THIS year’s Platinum Jubilee is the first in our history. Back in 1897 we had our first-ever Diamond Jubilee for Queen Victoria, the current monarch’s great-great-grandmother, and then our longest reigning monarch. Yet, despite little obvious interest in the royal family, Bradford celebrated the 1897 Jubilee in a most unusual way.

Although Queen Elizabeth II in her long reign has made five official visits (1954, 1974, 1997, 2007 and 2012). Bradford previously did not enjoy much of a tradition of links with royalty.

There were two royal visits by the Prince of Wales - the first (later, King Edward VII) in 1882 to open the Bradford Technical College and the second (later, King George V) in 1904 to open the Bradford Exhibition in Lister Park and to unveil Queen Victoria’s memorial statue in Morley Street outside the Bradford Alhambra.

However, it was not until May 1917 before a reigning monarch (King George V) visited Bradford and, even then, it was part of a three-day whistle-stop wartime tour of the West Riding. The first peacetime visit to Bradford was not until 1937 when the next monarch (King George VI) appeared as part of the post-abdication coronation visit.

The Diamond Jubilee in 1897 was officially celebrated in Bradford with a commemorative medal from Bradford Corporation, designed by famous Bradford jeweller Fattorinis and showing the heads of the Queen and the city’s mayor. However, unofficially something else stole the attention.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Commemorative medal designed by Fattorinis Commemorative medal designed by Fattorinis

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Queen Victoria's statue overlooks Bradford Queen Victoria's statue overlooks Bradford

The 1890s were the early years in the history of the moving image that led to film and TV. One of the pioneers of what became cinematography was Bradfordian Richard Appleton who on June 22, 1897 showed the country’s first-ever same-day newsreel to an astonished Bradford audience. The subject was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee procession earlier that day in London. It was a bold initiative and everything went to plan.

The Bradford Daily Argus put up the money for today’s publicity stunt in its circulation war with bitter rival, the Bradford Daily Telegraph. Richard Appleton (1857-1946) accepted the challenge, travelled down to London in the morning, filmed the Diamond Jubilee procession and brought back a newsreel for an open-air public screening in Bradford in the evening, repeated the rest of the week. This had never been done before in Britain. At the final showing in Forster Square an estimated 10,000 spectators are reported to have seen the newsreel.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Forster Square, where an estimated 10,000 people turned out to watch the Jubilee footage Forster Square, where an estimated 10,000 people turned out to watch the Jubilee footage

Appleton, son of Thomas Appleton, a prominent Bradford photographer, took over his father’s business in the 1890s and soon became interested in the developing art of cinematography. He had already produced his own ‘magic lantern’ for showing slides before creating in 1896 the cieroscope. This device combined the three functions of camera, printer, and projector. At the Mechanics’ Institute in December that year, he had demonstrated how the new device presented what were called ‘living pictures’. He also started to hire out his services for filming events.

When Appleton reached London, he placed his new film camera in a position where the state procession leaving St Paul’s Cathedral could be photographed. As soon as the event was recorded, he returned to St. Pancras Station. Here, the Midland Railway had equipped a special coach as a dark-room, called the Bradford Daily Argus Photo Laboratory.

On the way back to Bradford‘s Midland Station (now known as Forster Square Station), laboratory technicians worked hard to develop thousands of animated negatives. It was not easy to dry out the images, but the job was done by the time they arrived home. The finished job was projected onto sheets hanging from the Bradford Daily Argus building.

The newspaper had the last word: ‘To effect this ambitious scheme, 19th century photography, as represented by the noted Bradford firm of R J Appleton and Co, was summoned to the journalistic enterprise, and this combination of progressive forces achieved a veritable triumph of scientific research’. The only disappointment is that the film itself was lost.

Appleton himself did not pursue his early interest in film-making, being diverted into the related field of X-rays. He did, however, leave his mark on the history of film-making in this country. The event also laid the foundation for Bradford’s reputation in film-making that over a century later in 2009 led to the city being nominated the first UNESCO City of Film in the world, symbolised by the National Science and Media Museum, just across the road from the Queen Victoria memorial.

Source: Movie Makers And Picture Palaces: A Century of Cinema in Bradford 1896-1996, GJ Mellor (1997)

* Martin Greenwood’s book Every Day Bradford provides a story for each day of the year about people, places and events from Bradford’s history. It is available from almost all online stores and bookshops including Waterstones and Salts Mill.