The International Writers Magazine: Leeds
Walk by The River
year is 1888. We are soaring high above the River Aire and approaching
Leeds from the East. You would be correct in pointing out that
aviation hasn't been pioneered yet. Indeed, the Wright brothers
won't be taking to the skies for another fifteen years. So why
are we flying? I hear you cry
well, that's the easy bit.
Since we're in the literary arena, we do as we please and go where
Louis Le Prince
over to your left for a moment. That upcoming and imposing, skeletal
structure is the once phenomenal, 'Hunslet Mill'. It predates both Salt's
and Savin's mill; thus making it one of the most productive, yet earliest
textile mills of its kind in the world. However, it's already beginning
to look forlorn and tired; repercussions of the flagging wool trade,
alongside the receding cacophony of the industrial revolution have done
no favours for business in Hunslet, alas it's soon to be condemned to
a palpable decay and redundancy.
Forgive me for digressing, we are not here to discuss the industrial
complexities of the West Riding, rather we are to continue a little
further up stream to where that billowing and noxious, yet strangely
compelling dark cloud hangs in the air. That looming cloud contains
the wastes of the Joshua Tetley and Son's Brewery. Let us get closer
still. Let's travel beneath the cloud of this fine brewery to the road
and carry on past the Salem church a few feet towards Leeds Bridge.
As we stand here on the bridge, which straddles the commercially choked
river Aire, we see horse- drawn carts and their drivers taking the spoils
of the brewery into Leeds City center and eventually further afield
to the likes of Wakefield and Dewsbury. Nothing unusual in this sight;
all in a days' work after- all. Yet something strange is happening to
Something unorthodox and much- maligned is taking place nearby. Though
there is no oppressive, lurking fear, I hasten to add. Far from the
laborious duties of the brewery employees and not so far from where
we now stand is Bridge End office. If we take a closer look at one of
those upstairs windows of that building with the magnolian façade,
we can jus about see Luis 'Le' Prince and his assistant.
They are standing behind a huge camera and eagerly watching twenty years
of hard work slowly and uncertainly come into fruition. I must point
out that it is no ordinary 'stills' camera that they are operating,
rather it is a state of the art 'movie' camera. Luis 'Le' Prince is
making history over there, in the sense that he is recording the first
ever known moving photographic images and these horses, with their drivers,
whether they know it or not, are to be the first ever 'movie' stars.
'Le' Prince doesn't know it yet, but four years from now, he will go
missing on a routine train journey across his home country of France.
Academics believe that he was kidnapped by fierce rivals
make an interesting idea for a movie.
Right, without further delay, let's take back to the skies; I've one
more placer of interest to show you. We are going to journey a mere
half a mile up stream to Leeds City train station. Nothing of great
interest here, I should imagine you're thinking. But you will notice
that the river Aire disappears beneath the station and re- emerges on
the other side.
So how does it make the transition? Well, let's go and find out. As
we bank sharply to our right, we descend through the twilight haze and
skim the rivers' surface. Straight ahead of us are the four huge stone-
tunnel entrances to what is known locally as the Dark Arches. Let's
enter, shall we?
Years ago, before the erection of the rail station, this section of
the river was naturally shallow; thus it was used as a fording point.
However, the only modern day reminder of this is the medieval dam, which
still exists, in part, in one of the tunnels.
From the outside, it is instantly apparent that this network of tunnels
is a civil engineering masterpiece, but it is only when we venture inside
that we begin to appreciate the full complexity of this creation. Once
we breach the four- mouthed opening, the river water is channeled off
into a network of vaults and tunnels that amounts to no- less than ten
separate compartments. This is to manage the massive surges of water
that are known to thunder through the tunnels when the river is in spate.
If we listen carefully to the lapping waters, we can hear them sing
the song of the arches.
"Now all you young chaps take warning
And never go a- courting when you're on the spree,
And never take those ladies out of their way
Down by the dark arches under the railway."
Anything of this magnitude is going to have its infamous side and the
arches beneath Leeds train station in West Yorkshire are no exception.
This old folk song tells the story of a local man whom was lured down
to the arches by a young female, who promised to entertain him with
lobsters, oysters and brandy. On arrival, he was shocked to discover
none of the former, instead, there to meet him was the girl's burley
brothers who proceeded to beat him, rob him and strip him of his clothes.
You have been warned
Towards the end of the tunnels, just before the surge peters out and
the river regains its regular composure, there stands an iron bridge.
In the modern world, it takes you over to another network of tunnels
that houses a shopping arcade named Granary Wharf. Here it is possible
to buy anything that ranges from the remotely suspect to the down right
absurd. Take a saloon car and a fat wallet and you could well leave
with anything ranging from an authentic oriental treasure chest (don't
ask, because I don't know where the allure is in owning one of these.
Nor do I know how the authenticity of such an item can be validated),
assorted items of household furniture made from bits of salvaged agricultural
odds and sods, to thousands of various scented incense sticks and accessories.
It all comes across as a trifle ambiguous and how these merchants make
a decent living selling what they do, I don't know either. We certainly
needn't bother probe any deeper into that area, but I do believe there
is a great opportunity to pen a modern day folk song that tells the
story of the commercial horrors of the Dark Arches.
Right, as we emerge from the dark arches with a muzzy head and a bag
full of goodies, the twilight haze begins to encroach and envelop us.
There is little more for us to do here, but take off from whence we
came and reflect on how marvelous this half- mile of the river Aire
is in city center Leeds.
© Alex Clark - June '05
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