Dr Hook's Missing Churches

The vanishing legacy of Victorian church architecture in Leeds

Edward Green


Bronze statue of Dr Walter Farquhar Hook (1903)
  Memorial statue to Dr Hook in City Square, Leeds (Photo: Andrew F Cannon)

Designed by Cuthbert Brodrick, Leeds Town Hall confidently stands, epitomising mid-Victorian civic pride, arguably the definitive example of a provincial Victorian municipal building. At its official opening by Queen Victoria in 1858, the procession was led by Dr Walter Farquhar Hook, then Vicar of Leeds. He was in the last few months of his incumbency as vicar. Over the previous 20 years he had made a significant impact on the heritage of the rapidly expanding town, being directly responsible for the construction of over 20 new churches. The 20th century witnessed the destruction of over half of Hook’s churches and others from the Victorian era. This article outlines the history behind the creation of so many new Anglican churches and describes some of the fatalities and a couple of the survivors.

Dr Hook, the son of a Canon of Winchester Cathedral, came to Leeds in 1837, the same year Queen Victoria ascended the throne. Not long after his arrival, Hook realised that the town’s ancient parish church did not make sufficient provision for the town centre’s population. There was an acute lack of seating and much of it was subject to pew rent. The ancient parish church had been altered and extended on an ad hoc basis over the centuries and it was thought that it could be extended yet again. However, Hook was a High Anglican and he disliked the 14th century building so much that he commissioned Robert Chantrell to design a new and much larger church, better suited to his favoured style of worship. Construction was completed in 1841 and it was consecrated in early September of that year by the Bishop of Ripon. With seating accommodation for over 1,600 worshippers, this huge edifice remains a familiar landmark today, and it is still the only parish church in England to hold daily sung services.

Having dealt with the inadequacies of the former parish church, Hook turned his attention to the structure of the parish itself. The Church of England was handicapped by its antiquated parochial system which was unsuited to the needs of mid-19th century Leeds. Industrial expansion, particularly of the woollen, flax and engineering industries drew in labour and the population of the town rocketed. By the time Hook came to Leeds, the old parish had a population of 150,000 people. Over the next 30 years the population of the town was to increase by a further 100,000.

Leeds was an ancient, large unwieldy parish supported by 16 ‘chapelries’, each with its own church in the perpetual curacy of Leeds parish church, and two further churches at Kirkstall and Woodhouse. Those wanting to be married at one of the chapelries were required to pay two sets of fees, one to the curate, the other to the vicar of Leeds. Not surprisingly, parishioners were unwilling or unable to pay twice, so those in the chapelries chose solely to use the parish church. As the same rule also applied to funerals, the parish became increasingly over-burdened, placing more pressure on the vicar.

Hook realised that modernisation of this archaic parochial system was long overdue. Reform was desperately needed. It came in the form of a bill drafted by Hook, introduced into parliament, which sought to give the chapelries jurisdiction over their own affairs. The bill faced stiff opposition from Nonconformists whose position would be weakened by a leaner, better organised and more efficient Established Church in the town.

B/w illustration of the exterior and environs of St Philip’s Church, Wellington Street, Leeds in 1845
  St Philip’s Church, Wellington Street, 1845 (from an old engraving) (Photo: Leodis)

The bill received Royal Assent in August 1844 and The Leeds Vicarage Act streamlined the structure of the Church of England in the town. The ancient parish was now divided into 21 new parishes. Under its provisions:

  • perpetual curacies formerly attached to the Leeds parish church were given independence
  • pew rent was abolished from ground floor pews of all Leeds churches
  • provision was made to build a parsonage in each independent parish
  • fees formerly paid to the vicar of Leeds were now to be paid to the respective incumbent of each new parish.

For Dr Hook, this last stipulation was the downside of the Act, as it cut his stipend by about a third. Each new parish could now charge fees for conducting baptisms, weddings and funerals – fees which had previously been paid to him as vicar of the ancient parish.

The Act paved the way for the construction of several new churches in Leeds, advancing the revival of Anglicanism within the town. Four Commissioners’ churches had already been built in Leeds during the 1820s, three under the auspices of the first parliamentary grant: Christ Church, Meadow Lane (RD Chantrell, 1823-5); St Mark’s, Woodhouse (Atkinson & Sharp, 1823-5); and St Mary’s, Quarry Hill (T Taylor, 1823-5). The fourth church, St Matthew’s, Holbeck (RD Chantrell, 1829-30) was paid for under the second grant.

Of these four churches, Christ Church was demolished in 1972 and St Mary’s was replaced with a modern church later in that decade. St Mark’s is redundant. St Matthew’s, Holbeck in Town Gate is now used as a community centre. It was deconsecrated in 1981, but its churchyard is well-known by railway enthusiasts as it is the final resting place of Matthew Murray, a steam locomotive pioneer who was transporting coal by rail at Hunslet Moor two decades before Stephenson’s Rocket.

