A Tour of the Church

with Professor Gordon Andrews

Headingley Methodist Church opened in 1845. It is a Grade II listed building and I hope that you will agree that it is worth preserving after you have been round this photographic tour. If only being a listed building brought with it access to funds from the Government listed building system so that the cost of maintenance of the historic features of Headingley Methodist Church had not to be borne by the current congregation. This is a major problem with all historic Churches and Cathedrals; there is no system of support to maintain the buildings, but a legal requirement to do so once they are given listed building status. Listed building status also means that it is very difficult to get permission to alter the internal features of the Church. We would probably not be allowed to take out the box pews for example, which would enable a more flexible worship space. Headingley Methodist Church is one of the few remaining examples of a large Church with boxed pews in the country.

The Church is also larger than the current congregation needs. The Methodist church nationally needs some large churches so that the Methodist Conference can be held in different areas of the country. The last time conference was in Leeds, Headingley Methodist Church was the Conference Church as it had the largest seating capacity in the Leeds area then and still does today. However, no assistance is given towards the upkeep of large churches by the Methodist Church in the UK. 

If you like what you see in this photographic tour and are able to send a donation our treasurer would be happy to receive your cheque! To give an idea of the costs, the current work on the external roof and walls and some internal damp plaster problems inside the Church, and the rooms at the rear of the Church are currently costing £50K and a similar amount on a new heating system will be required over the next few years. The last improvements made to the Church in 2000, which are referred to below, cost £225K 20 years ago, and we had to have listed building approval before they could start, which is a significant expense on its own.

The Church Worship Area
The Church nave, pews and balcony area and the pulpit are all original from 1845. The chancel area was modified in stages. Until the 1880s the balcony extended behind the pulpit, but subsequently the chancel was moved back to accommodate an enlarged organ putting the choir stalls in the position we now find them. Arrangements were again altered when the organ was removed to the North transept, giving the opportunity to place a large cross on the west chancel wall. In 2000 the Church was redecorated and linked to the rest of the church building through a store beneath the organ pipes. New lighting was also installed then. The Church can seat over 400 people. It is the largest music venue in Headingley and has been used for choir concerts, orchestra’s and brass bands. The Church is available for hire as well as worship.

A recent memorable concert was the Tampa Methodist Choir from Tampa Bay, Florida, USA who gave a concert of American spiritual music in aid of Water Aid in April 2019. This year we were to have the last public concert of the Alan Cuckston Singers, which unfortunately had to be cancelled because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Another view of the interior of Headingley Methodist Church
View of the worship area
View of the worship area at Headingley Methodist Church
View of the worship area with balcony and organ

The balcony is as it was built in 1845. There is some maintenance work ongoing in May 2020 on the wall of the Church at the end of the side balcony opposite the organ pipes. This was an area of damp plaster that has had to be repaired and is evidence of our ongoing care for the building. Similar repair work is ongoing in the rear balcony area. Please admire the fine woodwork in the ceiling area, more of which is shown below.

Rare box pews at Headingley Methodist Church
The box pews at Headingley

Box pews are quite rare in churches today andHeadingley Methodist Church is one of the few remaining churches in the country with this feature. Originally box pews were rented  and rumour has it that the rents went up the further you were from the pulpit.  High society and Yorkshire Wool merchants sat downstairs and the servants upstairs, again this may just be rumour. You can sit anywhere today, but few choose to sit in the balcony – perhaps the stigma of the servants area is still there. 175 years ago society in Headingley was quite different from today. A lot of the residents of the large houses in Headingley, now split into flats, used to worship at this church. All are welcome today and you can sit anywhere you like!

View of Headingley Methodist Church from the choir chairs

The link entrance from the rest of the premises and the disabled entrance is the glass fronted area on the left that was a major feature of the Church alterations in 2000. The window through to Otley Road and the Arndale centre can be seen on the right, also installed at the same time.

The new entrance to the Church was built in 2000. It links the Church to the other parts of the premises. There was originally a school room built in 1857, but by the 1900s this had become inadequate, so an extensive group of rooms and halls was added in 1908; these are still standing today but had never been linked directly to the church until 2000. This new entrance also provides direct disabled access to the Church. There is also a disabled toilet bottom right with baby changing facilities.

The near door on the right houses the flower preparation area and the blower for the organ.

This entrance area is directly below the organ pipes, which is why the blower is located here. The hymn and service book shelves here were relocated from the main entrance, when the window was knocked through so the Church interior could be seen from Otley Road and the Arndale Centre. The Church had a very ‘keep out’ feel before this with a solid door.

The Chancel Area

View of the Chancel area at Headingley Methodist Church, showing the original pulpit.
The Chancel area

Apart from the pulpit and the windows, nothing in the chancel area is original, as this was a major area of change in the early 1960s. The original chancel area is shown below, which shows that the chancel was dominated by the organ and choir stalls each side of the pulpit.

Drawing of the proposed changes to Headingley Methodist Church 1889
The Chancel area 1889

The old position of the organ can be seen above and the new position in the balcony to the right of the chancel is shown below. An electrical organ console is behind the pulpit, with the choir stalls moved to each side of the organ console. Note the stone wall at each side of the Chancel steps which were retained, as shown below.

Organ pipes in Headingley Methodist Church
The organ pipes in their new position on the balcony

The marble top and the stone side to the side steps to the height of the chancel area, are original features of the 1845 Church and there is a matching wall on the other side. The cross on the rear wall was installed in the 1960s to occupy the space left by the removal of the Organ pipes from this area. In the 2000 refurbishment the front door of the church was renewed to be glass fronted and a window was cut in the rear wall of the Church so that this cross could be seen from the street outside and for a long time the spot light was left on in the evenings so that the illuminated cross could be seen from the street.

