Building » Leek – St Mary

Leek – St Mary

Compton, Leek, Staffordshire ST13

An impressive late nineteenth-century church based on the architecture of the thirteenth century, whose soaring profile and hillside site give it great presence in the town and conservation area. The interior contains good stained glass by Mayer of Munich and a carved stone altar reredos and pulpit.  

In 1781 only two Catholics were recorded as living in Leek. Mass was said here for the first time since the Reformation in 1813-14 to some French prisoners of war and Irish silk weavers, by an émigré priest, Abbé Gerard, from Cobridge. He used a room in Pickwood Street and then a garret in King Street.

In 1828-9 a priest from Cheadle built a chapel in Fountain Street (with the assistance of the Earl of Shrewsbury; the cost was £700), with a presbytery following in 1830.

In 1860 land was bought for a new church and convent with school, the latter run by Loreto nuns; the new church was built in 1863-4 from designs by the local architect William Sugden.

In 1884 a wealthy convert and former Anglican minister, John H. Sperling, bought the present site, and commissioned the London architect Albert Vicars to design the present church, for the construction of which Sperling also largely paid. His son, Alfred, was the mission priest. The foundation stone was laid by coadjutor Bishop Ilsley on 15 October 1885. In April 1887 Bishop Ilsley blessed two bells (cast by Taylor of Loughborough) and returned to open the church on 12 May 1887. The builders were Barker & Sons of Handsworth; the church cost £12,000 and seated 600. The building was described in The Tablet (21 May 1887):

‘The church, which is nearly completed, is a very distinct addition to the architectural features of not only the town but the county, being one of the handsomest in the diocese of Birmingham. Built in the early decorated style of architecture, it is graceful in design. The spire may be seen from almost all parts of the town and neighbourhood. Its foundation is the local rock-stone, with coursed rubble and Doulton stone dressing. The plan consists of nave and two aisles, two side chapels, baptistry, men’s choir, priest’s sacristy, working sacristy, organ gallery, confessional recessed in wall of aisle, with priest’s room connected, and heating chamber underneath. The high altar is a remarkably fine piece of carving. The interior of the church is 1o4ft long and 5oft wide. The height is 64ft. The ceiling is of yellow pine supported on red stone columns, supported by carved angels emblematic of the Passion. The columns between the nave and aisles and the columns to the sanctuary arch, are of red Scotch stone, with Portland stone carved caps and moulded bases. The spire is constructed with Doulton stone, and has red stone bands, the height being 16oft from the ground. The sanctuary window, the gift of Mrs. James Bermingham, is by Messrs. Mayer and Co., of Munich and London. The three centre lights portray the Assumption, those on the higher right the Nativity, below the Annunciation, and on the left the Coronation and Visitation. On the east side of the tower is a large stone statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, standing under a canopy upon a carved corbel. The belfry is intended to contain six bells, and Mr. Henry Bermingham has promised one, leaving three to be provided at some future time, the two now in use being the joint gift of the Rev. A. M. and Mr. J. H Sperling’.

The 1864 church was used as a school and hall until 1988 (the Loreto sisters had left in 1979; some furnishings from their chapel are now in the Day Chapel of the church). In 1997, at the time of the church’s centenary, a new forward altar and ambo were installed.


The list entry (of 1992, below) and the Tablet account (above) adequately describe the church and repetition seems unnecessary. It can be noted here that the building material is Bath stone; to describe it as ‘rubble’ as the list entry does is rather misleading – ‘rock-faced blocks of Bath stone’ might be nearer the mark.

The low stone screen in front of the sanctuary noted in the list entry has been removed. The high altar has also been removed, though its reredos remains. The forward altar and ambo date from 1997, the altar incorporating the frontal of an old altar found in a Staffordshire farmhouse, with bronze legs and a solid oak mensa. The tower contains two bells of 1887, cast by Taylor of Loughborough.

List description


Roman Catholic church. 1886-87. By Albert Vicars. Coursed and squared rock-faced rubble with ashlar dressings and Welsh slate roofs with ridge-cresting. PLAN: high nave with 2 aisles and sanctuary of the same height; SE tower and spire. EXTERIOR: clasping buttresses to tower, with moulded arched doorway in S elevation, statue with canopy over carried on an angel corbel in the E wall. Arcaded triple lancets in upper stage, and rose window above. Broach spire with tall pinnacles each side, the shafts forming blind arcading below a frieze. Louvred lucarnes between the pinnacles, and a second tier of lucarnes above. SW gabled porch with deeply moulded arch carried on short engaged shafts. S aisle of 2 bays, its eastern extent obscured by projecting gabled vestries, confessional etc. Uninterrupted N aisle, continuing as side chapel to E. Divided by buttresses, with 3-light Decorated window in each bay. Paired foiled clerestory windows. E front has 5-light Decorated window set high up, and blind arcading in apex of gable. Rose window in W front, and small lower windows. INTERIOR: nave arcade of 5 bays; octagonal sandstone columns with heavy foliate capitals and double chamfered arches. Wall posts on corbels carry cusped principal trusses of roof. W gallery occupies western-most bay, with pitch pine spiral staircase towards rear. High sandstone shafts to sanctuary arch, and 2-bay arcade each side of chancel, separating the side chapels. Low stone screen to sanctuary with cast-iron and wood rail, wood panels with cast-iron traceried scrollwork inset. Stone reredos to main altar, and also in side chapels. Central and flanking statues with low-reliefs each side, set beneath traceried canopies. Altar piece in N chapel dated 1884. Stone and marble pulpit, with cast-iron and wood rail. STAINED GLASS: most windows contain stained glass which is almost entirely by Mayer and Co. of Munich and London, forming a series spanning the period c1894 to c1907. Other windows by Daniels and Fricker, of London.

Listing NGR: SJ9840356256

Heritage Details

Architect: Albert Vicars

Original Date: 1887

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II