Leeds, Leeds Star
An image from the time of the Leeds Gas Riots
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Object of the week- policeman’s sword used in Leeds Gas Riots

This fearsome-looking curved sword was once wielded by a local police officer during the infamous Leeds Gas Riots.

The sword, currently on display at Kirkstall’s Abbey House Museum, is believed to originally date from around 1850 and belonged to a member of the Leeds City Police, who were responsible for policing Leeds from 1836 until 1974.

The unknown officer was deployed during the violent Gas Riots, which happened around the New Wortley Railway Bridge on Wellington Road in July 1890.

The incident was sparked by the Gasworkers’ strike, which had started the previous month when the Gas Committee of Leeds Corporation tried to enforce a reduction in the working hours of staff during the summer months.

Trade unionists, led by Tom Maguire, tried to physically prevent blackleg workers from entering the gasworks and, on July 1, 260 blacklegs, accompanied by the mayor and other civic dignitaries, made their way towards the New Wortley gasworks guarded by more than 500 police officers.

At the railway arch in Wellington Road several thousand angry workers hurled missiles from the bridge and railway embankment.

The Leeds Express reported at the time: “The bridges were crowded with men… and they massed piles of missiles. As they came within range, the fire was directed with simply terrific force on them. The scene that ensued simply defies description, bricks, stones, clinkers, iron belts, sticks etc. were hurled into the air to fall… upon and amongst the blacklegs and their escort.”

Among those injured was Thomas R. Harding, a magistrate and owner of Tower Works in Holbeck, whose son had just moved into Abbey House.

The strike was eventually resolved in favour of the gas workers.

The sword feature sin Abbey House’s Crime and Punishment exhibition, which explores the history of law and order in Leeds and the rest of the UK from the 1650s to today.

Councillor Brian Selby, Leeds City Council’s lead member for museums and galleries said:

“It’s hard for us today to picture what the Gas Riots must have been like at the time and how the tensions of the day erupted in such a way.

“But fortunately, objects like this sword can help give us a fascinating insight into these types of historic incidents and give us a chance to learn how they contributed to making our city what it is today.”

Crime and Punishment is at Abbey House until December 31.

For more details, please visit: www.leeds.gov.uk/museumsandgalleries

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