Leeds Bridge is that cast iron crossing south of the city centre straddling a scenic spot on the River Aire looking out to surrounding flats and distant skies. It’s an attractively understated installation, perhaps reflecting the city itself, both literally in the water below, and symbolically in its unassuming excellence.
Indeed, so little does Leeds Bridge shout about itself that one can quite easily cross it without noticing, simply continuing along the path to or from Lower Briggate. Recently, there has only been the option to travel out, as refurbishment works were carried out throughout last year to lay reinforced concrete and repair the original ironwork. Completed and reopened fully in January, the revival keeps the bridge’s original charm and enhances its existing practicality.
Back in 1873, when the current structure was built, the reasons were mostly functional. There had been bridges here for centuries past, since at latest the 14th and possibly earlier, as a thoroughfare to busy community street Briggate. These were gradually widened to allow for the increasing traffic, until the Grade II listed version that we use today was designed. Whilst the initial bridges here were the first to cross this part of the river, by the time this one was created there were others in place elsewhere, though Leeds Bridge remains the most important as a connection to both the physical city and its backstory.
Perhaps the most unexpected of these stories, and the location’s claim to fame, is one which has been strangely unknown by most until recent years, that of Louis Le Prince. For it is he who created the first moving picture right here in 1888, of Traffic Crossing Leeds Bridge. The invention of motion picture has widely been credited to Thomas Edison, despite his film appearing a few years later. Louis Le Prince mysteriously vanished in between his and Edison’s creations, and with his body never discovered since, the reasons for his disappearance, and whether it has any link to this, remain unsolved. Only now is the reality of the earliest moving picture gaining more recognition, although it is still rarely acknowledged outside of this city, which commemorates it with a blue plaque on this very site.
Now Louis’ legacy lives on, if only accidentally, by the many modern day cameras that are used to capture the photogenic images that the view from Leeds Bridge presents. Venues take advantage of this setting too, notably cafe Riveresque using its riverside position to tempt passers-by in for coffees and lunches and back out to their scenic patio. The Adelphi pub is also favourably stood on the corner of Leeds Bridge, and though it doesn’t quite overlook the river, offers a terrific experience, whether inside the Victorian alehouse, or out the front watching the world go by on the bridge.
One such passer-by, beneath the cars and pedestrians, is the Leeds water taxi. These two cute yellow boats, affectionately named Twee and Drie, run every 15 minutes between Leeds Dock and Granary Wharf, passing under Leeds Bridge along the way. They offer a £1 bargain ride for a leisurely, novelty and efficient way to travel this part of town. It all feels fitting and in keeping with this unique and essential piece of Leeds.