diamond geezer event: North of England Caucus (this year, Leeds - meet by the Black Prince statue in City Square, 10am)
The annual North of England readership meet-up took place yesterday in the city of Leeds. The weather was overcast but with a couple of outbreaks of low sunshine to brighten the mood. A splendid time was had by all.
As the clock on the Old Post Office ticked towards ten o'clock, those gathered in City Square made themselves known to the organiser and were crossed off on the official attendance list. Though outnumbered by the pigeons roosting on the Black Prince's plinth, the meeting was deemed quorate, and the business of the day got underway.
Members were very keen to visit Leeds Art Gallery and enjoy its collection of national importance. Renowned works by William Holman Hunt and Barbara Hepworth are amongst the many treasures inside the listed Victorian building. Unfortunately the gallery is closed for roof repairs and will not be reopening before October. The Tiled Hall Cafe is magnificent, but it was felt to be too early in the day for a coffee stop, so the party moved on.
St John the Evangelist's is the oldest church in Leeds, dating to just before the Civil War, and has been highly praised by Pevsner. Made redundant in 1975, its marvellous interior is now in the hands of the Churches Conservation Trust. Unfortunately it was closed on arrival, and members were not willing to wait around for a couple of hours before the nice volunteers opened it up.
The ruins of KirkstallAbbey lies three miles from the city centre along the Aire Valley, and have previously been blogged. All eyes were therefore on the neighbouring Abbey House Museum, with its famous recreation of a Victorian street. Alas the museum is currently closed for a fortnight for the replacement of a fire alarm, so we did not attend.
A highlight of the day's activities was to be a ride on the MiddletonRailway, the world's oldest continuously working public railway. In 1812 Matthew Murray designed and put into operation the very first successful commercial steam locomotive, operated by the world's first professional train driver. Although the colliery has long since closed, volunteers run regular passenger services on the mile-long line at weekends... except in the winter months.
It was not possible to visit Lumiere, the tallest residential skyscraper in Western Europe, because this was cancelled in 2008. A subsequent replacement was also cancelled, and the intended 14 storey office block has not yet materialised, so the tour enjoyed looking at the car park on the levelled site instead.
HarewoodHouse is a magnificent country mansion, now almost 250 years old, on the outskirts of the city. Still home to the Lascelles family, outdoor shots for ITV soap opera Emmerdale are filmed in a purpose-built 'village' on the estate. Tours of the house and grounds are available, but the place doesn't reopen for another ten weeks, so it wasn't worth going there either.
By now the group had built up quite an appetite, so lunch was taken in KirkgateMarket. This is the largest covered market in Europe, and site of the original Penny Bazaar that gave birth to Marks and Spencer. A recreation of the groundbreaking stall exists in the gorgeously ornate 1904 hall, and sells souvenirs and confectionery.
Preferring something a little more substantial than a packet of Percy Pigs, delegates descended on Crawshaws in Butchers Row and picked up a Large Leeds Pork Pie for just £2. This culinary behemoth consists of a disc of finely chopped meat, one inch thick and almost three inches in diameter, surrounded by a moist pastry case and topped off with a layer of mushy peas. "With or without mint sauce?" asked the lady behind the counter, and on discovering it was the former, duly double wrapped the confection to prevent leakage.
The pie proved somewhat of a challenge to eat, not least because the acidic mint leaves got everywhere and stuck to the fingers, but also because that really is a lot of pork. Nevertheless at least half of the pie was consumed, including all of the vegetable topping, and next time a regular £1 pie would surely suffice. Londoners really do pay over the odds for their baked goods, although maybe their arteries are less congealed.
Members of the tour party with other commitments then took their leave. It really had been a marvellous morning, they agreed, and many interesting places had been almost seen. Readers of diamond geezer are urged to keep a close watch on the Facebook group for further communal events.
If this trip to Leeds has whetted your appetite for a visit, Ian has details of a special Virgin East Coast rail offer with half price tickets (for the period 30 January - 31 March) available from 10am tomorrow morning. London delegates at yesterday's meet-up paid only £5 each way for their train tickets, thanks to a similar (but even better) offer a couple of months ago.