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Leeds. “The city is present”
After weeks of research I’ve just found this. Maybe because it’s 4 years old, but shouldn’t it be more visible?
Does cinema know that?
27th Leeds International Film Festival is over, from several weeks by now. (And how many cinemas did we see? Not so many, but only from the buses. Even if I really would like to go to the Hyde Park Picture House to try the real English cinema experience.)
Anyway, my recent visit to the Industrial museum at Armley Mills has reminded me some pieces of information that I’ve been collecting in these weeks and put in an drawer in my mind called “Leeds+cinema”.
Which the results? Don’t know yet, precisely. But I discovered some legends about Leeds and her love for cinema (I know i’ve said “her” although I’m not sure Leeds is a lady yet).
Right now there are a bridge, two owls and a plaque on that bridge related to Louis Le Prince. And here started the story. The true story of the invention of moving images that we’ve lost when he disappeared from a train to Paris.
It seems that in 1887, at that time neither American Thomas Edison or the French Lumière brothers had begun their own research into moving pictures, Louis built 16-lens camera at 160 Woodhouse lane and a year later he created his first films, recording some scenes on the Leeds Bridge.
But then? Why nobody seem to know Le Prince?
He was in Dijon at his brother and he wanted to come back to Leeds, where he was hiding his discoveries from industrial American spies, to finally patent his new camera. Something went wrong and Le Prince was never seen again alive or dead. So Thomas Edison got the credit for the birth of cinema when he demonstrated his projecting Kinetoscope in 1894, six years after Le Prince projected his film of Leeds Bridge.
But there’s even more. In fact Leeds contribution to cinema could started even earlier with the Donisthorpe Wordsworth. Son of a mill engineering, probably inspired by his father’s invention, he seems to have recorder the world’s first moving image, decades earlier than Lumiere Brother. Even with music.
But he was considered a nutter and nobody believed to his fantasy about making picture moving.
These are very weird and nebulous stories but what is sure is the large numbers of old cinemas that Leeds holds, that still shape her identity and landscape. And also the fervent atmosphere of the industrial Leeds that was the perfect laboratory for new ideas and for turning passions and fantasies into inventions.
Saturday afternoon. I’m waiting for the bus, right outside the Armley Mills museum I’ve just been in, and a middle age English women arrived. Very Yorkshire, very difficult to understand for me. She told me she was at the museum too, she was at the Saturday’s knitting group, from 1 to 4 pm, I confessed that I’m not able to knit, “You should come darling, we will teach you!” (I’m getting used to all that “sweety” and “honey”). But she didn’t know who she was talking to.
Know how. Inventions. Improvements.
The museum tells the story of Leeds in the last three centuries showing sewing machines, water mills, locomotives, clocks and printers. All togethers. Actually for a visitors it’s quite a mess but a fil rouge still exists.
The first section of the museum holds the textile and tailoring galleries, that tell the history of the industrial revolution that started from the textile manufacturer sectors and in Leeds this basically means wool. You can see changing and improvements of working techniques and machines from big water wheels to Singer sewing machines. And that what I was expecting. But then I came across a room full of perfectly working clocks (I was almost freaking out with that tic-tac noise) from the William Potts & Sons Limited, that was a major British manufacturer of public clocks, based in Leeds. And then I went ahed in a big room with: printers, monopoly games, projector and old cameras.
So I discovered that some of these old printers are by the John Waddington Ltd, which started life printing posters for the theatre around 1900 and then diversified into games and packaging, for example: Monopoly. Leeds was once home to some of the best known printing companies and most skilled printing engineers in Britain.
And that’s not all. In the big areas reserved to cinema (in which a old cinema hall has also been recreated) among big projectors, magic lanterns and a zoetrope with running horses, I discovered a deep link between Leeds, the art of capturing moving images and the mysterious disappearance of a certain Louis Le Prince, but maybe it will deserve a special post.
And go forward. The museum is quite dark and a bit disorganized but it seems to be never-ending! There’ s also an outside section with more machines, more engines and a chimney, because in 1788 Armley Mills was turned into the world’s largest woollen mill by Colonel Thomas Lloyd, a Leeds cloth merchant.
I went away quite confused, wondering that I should come back in a sunnier day for a better visit of the outside but while I was on the bus with the “knitting lady” I imagined the 18th-19th centuries Leeds, smoky, foggy, with chimneys and factories everywhere, with people in the roads struggling again hard work conditions… but it should have been also so vibrant and full of inventions and engineering experimentations, a place of practice and improvements. A place where things were made. A place of know how.
Is that the Leeds heritage? And how is that linked with the today Leeds?
“Throughout its history, the secret of Leeds’ success has been its outstanding ability to introduce new industry and adapt older ones when patterns of demand have changed and new opportunities have arisen.”
Burt and Grady, 1994, The illustrated history of Leeds, Breedon Books.
“It’s a great place to see tacky, rapacious capital butted up against proper Victorian architecture.”
Vanalyne Green, Professor of Fine Art, University of Leeds.