Whitelocks, Leeds

Turk’s Head Yard
City Centre
Leeds
LS1 6HB
0113 245 3950

Leeds lad and Guardian columnist Martin Wainwright writing about Whitelocks, ranks it alongside the Long Bar in Shanghai’s Peace Hotel and Harry’s Bar in Venice. And Poet Laureate John Betjeman called it

…..the Leeds equivalent of Fleet Street’s Old Cheshire Cheese and far less self conscious, and does a roaring trade. It is the very heart of Leeds.

More recently beer and pub writers Boak & Bailey called it a Universally Recommended Timeless Institution and could compare it to only one other UK pub, the City Arms in Cardiff.

The pub was founded in 1715 as the Turks Head in a long narrow yard off the the main thoroughfare, Briggate. The Whitelock family bought the pub in 1880 and soon afterwards the Turks Head became ‘Whitelock’s First City Luncheon Bar’ (photo 1). Over the next few years they refurbished it with the wood panelling, tiles and mirrors that are still there today. John Lupton Whitelock, a flautist with the Hallé and the Leeds Symphony Orchestra, was landlord at the time and introduced to the pub some of the first electric lighting to be seen in Leeds. He added a revolving searchlight on Briggate to tempt customers down the alleyway, and rigged up an electrified pint glass with a sovereign inside to (literally) shock curious drinkers.

The remarkable curved bar counter has a multi-coloured tiled front with both a marble and a copper top (photo 3). The walls are wood panelled and the seating is divided into compartments separated by brass columns.  Mirrors around the walls advertise long closed breweries like Fenwicks of Sunderland and, on the external door, Joules of Stone in Staffordshire (photos 2 & 1). The stained glass is from the 1920s and the Turks Head names lives on in one of the windows (photo 4).

I grew up in Leeds and in my youth, the dining area (the Luncheon Bar) seemed very exclusive and I could only dream of eating there. When I eventually did, with a group of old school friends, we were amused to see it listed on Trip Advisor as the 148th best restaurant in Leeds! The Sunday roasts though, are supposed to be very good.

As well as John Betjeman, other famous customers included natives of Leeds like playwrights Willis Hall and Keith Waterhouse, and film actor Peter O’Toole.

For much of the late 20th century Whitelocks was run by William Younger’s Brewery of Edinburgh and was one of the few places in England to serve their delicious No. 3 ale. It has had several changes of ownership since then and it is now run by Five Points Brewery, all the way from Hackney in East London. Regular beers are usually a selection from Five Points, Taylor’s Landlord and one from Kirkstall.

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