Leeds Parish Church

The parish church of Leeds was built in 1837-41 by Robert Dennis Chantrell for Dr Walter Farquar Hook (vicar 1837-59), replacing the medieval church at a cost of £30,000. St Peter's is of national importance in the history of Anglican architecture as the largest new church since St Paul's Cathedral. More importantly, it was the first great 'town church' - intended to minister to the increasingly disillusioned working classes of the Industrial Revolution - to be erected since the formation of the Oxford Movement had helped move Anglicanism in a 'higher' direction, and the rapidly expanding literature on GothicGlossary Term architecture was enabling the style to be treated with greater respect and scholarship.

The cruciform plan, with an outer N aisleGlossary Term to the naveGlossary Term and chancelGlossary Term, follows the footprint of its medieval predecessor. Reconstruction and repair rather than rebuilding had been the first intention in 1837, but the older fabric was condemned as work progressed. Otherwise it seems inconceivable that Chantrell would not have reconsidered the plan. His main innovation was to move the tower from the crossingGlossary Term to the north transeptGlossary Term, thus opening up the vista from naveGlossary Term to altar and, at the same time, giving the tower greater prominence when seen from the town centre. Chantrell's chosen style of 'the transition from DecoratedGlossary Term to PerpendicularGlossary Term ... which has its peculiarities, though unnoticed by modern writers' is seen to effect in the tower's elaborate openwork battlements and pinnacles, so too in the W window's Perp traceryGlossary Term with a rich ogeeGlossary Term hood-mould.

The entrance is in the middle of the N side, under the tower. The chancelGlossary Term and naveGlossary Term are of equal length, four bays to the E, four bays to the W. They both have clerestories and tall aisles, and the chancelGlossary Term has a shallow apseGlossary Term. The outer N aisleGlossary Term, no higher than a cloister to allow lightGlossary Term to pass over it and into the clerestory of the inner N aisleGlossary Term, has straight-headed reticulated windows. Internally, the principles of formal ClassicalGlossary Term planning that Chantrell acquired while a pupil of John Soane are evident. One enters under the tower into a lofty, carefully contrived symmetrical space of almost Fonthillian proportions, with huge glazed doors to the left and right leading to the outer N aisles. Ahead on the N-S axis is the massive, sombre organ case, by Chantrell, occupying the whole of the S transeptGlossary Term. One passes between the ends of the E and W galleries to approach the crossingGlossary Term where the full E and W vistas open up to revealGlossary Term this majestic interior, as well as the dichotomy of the design. The E end of the church has real dignity, with the altar raised on six steps, and with generous space in the sanctuaryGlossary Term and in front of it for the new ideas of Victorian ritualism but the W end with its pews and galleries focused on the huge pulpitGlossary Term is still very much in the 'preaching box' tradition of the 18th century. CrossingGlossary Term and transepts are lierne-vaulted (in plaster), the apseGlossary Term is fan-vaulted (also in plaster). The naveGlossary Term and chancelGlossary Term ceilings have almost flat panels separated by substantial transverse beams embellished with arcaded decoration on their sides, actually the lower part of the largely concealed roof trusses. Piers of four shafts with fillets and four thinner shafts in the diagonals, and finely moulded arches. This is Dec, but the unusual panellingGlossary Term of the walls between the arches and the clerestory is Perp, and may have been influenced by similar features at Bruges Cathedral where Chantrell was working concurrently. The galleries extend around three sides of the naveGlossary Term and into the first two bays of the chancelGlossary Term, looking down on the choirGlossary Term stalls (originally proposed to reach the E wall, as did the congregation's pews below). Richly decoratedGlossary Term fronts, possibly papier maché, with canopies like those of chancelGlossary Term stalls and painted dark brown to imitate expensive wood. They are supported on cast ironGlossary Term columns and are slightly detached from the stone piers, to show, as Chantrell put it, 'they are merely furniture'. Cast ironGlossary Term too for some apparently wooden decoration, for instance, on pewGlossary Term ends.


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