In the first of a new series, we recommend how best to spend time in the suburbs of Leeds
Everyone knows about Meanwood, Chapel Allerton and Headingley. Don’t get me wrong – I love them all for very different reasons. But Leeds is not a city of three suburbs – in fact, it has 33, and I truly believe that each one has its own personality and so much to offer with it. Just scratch beneath the surface and there be diamonds.
Granted, some diamonds are rougher than others, but diversity is at the heart of what makes Leeds so brilliant. So, I’ve decided to write about one Leeds suburb per month: a bit of history and culture as well as things to do, places to eat and drink and, of course, how to get there (in case you don’t know).
I’m starting with Armley; a suburb that’s so close to the city centre and yet so often, sometimes cruelly, overlooked by people and politics alike. It wasn’t always so. In fact, rewind 230 years and Armley was extremely important to Leeds’ economy, as Armley Mills was the largest woollen mill in the world.
HISTORY & CULTURE
Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that the Leeds Industrial Museum that now occupies the site is my first port of call. Wool is so central to the history of Leeds that the museum feels like a story of the city itself when you visit it. Take a look at the massive looms and learn about a time when Leeds was supplying businesses all over the world via the canal, which runs alongside the mill.
The museum isn’t the only thing for the history buffs in Armley though. As you walk up Canal Road from the museum, you’re greeted by the iconic sight of Armley Methodist Chapel - or Mike’s Carpets, to pretty much everyone in Leeds. In fact, if it’s carpets or furniture you’re after, Armley is the place to be and has been for years. Whether it’s the Feel Good Furniture Shop or the absolutely incredible nooks and crannies of Retroland on the Scotch Park Trading Estate, there are deals and gems to be found all over.
FOOD & SHOPPING
Once you walk up Branch Road past Mike’s Carpets (or MC carpets, as it’s now called), you’re in the heart of Armley. But if you’re hungry, then Florence Café is a great place to stop and get a proper fry-up - spam fritters and all. As an Italian joint, they also do a banging homemade lasagne as well as enough coffee to sustain you for days - or for a trip down Town Street.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a street with more charity shops and pawnshops on it. BHF and Cancer Research UK both have large shops there, where you can get some great bargains while supporting good causes. And if you walk up just a bit further, Skeltons butchers has been going for well over half a century - for good reason. There’s also a large Polish community in Armley, so if you know your kielbasa from your oscypek, check out the Armley food centre (Polski Sklep) for some delicious Polish treats.
Unfortunately, I can’t really recommend the pubs in the area. The suburb has a long-standing problem with violence on Town Street, which means you’re probably better off elsewhere on a Friday night. But back down near the gyratory, you’ll find Wilde Child brewery, which hosts regular tap room events. And further up the bypass, opposite the prison, Armley Links is fast becoming home to some of the city’s most exciting young talents in the food and drink industry, with Anthology Brew Co already in situ and rumours of a new Porterhouse Cake Company site next door in the New Year.
When you factor in Raynville Superstore further towards Bramley – one of the country’s largest craft beer stockists, with over 800 different beers as well as an excellent selection of wines, spirits and coffee - Armley is now playing an important role in the identity of modern Leeds too.
Before I sign off, there’s time to mention a few other things to do in Armley. Armley & Gotts parks don’t just offer fantastic sloping views over to Headingley; they’re also home to the dreaded ‘killer’ steps; a 161-step challenge that sees hundreds of people turn out on a Saturday morning to feel the burn. And if that isn’t enough exercise for you, Implexus gym, run by two ex-Rhinos coaches, is well worth a visit too.
If you prefer mental exercise to physical, you could always pop down to Escape Reality and challenge yourself and your friends to solve the puzzles and get out in under 60 minutes.
There’s something for everyone in Armley – and this is true of all the suburbs in Leeds. So, why not check it out for a change? You won’t be disappointed.
You can get to Armley in 10-15 minutes on the 16/16a bus from Boar Lane, or the 14/X14 on Park Row
Leeds Industrial Museum, Canal Road, Leeds, LS12 2QF (open Tues-Sun; adults £3.60, concessions £2.90, children £1.80)
MC Carpets, 2, Branch Road LS12 3AQ (open daily)
Feel Good Furniture, 44-46 Canal Road LS12 2PL (open Mon-Sat)
Retroland, Scotch Park Trading Estate, Forge Lane (variable opening hours)
Florence Café, 18a Branch Road LS12 3AQ (open daily)
BHF, 32 Town Street LS12 3AB (open daily)
Cancer Research UK, 39 Town Street LS12 1UX (open Mon-Sat)
Skeltons, 89 Town Street LS12 3HD (open Mon-Sat)
Armley Polski Sklep, 30 Town Street LS12 3AB (open daily)
Wilde Child, Unit 5, Armley Road LS12 2DR (check events)
Anthology Brewery Company, Unit 6, Armley Link, Armley Road LS12 2QN (check events)
Raynville Superstore, 14-16 Raynville Road LS12 2TF (open daily)
Armley ‘Killer’ Steps, Armley Park, Nr. Armley Lodge Road LS12 2AT
Implexus Gym, Carlton Mills, 9b Pickering Street LS12 2QG (open daily; various prices)
Escape Reality, 164 Armley Road LS12 2TY (open daily; prices from £16 per player)