The Old and New at The Tetley


THE NEW look ‘The Tetley’ contemporary gallery in Leeds might not be everyone’s cup of tea – modern art, like a poor pint, can leave some feeling a little flat. But it deserves every success nonetheless.

A great amount of effort has gone into making this magnificent former home of Tetley’s famous brewery and brand – known through Leeds, the North and the UK, if not the world - a place where contemporary art can sparkle.

Aside from the diverse exhibits, perhaps the key attraction is the building, which a bit like Tetley’s Bitter itself, exudes a confident 1930s industrial bravado.

A manly looking place with a gruff yet palatial style for Yorkshire folk who knew they drank the best beer – and in God’s own county at that.

The sort of place that, were the Lord to choose a pint, when resting on the Eighth Day, he would fashion with no nonsense grit and grandeur – then mop his brow and settle back with a knotted handkerchief on his head and overlook His creation from some divine deckchair.

Perhaps the star of the architecture and the new look place, right at the heart of the building, is the industrial lift (now sadly not working) which has all the black and gold stolidity and sliding criss-cross meshing that one might hope to find in a brewery from the age of art deco.

The sort of lift door, which a bit like an expensive car door, clunks closed with an assured weight.  Nothing namby pamby about this place.

The boardroom, surrounded by gilt framed paintings of the great and the good of Tetley’s and Leeds, has all the sombre panelled intensity of a bank; the boardroom table is surrounded by leather backed chairs – what else? There’s a specific gravity here.

The late Leo McKern would not have looked out of place at the head of such, in suit, watch fob, and waistcoat, sampling the latest brew, perhaps, brought upstairs by some overalled brew manager with a palate more finely tuned than a hummingbird.

The staircase which winds around the lift leads to floors which still have brass nameplates on such; my companion and I weren’t sure if these were relics from the past or the names of present incumbents in the new look gallery, but one can only imagine the chatter and industry which would have gone on behind these doors – and perhaps the celebrations when a new brew formula was hit upon, ceremoniously elevated up in some large industrial pipette perhaps, with a mixture of pomp and gravitas.

Aside the upstairs rooms now are the main galleries – many of the rooms and offices have been tastefully converted; the stark contrast between new and old might not work for some, but for others, it could equally prove refreshing.

Downstairs, there is a stylish modern bar and dining area close to the old main entrance with courteous waiting staff and bar managers; one pleasantly frothy member of staff we spoke to had an unusual mix of an Arkansas accent blended with the occasional flat Yorkshire vowel, inherited from living in the Broad Acres for about a decade.

And perhaps the fermentation of the old and new all-round will prove to be the secret of The Tetley’s future success.

Stepping out of the great industrial beery behemoth, one is immediately struck by the modern day surrounds in Leeds – towering modern hotels, huge high-rise apartments and other hallmarks of the 21st C lined like a youthful wall abutting close by to this Depression-era old timer.

Perhaps The Tetley, a little like modern Leeds, will come to represent that rare thing – a physical metonym for the old and new at the old heart of the city.

Or indeed, perhaps this new look building will be a little like your very first pint – a little unusual  on your first sampling, but an absolute pleasure for years to come.


  • The Tetley family's links with the beer industry go back to the 1740s when William Tetley was described as a maltster in Armley, near Leeds. His son William expanded the business, which in turn was passed to his son Joshua.
  • In 1822, Joshua leased a brewery in Salem Place, Hunslet for £400. Joshua Tetley and Son was created in 1839 when Joshua made his son, Francis William, a partner.
  • Construction of a new brewery began in 1852.
  • Joshua died in 1859, leaving the business to Francis, who took on his brother in law, Charles Ryder, as a partner.
  • By 1860 Tetley was the largest brewery in the North of England and by 1864 Joshua Tetley and Son were starting an ambitious building scheme.
  • Although Tetley’s mostly brewed mild throughout the nineteenth century, it also began to brew pale ale, which was gaining in popularity. By 1875, annual beer production had reached 171,500 barrels.
  • Tetley bought its first two public houses in 1890. Only one physically remains today, The Fleece in Farsley, Leeds, although now under a new guise. The other, the Duke William, which was in Tetley’s yard, was demolished by Carlsberg in 2002.
  • In July 1897, the company became a public limited company valued at £572,848, and used the funding to launch a bottling operation.
  • In 1931, the art deco Tetley headquarters building was erected.
  • In 1954, the Gilmour Brewery of Sheffield was acquired in a friendly takeover, along with 500 tied houses.
  • Tetley's position as Leeds' largest brewer was confirmed in April 1960 when it announced a takeover of Leeds' Melbourne Brewery.
  • The takeover was a friendly one, and Melbourne had approached Tetley about the merger.
  • Later in 1960 they merged with Walkers of Warrington to form Tetley Walker. Tetley Walker owned over one thousand tied houses in Yorkshire alone and a further two thousand outside the county.
  • In 1961 Tetley merged with Ind Coope and Ansells to form Allied Breweries, then the world's largest brewing conglomerate.
  • During the 1960s the brewery employed over a thousand workers.
  • By the 1970s half of Leeds' pubs were owned by Tetley. During the 1970s Tetley's was Britain's largest cask ale brewery, producing 1 million barrels a year.
  • The Leeds Brewery was closed in 2011, and demolished in 2012, with production contracted out by Carlsberg to breweries in Wolverhampton, Tadcaster and Hartlepool. Tetley retains its links to Leeds through sponsorship of its two main rugby teams Leeds Rhinos and Leeds Carnegie.
  • The headquarters building is now the home to contemporary art and learning and represents an exciting mix of the old and the new .
  • The refurbishment of the building has been supported by Carlsberg UK who have worked with Chetwoods Architects and Arup to redevelop the headquarters into a fit-for-purpose, publicly accessible building.
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