The 'Mouseman' communion table at Headingley Methodist Church
Communion Table

This is the new Communion table made for the Chancel after the alterations of the 1960’s. The old one, which was quite small, is now in the main entrance to the Church with the glass window above. This communion table was made by Robert Thompson who was known as the mouseman of Kilburn (North Yorkshire) – he was born and worked their all his life (1876-1955). The firm still exists and has a visitors’ centre and museum in Kilburn.

The choir stalls at Headingley Methodist Church
Choir stalls

These are the choir stalls that sit either side the organ console. The end sections are taken from the original 1845 choir stalls. Sadly, the choir stalls are not in a good position as the pulpit blocks the sound and the choir is a long way from the congregation. Nowadays the choir usually sits in chairs to the left of the Chancel area, from where they can be heard. As Jesus was a carpenter we should appreciate the carpentry in these, as well as in the pulpit and in carvings around the church – my dad was also a carpenter so I always appreciate this craftwork in churches and Cathedrals.

The War Memorials
The First World War Memorial is on the right hand side of the Chancel to the left of the door through to the rear rooms of the Church.

Memorial to the members of Headingley Methodist Church who lost their lives in Wordl War I
World War I memorial

There is a separate website that gives a brief history of the names on this panel, who were all members of Headingley Methodist Church, which was researched by Jane Luxton.

Norman Savage was the father of Hilda and Louis Savage who were longstanding members of this Church. Louis Savage started the Scout Group at this Church in 1933 and it has been successfully operating ever since and is the main youth outreach activity of the church.

In the second world war more members of Headingley Methodist Church were killed in the fighting, as listed on the second world war memorial on the left of the Chancel shown below.

The memorial to the members of Headingley Methodist Church who lost their lives in World War II
World War II Memorial

The Organ Console and Blower
You can read more about the organ in the Music section of the website. However, for the engineers and organists among our readers, here are some details of the organ and its console.

Detail of the Organ Console at Headingley Methodist Church
The Organ Console
The organ pedals at Headingley Methodist Church
The Organ Pedal Board

As well as two legs for the notes below (deep bass) you need three hands for the keyboards and two brains to co-ordinate it all. No wonder organists are in short supply! If you are an organist and would like to play this wonderful instrument, please contact us and if you would like to join our organ playing rota then you would be most welcome.

There are some fascinating names for the sounds of the organ: Stopped Diapason, Wald Flute, Lieblich Bourdon, Open Diapason, Contra Geigen. However, the best of all is ‘Choir to Great’ where I imagine that activating this somehow will elevate the Choir to float above the Chancel with their voices enhanced to greatness. The names of the organ stops are usually the traditional German or French names, with the occasional Latin and even some English!

This is the crucial part of the organ (left), one that no one sees, and that is the blower, with its special starter on the wall above. Organs work by blowing air (usually called ‘wind’) up pipes of different lengths to generate the sound we hear. In principle like other wind instruments, the pitch is determined by the pipe length, short for high notes and long for low notes. The pipe diameter, its shape and its composition (e.g. wood or metal) are also important. All the pipes are above the blower.

The organ blower shares the room, as shown above right, with a preparation space for flower arrangements for display on a Sunday and distribution afterwards. Woe betide anyone who mixes the two halves of the room as the blower does not like debris in its intake!

The Church Windows
Headingley Methodist Church was not built with stained glass pictorial windows and most of the large scale windows in Church and the rest of the premises are rather plain stained glass, as shown below. Nevertheless, the Chancel area and the Vestry have interesting stained glass, and one window in Church was converted into a more traditional picture stained glass window as shown below. This is the best window I think, but the insurers think it is the vestry window as it is older. As a Grade II listed building We are supposed to spend about £5,000 to maintain this vestry window, but as it is not on view to most people this does not seem a priority use of Church funds.

The rear wall of the Church, with the large cross, is not the end wall of the Church as there are two floors of rooms behind it plus a large attic area. It is the upper rooms here that have caused damage problems, as in 1962 the Church Council of the day abandoned the rooms and disconnected any heating apart from local electrical heat. 60 years later we have a large bill to deal with the consequences of this decision. After the work we hope that the two upper rooms will be available for use. For many years the Venture Scout Unit met in what is called ‘Beaver Lodge’ and currently the Vineyard use the other room for part of their youth activities on a Sunday. Pictures are shown later of the ongoing work in these rooms.

The stained glass window high in the end wall had no natural light behind it and a spotlight in the attic with a switch by the vestry give the illumination that shows this to be the finest stained glass window that we have.

Stained glass window above the cross in Church
Window in the end wall of the Church above the cross

At either side of the Chancel there is a large circular stained glass window; these are not easily seen from the central nave. They are on each side of the Chancel and on the other side of the Chancel walls are the stairs that go up to the two upper rooms and the attic. The two windows are identical and face each other and have suffered no damage from 1845 to 2000 as they are internal windows inside the Church and hence not exposed to the weather. The light is from a large plain stained glass window the other side of the staircase.

Chancel Side Window
Plain Stained Glass Window

This is typical of the main external stained glass in the Church and all the other connected buildings. To me rather boring, but it made a statement that Churches should not be too ostentatious in their decorations, which is a form of puritanism. Some Methodist churches in 1845 were primitive and this is typical of the plain window decoration that was common at the time, although Headingley Methodist was always Wesleyan, the Primitive Methodist church being in Far Headingley. It is very high maintenance today and I for one would prefer it to be removed and replaced with double glazed plain glass. In a Grade II listed building that would never be allowed.

One window in Church was replaced with a more decorative stained glass and this is shown below.

All opinions contained in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect official Church policy.