As far as we can figure out, Bank Holidays have absolutely nothing to do with banks. The explanation given, with a smile and a shrug, is "it's just a holiday". The sky was a brilliant blue, with a few fluffy white clouds and not much breeze; spring is here, we decided. We took the train to Leeds to walk Towers and carvings about the center city on one of its holidays.
The Industrial Revolution got its start in England, led by the Midlands cities of Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield. Leeds today is like a typical eastern American city, filled with big, solid stone commercial edifices, with heavily ornamented towers and turrets and carvings. Leaving the railroad station we crossed to the city square, with statues of James Watt and Joseph Priestley, along with a larger statue of a mounted, more forgettable seventeenth-century nobleman.
Just as the old eastern American cities have had to fight back against decay and suburban flight, Leeds is struggling to remain viable. It has chosen a rather unique approach -- approximately half of the twenty block downtown area has been completely converted to shopping centers. The only one Gorgeous fountain which was closed for the bank holiday was the enclosed central market, which looked like fun, with open stalls set in a huge covered Victorian building. We strolled from one center to another, through several beautiful arcades, and were somewhat surprised that we saw no duplication of stores. All the major British chains and megastores were represented, along with a number of local one-of-a-kind shops. Many of the connecting streets have been converted to pedestrian zones, with benches and gardening. And most of the stores were open for business - no bank holiday for them!
As we gradually ascended the hill away from the station the stores and shoppers became more upscale. But we still observed a middle aged woman suddenly stop, bend over, and pick up a cigarette pack from the floor. Examining it and finding it empty, she threw it down again. OK, we thought, not quite so upscale. As usual, the most successful stops appeal to the young -- HMV, Virgin Megastore, and uncountable sellers of fashions for girls and young A beautiful arcade women. Beautifully dressed dolls were selling for 5 to 15 pounds, while stuffed animals of the same size, representing much less creative artistry, fetched 20 to 75 pounds. Go figure!
Partway through the walk a rain squall whipped through; we saw umbrellas unfurled in the streets but by the time we finished touring the current center it had stopped again. We took some photos of the lovely interior architecture of one of the arcades, with vaulted glass ceilings, gaily painted ironwork, mosaic artwork and ornamented balconies and bridges. A display case in one arcade featured a wonderfully complicated Golfing-Machine designed by the former Punch cartoonist, Emmett.
We found the Municipal building, notable for the dazzling gilded statues of owls in front of the entrances and on the rooftops. The square had been completely revamped for the Millenium, but we were the only people walking around. The municipal employees, of course, were on Bank Holiday, while the rest Gilt owl at the museum of the world was shopping.
Some teenagers on bicycles had found another city plaza to practice their stunts. We watched wide eyed as they twitched their bikes from the plaza pavement up on top of the surrounding walls, balanced on a rear wheel, turned and bounced down again. Nearby was a Henry Moore bronze sculpture, Reclining nude No. 91, outside the Leeds City Art Gallery and its neighbor, the Henry Moore Institute. Both of these were closed for the Bank Holiday, too bad.
We visited the newest Hard Rock Cafe in England, and talked to the manager who had moved over from Manchester. We wanted to buy a specialized Leeds t-shirt for a collector friend, but he told us they wouldn't have one for several months yet. It seems they had a hard time coming up with a design. He said, "I mean, Leeds, what's it stand for?" A good question, we thought, and boarded the train back to York.