stone for the memory of a fisherman who came from the north riding and probably was born yes in the 18th century lived to a till the age of 80 in Leeds always longing for the country and getting his consolation in fishing remembering his village and the spire of the church and the birds and the fishes and there at the bottom was his fishing basket Woodhouse cemetry is in the middle of Leeds University and the University with a good deal of imagination has saved bits of the cemetery and kept groups of tombs together so that you can always remember it was a cemetery and the rest they are turning into a landscaped park thus the old Victorian Leeds gives way to the new generation that's the old Leeds and so is this Thornton's arcade sometimes it rains in Leeds sometimes you don't want to walk in a road in a smell of diesel sometimes you want the fun of the fair and here you've got it in the county arcades designed by Frank naturally a showman architect he built London's Coliseum in Leeds he rarely let himself go public clocks or a great feature of Leeds in the old city but here at sikraft it looks to me as though time is rather more computerized and the people who use this shopping center of see Croft which is a new town Leeds Corporation has built outside the city on a hill the people who use this centre instead of using the crowded markets they live a lot of them in tall blocks like that it's all done with the best intentions but if you lived in one of those flats I wonder if you wouldn't rather look back with regret but the old days when you had a back to back house and there was the communal life and the corner shops and the cobbled streets I wonder if you wouldn't feel a bit lonely it's all done with the best intentions yes but speaking personally I feel it's rather like compulsory shopping compulsory pleasure compulsory leisure compulsory art

10 thoughts on “John Betjemen – A Poet Goes North – 1968

  1. same in much of London, glasgow, Birmingham. all carved to bits. it seems that anything that is pleasing and harmless is penalised, knocked down, turned into a wine bar or 'phil collinsed in some other way. take going on a train; you can't be spontaneous. you have to book weeks in advance or pay a kings ransom. anyway, peace to you all, Iain w in glasgow x

  2. He seems to think that the purpose of old buildings was only to create beauty and not make money in the same way as modern buildings. LOL

  3. Marvelous – lived in Leeds 40 years ago and this is a loving appreciation of its best buildings and the sad devastation of most post war architecture.

  4. Many thanks, this is the first time i've seen this and it's most impressive indeed

  5. Thanks very much for making this available.  I love these atmospheric old films, especially those by Betjamin.  It takes me back to my days at the university.  I don't remember hearing a jazz version of Ilka Moor Baht 'at before!

  6. John betjeman a poet in london is a great short film by Ken Russel recounting betjemans formative years in poetry.

  7. I've been hoping to see this since I read about it in a Jonathan Meades article about 6 years ago. A treat!

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