Whitelock’s Ale House first opened in 1715 as the Turk’s Head, a heritage reflected in the name of the yard in which Whitelock’s is situated – it is still called Turk’s Head Yard. At that time it would have catered particularly for merchants and market traders. The pub was especially busy on Tuesdays and Saturdays when Briggate market was thronged with people.
In 1867 the licence of the Turk’s Head was granted to John Lupton Whitelock. In the 1880s the Whitelock family purchased the pub, and in 1886 refurbished the pub, establishing the ornate decor still in place today, including the long marble and copper topped bar, tiled front, etched brewery mirrors and cast iron fireplace.
From the mid-1890s the pub became known as Whitelock’s First City Luncheon Bar and in 1897 John Lupton Whitelock installed electricity, including a revolving searchlight, at the Briggate entrance to the yard. Whitelock’s was reportedly the first building in Leeds to have electric lighting and an electric clock.
Whitelock’s was a favourite rendezvous with stage stars and it received royal approval when Prince George, later Duke of Kent, entertained a party in a curtained-off section of the restaurant. At one time a doorman made sure that men wore dinner jackets and, as women were not allowed at the bar, waiters served drinks where female customers sat.
Poet John Betjeman enjoyed the atmosphere of Whitelock’s, describing it as “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.”
Contemporary press cuttings show that it was already a pub of some note by 1930, and in 1963 the pub received Grade II Listed Building status. The pub continued to be a famous Leeds hostelry, attracting a diverse range of clientele, and was a well known watering hole for journalists from the Yorkshire Evening Post and Leeds literary greats such as Keith Waterhouse.
In 2008, Whitelock’s was honoured by the Leeds Civic Trust with the 100th iconic “blue plaque” to be hung in the city. It was unveiled by Sarah Whitelock, granddaughter of Lupton Whitelock.
The current operators took over the pub in 2012 following a period when its fortunes had foundered a little. They have worked hard to restore the pub to its rightful place as first choice among discerning pub goers, championing local breweries, food suppliers, and a wide range of events, and today the pub is once more thriving as a bustling and welcoming hostelry in the heart of Leeds.