There’s been a church on the site of Leeds Minster for nearly 1400 years, so we looked back at its long past…
It’s time to take a photographic tour through the illustrious and sometimes disastrous history of Leeds Minster. From its early incarnations dating back as far as Saxon England, which were troubled by fire, through to the one we know and love today, which has become one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks. It’s got quite the history, as you’ll soon find out…
What came before
Leeds Minster is built on a site that’s been used as a place of worship since as far back as the 7th century. The original lasted until 633 A.D. before a fire saw it irrevocably damaged, and its replacement suffered the same fate in the 14th century. Here is the third one that lasted until the mid-18th century.
A new church by hook and crook
In 1837, Dr Walter Hook was inducted as Vicar of Leeds and although plans were in place for a renovation of the church as it was, major structural damage was discovered soon after he took over and put paid to those plans. So Hook arranged for a complete rebuild of St Peter’s, bar for the South wall, with designs by Robert Dennis Chantrell in a Gothic imitation style.
By the people, for the people
The new church was an incredible moment for Leeds, and St Peter’s became the biggest new church built in England since Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral was constructed over 140 years before in 1697. The new church cost nearly £30,000, and was paid for by the local people of Leeds.
Uncovering the cross
The church wasn’t just focused on the new, however. When they tore the old one down, in the rubble of the tower and clerestory they found eight fragments of what is still one of Leeds’ oldest relics. The Saxon Cross dates back to between 900-950 A.D. and was taken by Cantrell before being returned to Leeds in 1876 and put back together as part of a full restoration.
A constant through change
While Leeds Minster has endured, the area around it has changed massively over the years, from the slum clearances at the turn of 20th century, through to the construction of Leeds Bus Station and Quarry Hill flats during the 1930s.
Attention to detail
Here, the inside of what was then Leeds Parish Church is seen during the 1950s and featuring the remarkable detailing of its 1830s rebuild. The windows include glass collected from parts of Europe, constructed in 1846 and kept in place by perpendicular tracery (the stonework which supports the glass) – such details set it apart. There’s a reason why it was designated a Grade I listed building just a few years later in 1963.
A school on the side
The Leeds Parish Day School opened on The Calls in 1812 next door to the church and lasted over 150 years. It was then was replaced by Chantrell House, an office and residential building that’s still there today.
A choir to sing about
Another change that Dr Hook made when he became Vicar of Leeds was to form a choir, and although Leeds has never had a resident choir school, it is the only parochial foundation to have a programme of choral services in addition to its Sunday services, as you can see here in 1989.
A deathly link to Penny Pocket Park
You’ll notice that a lot of the pathways around Leeds Minster are in fact gravestones, a common occurrence at historic church buildings. However, if you cross the road to Penny Pocket Park, you’ll see the gravestones presented in a completely different way. Due to the construction of Leeds Rail Station, a viaduct was needed to provide a track for trains to reach the station, one that would bisect the former Northern burial ground for Leeds Minster. Rather than completely destroying the graveyard, many gravestones were removed and then re-placed on the embankment of the viaduct.
A new name for the 21st Century
It had been known as St Peter’s and Leeds Parish Church since the 14th century, but 2012 saw the church’s name change permanently. It was re-christened Leeds Minster, on Sunday 2nd September, a date that also happened to be the 171st anniversary of the building’s consecration.Feature image copyright Ollievision.