On a misty excitement was mounting in Birstall, Yorkshire. For some weeks the townsfolk had watched anxiously as the imposing statue of Joseph Priestley, which they had paid for, was carefully erected in the top corner of the Market Place. Now heavily shrouded, the time had come for it to be formally unveiled.
Several thousand people had gathered to witness the event. A pre-ceremony lunch for the invited guests had been lavish, and the dignitaries in their academic gowns or robes of office, weaved their way somewhat unsteadily over the cobbled stone to take their place in an enclosure around the statue.
After prayers by the Vicar of Birstall, the chief guest Sir Edward Thorpe, himself a famous scientist, was called upon to unveil the statue. Amid hearty applause, Sir Edward observed that
Priestley was not only a worthy son of Birstall but one of the many illustrious men that Yorkshire had produced.
One hundred years on, the Priestley Society and the Rotary Club of Birstall Luddites, working closely with the Council, were determined that this year should not go by without Birstall once again honouring its most famous son. An organising committee, consisting of members drawn from both societies and local councillor Liz Smaje, set to work.
First, it decided that its own tribute to Birstall as the birthplace of Priestley should take the form of a stone road sign welcoming visitors to the town. So, in July this year, with the help of many people, an impressive stone sign, hewn from a local quarry, was put in place at the entrance to Birstall by the Coach and Six traffic lights.
And at , exactly one hundred years after the unveiling of the statue, a short ceremony presided over by the Mayor of Kirklees, Cllr. David Ridgway, will be held in Birstall Market Place in front of Priestley’s statue.
The organising committee are delighted that several distinguished guests will also be present including H.M. Deputy Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire Michael Fox, local MP Mike Wood and the well-known broadcaster and local historian Adam Hart-Davis. After some welcoming words from the Mayor and Adam Hart-Davis, a floral tribute will be laid at the statute by Louise Marchal, the great- great niece of Frances Darlington, the sculptress of the Statue.
Following the statue ceremony, a buffet lunch will be held for around 100 guests at the nearby Irish Democratic League Club at 15, High Street, Birstall WF17 9ES. Guests will be entertained by an address from Adam Hart-Davis and a play written by local playwright Judith Greenwood will be performed by pupils from the Batley Grammar School.
Keith Baker, chair of the organising committee, hopes that as many people as possible from Birstall, Batley and the surrounding area will turn out for the statue celebration at in Birstall market place on the . He said that the committee very much agreed with the sentiment expressed in that,
In honouring the memory of her illustrious son, Birstall is honouring herself.