A Brief History of Headingley Methodist Church
In 2020, we are celebrating the 175th anniversary of the opening of the Headingley Methodist church, though this was by no means the beginning of Methodism in Headingley.
In the middle of the 18th century, Leeds was a hotbed for the spread of Methodism in England. John Wesley visited this area frequently and preached in the village of Woodhouse in 1770 and 1780. A great Methodist revival swept the whole of Leeds in 1794, bringing in 1000s of new members.
The First Headingley Methodist Church
Headingley at this time was a small, primarily agricultural village, linked to Leeds by a country lane. From 1794, devout Methodist laymen from Leeds visited Headingley regularly, gathering together a small group who met in a cottage next door but one to the Skyrack Inn. Growing numbers led them to move to a house near the old parish schools in St Michael’s Road and then in the late 1820s to build a new chapel in King’s Place, off St Michael’s Road. A modest plain chapel was built and opened in 1830. The cottages at 2-4 King’s Place still reflect the shape and structure of that building. Methodism in Headingley continued to thrive, mirroring growth and developments within the village.
The development of Headingley 1800-1850
The population of Headingley grew from 1313 in 1800 to 5000 in 1840. The country lane to Leeds was replaced in 1840 by the new Otley Road and the railway came to Headingley. With the break-up of the vast Cardigan Estate and enclosure of Headingley Moor, and the development of numerous mansions and elegant villas Headingley began its transformation from village to desirable residential suburb for the wealthy manufacturers and professional men of Leeds.
Samuel Holmes, Leeds merchant and Methodist
Typical of these men was Samuel Holmes, a linen manufacturer and merchant who attended Oxford Place Methodist Church. Samuel bought two plots on Headingley Moor, on which he had a new home, Castle Grove, built in Moor Road in 1831-34. He had prior connections with the Methodist Church in Headingley, because he signed the land deed for the first church in 1828. When he moved to his new home, he became active at the church and was one of a group of members delegated to find an eligible piece of ground suitable for a new church in 1841, because the congregation had outgrown the King’s Place chapel. He took on the role of Chair of the Trust when the new church was built and had a prominent role in the stone -laying ceremony.
Building the new church
Acquiring land for the new church was a tortuous and frustrating process which took over three years, with problems in persuading the Earl of Cardigan to sell at an affordable price. Eventually, with the support of the Earl’s steward, whose wife was a Methodist, they were able to purchase the current site, which was located on the Otley Road, next to the North Lane Toll Bar and the village smithy. The Trustees then took the ambitious step of commissioning James Simpson, who has been described as ‘the greatest Methodist architect of the nineteenth century’, to design their church, which was the first Methodist chapel to be built in Leeds in the Gothic Revival style. It was built by local craftsmen and stonemasons.
The Wilson family – masons and Methodists – 175 years of service
The masons who built the church – the Wilsons– were a local family business. William Wilson and his family lived in Moor Road, next door to Samuel Holmes’s house, Castle Grove, and may have been its builder. His son, John, developed his own branch of the family business in Headingley. He was settled in the North Lane area in 1851, probably having moved to build the church, of which he and his family were members. John and his son, Edward became Trustees and Edward went on to manage the family business, when they built Meanwood Methodist Church (1880) and the new St Michael’s Church (1886). The Wilson family firm built both the Headingley Sunday schools in 1856 and 1908. John had an extensive family of nine children, many of whom lived in the Chapel Street area and were active in the church. Until her recent death (2020) at the age of 93, Miss Jean Butler, one of John’s great granddaughters, was a valued member of our church.
The structure of the church
There have been alterations and additions to the buildings, both inside and out, since 1845, though much of the original is still intact. Transepts, additional vestries and an apse were added to the church in 1862 and the front entrance was remodelled in 1890. The biggest external change was in the addition of a Sunday School. In 1845, one third of the sanctuary was partitioned off for use by the children as a school room. This was not satisfactory, with growing numbers of children and adult members, so in 1856 a separate Sunday school was built with a generous grant from a church member, William Glover Joy.
Wiiliam Glover Joy was typical of a group of the Leeds movers and shakers who lived in Headingley at this time. He was an oil and seed merchant in his family’s firm, which flourished in the railway era by supplying lubricating oils for the engines, including Stephenson’s Rocket. He had been a devout member of Oxford Place Church before he moved in 1855 to his newly built Headingley home, Moorfield, on Alma Road, when he joined Headingley Methodist Church. He immediately paid all the building costs for a new Sunday School, in which he became a teacher. His life was full of service to his church, community and the city. He supported many causes related to disadvantaged children, being a founding member of the Adel Reformatory, Leeds Certified Industrial School and Boys’ Refuge, the Ragged School and Boot Black Association. Within Headingley, he held posts such as Overseer of the Poor, trustee of the Turnpike Trust and citywide, he was on the Board of the Leeds General Infirmary and School Board. He was also to be found with his friend Arthur Lupton in the Philosophical and Literary Society and at winter soirées for the Headingley gentry in each others’ homes. In 1863 he turned to politics, winning the Headingley seat for the Liberals for the first time and was elected Lord Mayor of Leeds in 1869-70. His funeral in 1876 was a huge civic affair, with a guard of honour formed by the Boot Black Brigade.
The New Sunday School (1857)
From the time it was built, this building was in great demand both for church and community activities. By the end of the century, it was much too small for the growing number of children attending Sunday School solved by the purchase from Miss Butler, a church member, of two cottages next door to the church in Chapel St. These and the existing school were demolished and replaced in 1908-9 with by the existing extensive range of Sunday School buildings, also in Gothic style.
Internally in the church, there was a significant remodelling of the chancel area in 1889 with removal of the gallery above the pulpit and construction of choir stalls. The photograph below, from Miss Nora Cook’s family photograph album shows the interior of the church at Harvest 1886, prior to the planned remodelling. We presume that the choir sat in the balcony in front of the organ before moving to the purpose-built choir stalls after the 1889 alterations.
The picture below shows the design by architect Thomas Butler Wilson, son of one of the church Trustees, for the new look in the church in 1889-90. In the 1960s the organ pipes were moved to the gallery, to create the chancel as we see it today. The pulpit, an original feature of the church, can be clearly seen in this illustration, as can the choir stalls and the two carved oak chairs which can still be seen on either side of the pulpit today.
The latest major alteration, around the Millennium, improved disabled access to the church by creating a link corridor to join the church and the Sunday School buildings. All these additions were carefully designed to retain most of the original church fabric and fittings, including the original box pews, pulpit, stained glass windows and roof timbers.
The construction, improvements and maintenance of the church came at significant costs. They were and continue to be the responsibility of the church trustees who have to raise the money for all these ventures. They were fortunate to receive donations, large and small, from members of the congregation but often had to fund-raise to support these efforts. Tea parties, concerts, church fairs and bazaars were organised in Headingley , as in many other churches, over decades. By their efforts and dedicaton, generations of church members have looked after this building to ensure that a lovely space of peace and calm in the sanctuary and of welcome and friendship in the halls remains for all who come in.
Much of the information about the history of Headingley Methodist is based on a pamphlet – History of Headingley Methodist Church (1970) – by J Stanley Mathers, supplemented by research in the church archives , held at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Leeds.
Biographical information about the three Victorian members compiled by Jean Townsend from a range of sources, including census data, Leeds Directories, Leeds Mercury and a note about W. Glover Joy from Mrs A Lightman.