Building » Leeds (Harehills) – St Augustine of Canterbury

Leeds (Harehills) – St Augustine of Canterbury

Harehills Road, Leeds 8

A large and impressive brick church of the 1930s, conventional in plan but bold and original in design. The modern, jazzy detailing owes something to both Northern European church design of the early twentieth century, and to contemporary figures such as N.F. Cachemaille-Day. St Augustine’s is one of three large churches built in Leeds shortly before the war by the local architects Gribbon, Foggitt & Brown. It won the RIBA Bronze Medal for 1936. The sanctuary was remodelled by Derek Walker in 1960, with good fittings, including a large mosaic by Roy Lewis.

Within a few years of the opening of St Patrick’s church in Leeds, the mission started to spread northwards towards the growing suburb of Harehills. Canon Collingwood, Vicar General, determined to build a new church and school. The school was built first, and on 1 October 1897, Mass was said for the first time in its chapel. The school building was completed eighteen months later and was opened on 10 April 1899. The chapel continued to be served from St Patrick’s until 1905, when St Augustine’s became an independent mission. Fr Coffey negotiated a site for a church fronting Harehills Road, and a temporary iron church was opened in 1908. After the first World War, the present presbytery was built at the side of the church. Fr Coffey died in 1929, and was succeeded by Fr Patrick Leonard, who realised plans for a bigger, permanent church. The foundation stone was laid by Dr Shine, Bishop of  Middlesbrough, in October 1935, and the church was completed in 1936 at a cost of £21,000, from designs by Gribbon, Foggitt & Brown of Leeds. The chief contractors were Messrs. J.  T. Wright and Sons, Ltd., also of Leeds. The church was designed to accommodate 800 people and was opened by Bishop Poskitt in December 1936, in the presence of Dr Downey, Archbishop of Liverpool. The design was positively received in the architectural press, and the church won the RIBA bronze medal for 1936.

The church was consecrated on 19 June 1952. In 1960 the sanctuary was remodelled by Derek Walker at a cost of £9,457, for Fr Craig. The altar was moved from the east wall to the centre of the sanctuary. The large original pendant lights, which hung from the centre of the church, were removed and replaced with new fittings against the concrete piers. Openwork stainless steel altar rails replaced the original solid brick walls (but were in turn removed in 1970). The original round brick pulpit which stood on the north side towards the east end of the nave was demolished and the large crucifix against the east wall replaced with a mosaic of the Risen Christ. The bare brickwork  was plastered and painted. These alterations were undertaken by Derek Walker, who later wrote:

‘Though my recollections of events over time are somewhat hazy, it was an exciting time in the church for both clergy and laity and we were all imbued with thoughts of a new renaissance. The Vatican Council had brought such a breath of fresh air into the church and we were encouraged to produce a sanctuary that in terms of lighting, imagery and materials provided a luminescent feeling to the ambience of the sanctuary, light reflective colours and each element from communion rails, altar, sedilia and other special elements were designed by my practice’.

However, this was actually before the Second Vatican Council, and perhaps the Church was not entirely ready for such radical reordering. The bishop vetoed a painting of the Crucifixion by Tom Watt (head of the painting department at the Leeds College of Art), and this led to the commissioning of the mosaic from Roy Lewis, a graduate of the Royal College of Art who had worked with Walker in the previous year at Our Lady of Lourdes. The mosaic came from Italy in numbered square sections, about a foot wide. A low sculptured wall around the sanctuary with a series of cast concrete figures by Jill Messenger (who also worked with Walker at Our Lady of Lourdes) was also rejected by the bishop, and ended up in Walker’s garden in London.

In 1991 the present marble altar was installed. It came from the Junior Seminary of the Verona Fathers in Mirfield and was the work of two Italian sculptor/priests from the Verona Fathers. In 1997 the benches were removed from the western gallery along with some at the back of the church. This created space for displays and for gathering after Mass.


Large brick church showing the influence of Cachemaille-Day and  northern European church architecture of the early interwar years; 1937, architects Gribbon, Foggitt & Brown of Leeds.  Externally, the brick facing is relieved by the long narrow windows and V -shaped buttresses between them. The steep roof is behind a parapet and is covered with Roman tiles. The main entrance from Harehills Road is approached by a wide flight of steps and a wide central doorway with several orders of recessed brickwork with jazzy detail. On a corbel immediately over the main entrance is a stone figure of St Augustine, his hand raised in blessing (carved by George W. Milburn & Son, in memory of Canon Collingwood). On the north side facing Milan Road, lower flat-roofed elements house the side chapels and sacristies. Plain east wall with large cross formed in raised brickwork.

The internal plan consists of a narthex with western gallery over, aisled nave, sanctuary, Lady Chapel, two small side chapels,  baptistery,  and  clergy and  choir sacristies. The narthex area under the gallery (retaining the original holy water stoups) leads into the main interior space, which is designed to afford all worshippers a clear and unobstructed view of the altar. A central aisle and two side aisles allow for circulation and processional ways. The stepped gallery at the west end of the nave is reached by a staircase adjoining the main entrance, with original balustrading of Art Deco character. The organ, a three-manual piece made by Woods Wordsworth, came from a redundant church in Leeds. It was renovated in the 1970s.

The large internal space is dominated by the reinforced concrete trusses carrying a four-centred roof that mark the bays of the nave. Between these are tall paired lights with small rectangular panes of glazing. The bay divisions are continued down as rectangular piers, with trabeated openings to the aisles and good Stations of the Cross above. Flooring in green and black has been laid in the nave and aisles; the walls are simply plastered, the Stations of the Cross providing the main notes of colour. Originally there was a large brick pulpit of circular form on the north side of the church, one bay west of the sanctuary arch and level with the first row of pews. This was removed, along with the original solid low wall and gates marking off the sanctuary area, at the time of the Derek Walker reordering of 1960. It is this reordering  that  now  dominates  the  character  of  the  sanctuary. Large reredos backdrop by Roy Lewis, with a gilt mosaic of St Augustine on a blue background, the saint’s right hand raised in blessing. High over the forward marble altar (introduced in 1991) is an origami-like white canopy. Solid fronts to the clergy stalls on either side.

Heritage Details

Architect: Gribbon, Foggitt & Brown

Original Date: 1936

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed