The Parish Church (which is dedicated to St. Peter) is a very spacious and strong fabrick, an emblem of the church millitant, black, but comely, being of great antiquity; it doth not pretend to the mode of reformed architecture, but is strong and useful.
That there was a church here during the Saxon heptarchy, when the Kings of Northumberland had their palace here, is more than probable; but 'tis indisputable, that in William the Conqueror's time there was, and some parts of this church may be said to be of that antiquity.The fabrick of this church is plain, but venerable; the walls wholly of free-stone, the roof entirely cover'd with lead. It is built after the manner of a cathedral, with a large cross isle, and the steeple or tower in the middle of it. The dimensions of the church are, length 165 foot, breadth 97; height of the nave of the curch, 51, and of the steeple 96. The steeple is a square tower, without spire, built rather for strength than beauty, and contains eight large bells (besides the Tintinnabulum) which ring in peal, and where with may be rung 40,320 changes, and which chime day and night, at 4, 8, and 12; but what is most surprising to strangers, is the spaciousness of the quire or chancel, which is within the walls as much above 88 foot one way, as it wants of 60 the other. And to add one word more, this is monthly fill'd for the most part, twice round devout communicants, one of the most blessed prospects this world affords, besides much greater numbers upon publick festivals. The roof of the church is supported by three rows of solid pillars of the gothic order. In the nave of the church are four isles, that run from the cross isle to the west end, where is a stately font; 'tis gilt and painted, and stands upon an ascent of three steps, surrounged withrails and banisters.
The body of the church is very well pewed with English oak, and regular till of late years, that some seats are advanced at the west end, and more remote parts, for persons of distinction not before provided for; those for the mayor, alderman and the vicar, are raised at the east end; and under the north wall, that for the master and mistress of the charity school, with 40 poor boys and girls decently clad in blue. Upon the north and east are spacious galleries of wainscot, wrought with variety of work, directly oppositeto the pulpit, which is adorned with a black velvet cloth and gold fringe, are the town's arms, betwixt two gilt maces in relievo. At the meeting of the great middle isle with the large cross isle, the steeple is founded upon four prodigiously large pillars and arches; the north cross isle is called the Queen's, the south seems to have been the chapel of St. Katherine's, where the place for holy-water is yet to be seen. and against one of these pillars stood the pulpit in days of yore, when there were no seats in the nave of the church; for before the reformation there were no pew or different apartments allowed, but the whole body of the church was common, and the assembly promiscuous or intermixed, in the more becoming postures of kneeling or standing. The chief glory of this church is, that upon the Lord's day it is generally filled with a vastly great and attentive congregation, which is the most comfortable sight, a pious christian can behold; though on the other hand it must be acknowledged, that the thinness of the auditory upon the week-days constant prayers, and occasional sermons, bodes ill, and ought to be resented with the deepest concern.'
1838 -On taking down the old Parish Church of Leeds, in 1838, a most interesting discovery was made of several sculptured stone crosses of the Anglo-Saxon period. The largest cross was thriteen feet in height; the others were less, and broken into fragments. One of the crosses contained in Runic characters the name of a king. The inscription was Cuni Onlaf: that is King Onlaf. Onlaf the Dane entered the Humber in 937, and subsequently became King of Northumberia, and a christian. His residence was probably the 'Villa Regia' at Osmondthorpe and this cross was no doubt erected to his memory in the cemetery of the Leeds Parish Church, about the year 950. Ancient fragments were discovered of the Norman Church of Leeds; not the one mentioned in the Doomsday Survey but the chyurch renewed about the latter end of the 11th, or the commencement of the 12th century. Behind the altar piece was a mural monument to the memory of a family named Hardewycke of the 16th century, and in taking up the floor under the communion table, a tablet was found in excellent preservation, containing a brass plate inscribed to the memory of Thomas Darrell, Vicar of Leeds, who was a benefactor to the church and died in 1469. On taking up the floor of the choir a fine efficy was discovered in chain mail with plate knee caps, sword and shield, beautifully carved in limestone, the coat of arms or quarterings of the shield denoting the knight to have been of the family of Stainton or Steynton. The legs had been broken off close under the knee. This effigy is cross legged, and cnnot be later than Edward the 11's time or about the year 1300. In the succeeding reign, Elizabeth Stainton was prioress of Kirkstall, and probably the same family.
It is belived that five churches have been built on the site of St Peter's, from a simple wooden structures to the stone built Parish Church of today.
Sept 2nd 1841 - The solemn and imposing ceremony of re-opening and consecrating the church of St. Peter, situated in Kirkgate, Leeds, which had been rebuilt by the voluntary contributions of the inhabitants at a cost of £29,770. 6s. 8d., took place on Thursday the 2nd of September 1841 in the presence of the archbishop of York, the bishop of Ripon, the bishops of Ross and Argyll, and New Jersey, as well as hundreds of dignitaries and other clergy from every diocese in England, and several thousands of every rank, age, and calling, among the laity forming altogether a scene of unusual splendour and solemnity.
