Today’s Leeds station is a historical combination of the former Wellington and Leeds New stations.
Leeds began its relationship with the railway in 1758, when parliamentary authority was granted for a wooden wagon-way to haul coal from Middleton to Leeds. In the early days of railway development, six different companies developed competing lines and different stations in and around Leeds.
A temporary station called Wellington Station was built by the Leeds and Bradford Railway in 1846.This Company became part of the much larger Midland Railway, who built a permanent Wellington Station in 1850, resting on top of arches over the River Aire on which part of Leeds Station is built to this day.
Functional in design, it had a low, three-span train shed with its station building opening onto City Square and containing refreshment rooms, waiting rooms and a booking office. To compliment its station, the Midland Railway built the first Queens Hotel in 1863.
In 1869 the London North Western and North Eastern railways jointly opened Leeds New Station. On the south side of the Midland’s Wellington Station, New Station was built at a higher level and on a wider collection of arches crossing the River Aire and with a wrought iron and masonry bridge over the Leeds and Liverpool canal basin which allowed it to have a more spacious train shed than its neighbour.
Thomas Prosser, the North Eastern Railway’s architect designed the station building and train shed, Thomas E Harrison as Consulting Engineer for the Joint Station Committee was responsible for the arches which supported the New Station, and do to this day. The vaults created a series of tunnels, each about 80 yards long, running beneath New Station and connecting with the vaults beneath Wellington, running parallel between the River Aire and the basin of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
Further side vaults, running east to west, connected many of the underground arches making a railway maze. These arches beneath the stations soon became important to local industry for storage and business premises and are still used in this way today.
After railway ‘grouping’ in 1923, and with increasing traffic through Leeds in this period, New and Wellington Stations were joined in 1939 to create Leeds City Station. Very much a station designed for its time these two stations were connected by a spacious north concourse built from modern reinforced concrete with an art deco tall panelled ceiling, square skylights, and stylish lighting pendants. It also directly connected the station with the rebuilt art deco LMS Queens Hotel.
Leeds City Station was completely rebuilt in 1967 when the nearby Leeds Central Station closed, and its services transferred to Leeds City Station. Bridges taking the railway over the Leeds and Liverpool canal were replaced, a new roof over the station was constructed and the newly created south concourse was the chief location for shops, refreshment rooms and the ticket office.
Between 1999 and 2002, Leeds City Station underwent significant rebuilding and refurbishment in a programme called Leeds First. This project brought back into action the largely abandoned Wellington side of the station, increased the number of platforms from 12 to 17 and built a new footbridge with modern escalators and lifts. The North Concourse was also restored to its former art deco glory.
Did you know?
The arches beneath New Station were named the ‘Dark Arches’ by Leeds’ Victorian residents, and the name remains in use today.