Rare journal reveals important period in Leeds history

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The Thoresby Society (The Leeds Historical Society), based at The Leeds Library in Commercial Street, has recently added another remarkable treasure to its archives.

On Wednesday, July 9, 1873 the present-day Leeds Bridge at the bottom of Briggate was opened amidst splendid celebrations. The society’s new acquisition is the beautiful maroon leather-bound souvenir album which the then Mayor of Leeds, Henry Oxley, had made for himself. It contains photographs, newspaper cuttings, and copies of the programmes and admission tickets for the occasion.

The fine new bridge replaced the medieval stone bridge which could no longer cope with the rapidly increasing volume of traffic. At 60 feet wide the new cast iron bridge was almost double the width of its predecessor.

And what an event the opening proved to be. The large procession from the Town Hall to the bridge comprised the contractors, the engineer, the borough’s treasurer, coroner, mace bearer, mayor, aldermen, councillors, clergy, JPs, and the directors of the Aire and Calder Navigation, the chairman of Leeds School Board, the chairmen of the Boards of Guardians, and many others. They were led off by the band of the 12th Royal Lancers to the time of a quick step march – a pace ‘simply “killing” to constitutions aldermanic’. Remarkably, they managed to get there and back in thirty minutes, including a ten-minute opening ceremony.

Their reward was a sumptuous lunch in the Victoria Hall – including lobster, soles in aspic, pigeon pies, capons, hams and much more. Wine also flowed aplenty as they enjoyed eleven toasts during the lunch, which was accompanied by the singing of the Leeds Harmonic Union, and the playing of the 12th Lancers’ band. How times have changed.