OTLEY’S warm welcome for refugees fleeing war-torn Europe is documented in a new exhibition.

The century old collection, on display now at Leeds City Museum, paints a heart-warming picture of how Otley’s residents rallied around to help people from Belgium who were forced from their homeland by battle.

On loan from West Yorkshire Archive Service, the documents and photos form part of the museum’s exhibition entitled A City and its Welcome: Three Centuries of Migrating to Leeds.

They show how, in October, 1914 members of Otley’s local council resolved to welcome about 30 Belgian refugees - and then set up the Otley Belgian Hospitality Committee.

The council also sent leaflets out to townspeople appealing for help and quickly obtained three houses fitted out with furniture which had all been donated.

A description of the committee and its work, drafted at the time, is included in the collection and notes ‘how the terrible ravages of the enemy compelled thousands of the countrymen of gallant Belgium to leave their native land for the shores of England’.

Describing the arrival of the first refugees, who were among about 250,000 who came to the UK, it adds: “In spite of the pouring rain hundreds of people assembled at the Otley railway station to welcome the guests and after the latter had been provided with a good meal they were taken to their new homes.”

Also included in the exhibition are luggage labels and copies of the information that was given to the newly-arrived refugees, alongside lists of the many household items that were donated by Otley residents.

The tale of Otley’s Belgian immigrants is just one of an array of displays in the exhibition that explore the many cultures which are part of the heritage of modern Leeds.

Leeds City Museum’s curator of exhibitions, Ruth Martin, said: “The warm welcome which Otley gave to its Belgian refugees gives us some insight into the radically different ways public perception of immigrants and refugees has fluctuated over the years, and the contrasting challenges people travelling to Leeds have faced as they began their new life in a strange country.

“What’s certain is that the history of Leeds has been enriched by those who have come here from all across world, some fleeing famine, war or persecution and others in search of work and opportunity. Each of them has played their part in shaping the city we know and has left a lasting legacy which we can see all around us in our modern culture and communities.”

The exhibition runs until January, 2020.