The 1840s and ’50s saw nine further Commissioners’ churches constructed in the town:

  • All Saints’, York Road (Mallinson & Healey, 1845-50)
  • St Andrew’s, Cavendish Street (Scott & Moffatt, 1843-4)
  • St Barnabas’, Brewery Field (JT Fairbank, 1854-5)
  • St John the Baptist’s, New Wortley (Jeremiah Dobson, 1852)
  • St Jude’s, Hunslett (Burleigh & Boyce, 1852-3)
  • St Matthew’s, Camp Road, Little London (CW Burleigh, 1850-1)
  • St Michael’s, Buslingthorpe (RD Chantrell, 1852-4)
  • St Philip’s, Wellington Street, Bean Ing (CW Burleigh, 1845-7)
  • St Stephen’s, Burmantofts (RD Chantrell, 1853-4)
  B/w photograph of the exterior of St Michael’s Church, Buslingthorpe Lane, Leeds
  St Michael’s Church, Buslingthorpe Lane (Photo: Leodis)
  B/w photograph of the interior of All Saints’ Church, York Road, Leeds
  All Saints’ Church, York Road (Photo: Leodis)

Two typical examples from this group of Leeds churches are St Philip’s and All Saints’. Situated at the junction of Kirkstall and Wellington Road, capital for St Philip’s was provided by the wealthy industrialist Gott family. Benjamin Gott operated the mill which stood across the street from the church in Wellington Road. Designed by Robert Chantrell, the same architect responsible for Leeds parish church, St Philip’s was demolished in about 1931 [see addendum]. Its site is now part of a major road into the city centre.

All Saints’, York Road, Richmond Hill was designed by Bradford architects James Mallinson and Thomas Healey, and its foundation stone was laid in October 1846 by Dr Hook. It took its name from its date of consecration, All Saints’ Day (1 November) 1850. The parish originally served 7,000 people, mostly from nearby back-to-back houses then common in Leeds. Even though the topography of the area was radically altered during a massive post-war slum clearance programme, the church itself survived until 1980. All Saints, doubtless too large for the modern congregation and expensive to heat and maintain, was replaced by a new church. The new, single-storey edifice can at best and most kindly be described as ‘practical’ and resembles a village hall more than it does an ecclesiastical building.

One of the greatest losses among the Commissioners’ churches was perhaps St Andrew’s, Cavendish Street (1844) as its designer was Sir George Gilbert Scott.

Not all the churches of Hook’s day were paid for by the Commissioners. One example is St Saviour’s, Richmond Hill, consecrated in 1845. This exquisite building was paid for by Dr Pusey partly to commemorate his wife who had died in 1839. Hook had written to Pusey for help two years before, stating that 'We do most sadly want churches here. For two or three thousand pounds we could build a handsome one'.

Leodis is a photographic archive of Leeds from the 19th century to the present day. The website is managed by Leeds Library and Information Service and contains photographs from the collections housed in the Local Studies library as well as images from collections held by its partners: West Yorkshire Archive Service, Leeds Museums and Galleries, Leeds Civic Trust and the Thoresby Society. Visitors to the site take a trip down memory lane and see the city as it used to be, they can also take a virtual guided tour or create their own album online with their favourite photographs. All images on the site can be sent as webcards and most are available to order. The site also allows users to add their own personal comments to individual photographs helping keep the history of Leeds alive. Visit www.leodis.org and view over 45,000 images. For further information about Leodis please contact: localstudies@leedslearning.net.

Dr Hook left Leeds in 1859 to become Dean of Chichester, where he died on 20 October 1875. His obituary in the Leeds Times, celebrates his achievements, claiming that Hook had come to Leeds at a time when the Church of England was ‘half dead’, and that during his 20-year incumbency as Vicar of Leeds, he had been responsible for the construction of 21 new churches, 27 schools and 23 parsonages. Many years later, local industrialist TW Harding paid for the commissioning of a life-size bronze statue of Hook in the new City Square in 1903 (quite a rarity for a parish priest) and Hook is also commemorated by a more conventional effigy memorial (designed by George Gilbert Scott) in Chantrell’s parish church.

Church building in Leeds continued in the late 19th century with a variety of churches including St Bartholomew’s (Walker & Athron, 1872), an impressive German gothic structure, dominated by a central tower and spire and by another George Gilbert Scott church; All Souls in Blackman Lane (1880). This church was completed by Scott’s son, John Olrid, who also designed the tower which was added during the Edwardian era. Compared with these two impressive edifices the humble St Hilda’s (1881) in Cross Gate provides an interesting contrast.

St Hilda’s was designed by Yorkshire architect and archaeologist John T Micklethwaite, whose philosophy of providing cheap churches in working class areas is expounded in his book Modern Parish Churches: Their Design, Plan and Furnishings, published in 1874. This was in many ways a continuation of cheap Victorian churches in the tradition of the Commissioners’ churches as
Micklethwaite was building 'substantial decent and convenient' churches from as little as £5 per sitting.

The lasting influence of Hook on Leeds and the Church of England has been liturgical rather than architectural. Indeed guidebooks usually only point to the parish church itself and to Pusey’s St Saviour’s as being worthy of any
architectural accolades. As with Hook’s disdain for the old parish church, subsequent generations perceived many of the Victorian churches as worthless. Regarded as poor quality in terms of their architecture, little sentimentality has
been shown towards them. Slum clearances and demographic changes in the poorer districts of the city rendered some of Hook’s churches superfluous. Only now is it being realised just how much has already been lost.

This article is reproduced from Historic Churches, 2006


EDWARD GREEN is a former assistant editor of Historic Churches and The Building Conservation Directory

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Steven Rance, a former parishioner and organist of St Philips commented on this article in December 2010: "The St Philips that your page describes as being demolished was actually transported brick by brick across the city to Middleton and rebuilt without the spire. The YEP [Yorkshire Evening Post] at the time described it as being transported across Leeds on a 'magic carpet of faith', if memory serves (although I was not about when this happened). The church has since been demolished and replaced by another less imposing building."

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