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 topped bar, etched mirrors and glass.
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 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.”
It was already a pub of some note by 1930, and the pub received a Grade II listing in 1963. 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 plaque reads: Occupying a medieval Briggate burgage plot, it was first licensed as the Turk’s Head in 1715. Rebuilt by the Whitelock family in the 1880s, it later extended into the row of Georgian working men’s cottages. John Betjeman described it as ‘the very heart of Leeds’.