The style (of the new building) is that of the latter part of the 14th century, a transition from the decorated tothe perpendicular, containing a variety of form and interest, and producing a strong contrast with the dull massiveness of the former structure. The church is 180 feet 7 inches long, by 86 wide; and the height of the tower 139 feet. A new south porch was erected, the south transept extended twelve feet, the chancel extended eastward to the site of the old vestry, and separate entrances contrived to the new vestry and robing rooms for the clergy and choristers. Over the door at the end of the north transcept, rises the noble tower of the church, a rich and elegant object, greatly exceeding both in height and beauty of style that of the old church. The tower contains a new peal of remarkably powerful and sweet-toned bells, thirteen in number. The weight of the tenor bell is 35 cwt. 1qr. 9 lbs., and the weight of the entire peal is 162 cwt. The bells were cast by Messrs. Mears and Sons, London from designs by W. Gawk roger of Leeds. On entering the church, through the deeply recessed north doorway, (its inner porch forming a rich canopied arch, terminated with an old statue of St. Peter, and having the angles buttressed and pinnacled, - its lofty and in parts groined roof supported on an arcade of eight pillars and arches on each side,) the eye rests upon a screen of richly carved oak, separating the opposite transept from the nave: within this screen the organ is placed, but no part is open to the view. it stands upon the floor of the church, and rises within the transept considerably above the level of the galleries, the pinnacles and other carved work of the screen surmounting the whole, and producing a fine effect. the organ is nearly new. the whole of the chests, bellows, four composition pedals, etc are entirely new, and also the exterior handsome case. It consists of about 2,070 pipes, of which 1,212 belong to the great organ, 336 to the swell, and 522 to the choir. the noble instrument was re-opened by Dr. Samuel Sebastian Wesley. Mr. R.S. Burton is the present organist and choir master. The first organ was built by Mr. Price of Bristol in 1714. A few years after the swell was added, the scale of which was from G to F in alt. In 1815 the organ was nearly renewed by the late Mr. Greenwood, and was for some years afterwards considered one of the sweetest in Yorkshire. It was, however, so injured by incompetent persons about the year 1827 that its original sweetness and brilliancy were entirely destroyed, and at least half its power was taken away. The injured pipes were either restored to their original power and brilliancy, or replaced by new ones.
The choir of the church was organised by the late vicar, and is second to none. the full cathedral service is perhaps more beautifully and impressively performed here than in the metropolitan church of Canterbury itself. the late Mrs. Carr, of Knostrop, left the sum of £4, 000 to be invested in government securities, the interest of which is supplied in apprenticing out boys who may have sung in the Leeds parish church choir. The chancel is approached by seven steps, and the low open screen-work at the altar is of stone, and has a very light and elegant appearance. the altar, which stands from the wall, has a covering of royal purple velvet, on the middle of which is a richly embroidered monogram, the gift of her late majesty the Queen Dowager. the commandment tables are also of stone, richly enshrined, having the letters of the 14th century rubricated. In the centre is a carved stone frame, in which is a fine picture, of the school of Correggio, representing Christ's Agony in the garden, presented by the Rev. Isaac Spencer of York. the grand east window is adorned with rich stained glass, representing the Crucifixion, the Virgin, St. john the Evangelist, St. Matthew, St. Bartholomew, St. Peter, Etc., The windows of the altar recesses are also stained glass, as well as the north and south-east windows. the three former were presented by Thos. Blayds, Esq., The ancient cover of the piscina of the 14th century is placed in the south-east wall of the chancel and is converted into a monument to Thoresby, the antiquary; and in the north-east corner of the chancel is a monument to the memory of the Rev. Richard Fawcett, M.A., late vicar of Leeds. the lettern, whence the lessons are read, is of wood, in the form of an eagle, with out-spread wings, and stands at the south side of the choir. The communion service is of silver guilt. Against the south-east pillar of the nave is placed the pulpit, which is of wood, elaborately carved in subjects, viz., the Annunciation, the adoration of the Shepherds, and the baptism of our Saviour. The galleries are supported by small iron pillars, placed behind, and independent of the stone pillars which support the clerestories and roof. the front of the galleries is richly carved, so as to resemble the tabernacle work over the stalls of a cathedral. The pews were allotted to former owners, and the whole of the ground floor is free. The seats have stall ends and no doors. Stalls are provided for the clergy, the choristers, and the corporation. Altogether there are 3,000 sittings, 1,800 of which are free. The great west window is also richly adorned with stained glass, containing the arms of the bishop of the diocese, the Rev. R. Fawcett, M.A., late vicar, and the patrons of the living. the south-west window contains the arms of the borough, and those of the Rev. Peter Haddon, M.A., former vicar of the parish. There are several beautiful and costly monuments erected in the church. The vicarage is valued at £1,300 per annum.
During the building of the church an accident occurred by the scaffolding of the tower giving way, by which a workman named Southeran was killed.