There are numerous bridges and river crossings in Leeds. However, there is only one referred to, affectionately, as “Leeds Bridge”.
There has been a river crossing in some shape of form here since the middle ages. The first improvements on the bridge began in the 1700s, with the bridge you see today having been built out of cast iron in the early 1870s. At that time, the Brooklyn bridge was being constructed, the 15th amendment to the United States constitution allowing African Americans the right to vote was passed, and Charles Dickens died. Indeed, despite being the main thoroughfare in and out of Leeds for centuries, it has held its own iconic moments in history.
In 1888, the “Father of Cinematography”, Louis Le Prince, shot what is considered to be the world’s earliest moving pictures from the bridge. Many attribute Thomas Edison to the invention of moving pictures, but it was Le Prince who shot the first moving pictures on paper film using a single lens camera. However, whilst travelling to the US to exhibit his work, Le Prince mysteriously disappeared.
The scene shot from the bridge on that day in 1888 shows a familiar scene to any commuters today. It is filled with people crossing the bridge whilst enjoying a smoke, wares being brought in and out of the city, children towing behind their parents, and the opportunist pedestrian taking their chance at crossing the road. The only difference, at a glance, is that horse power has been replaced with engine power. Despite that, Leeds Bridge still serves the same purpose today as it did when it was originally built, many bridges ago.
Thank you to Craig Lewis from Leeds Civic Trust, who kindly contributed this article.
The Leeds Civic Trust Historic Plaque, marking where Louis Le Prince filmed the world's first moving pictures