Building » Wakefield – St Austin

Wakefield – St Austin

Wentworth Terrace, Wakefield, West Yorkshire

Notable pre-Emancipation church designed by Joseph Ireland, now a substantially later 19th  century building but with a fine classical sanctuary. The exterior fits well into the street scene, with the domed Lady Chapel marking it out as a church. The large wooden medieval statue of St Anne is a remarkable survival.

Although it is likely that a chapel existed on this site by 1824, it seems that work did not begin on the present building until 1827, the date of an estimated cost of £2500 from the architect Joseph Ireland. Two Stonyhurst-educated Jesuit priests from St Joseph’s Pontefract, Fr William Waterton and Fr Francis Trapp, are credited with starting the project (the Watertons of Walton were a prominent local Catholic family and contributed to the cost). However, Fr John George Morris became the first parish priest in 1826. The building was registered for worship on 17 January 1828 and the Bishop of the Northern District, the Rt Revd Thomas Smith, formally opened the church on 4 March 1828. With a three-storey presbytery behind the sanctuary and the church built over a schoolroom, it probably resembled Pontefract (though a lot larger).

It seems that congregations grew rapidly and after contemplating moving to another site, in 1852 the west wall was pushed back, the gallery built and the southwest entrance and porch created. The architects were perhaps Andrews and Delaney who were responsible for internal decorations in 1856 (which might include the plate tracery to the nave windows?).

In 1868-9 the two terraced houses to the west of the church were bought and converted into a new presbytery. Ten years later, the sanctuary was extended into the old presbytery by J.A. Hansom, who also added a domed octagonal chapel to the northeast corner of the nave and enriched the sanctuary further. This chapel was decorated along with the sanctuary in 1890. Altars dedicated to the Sacred Heart and Our Lady were added to the eastern corners of the nave in 1898.

In 1922, the War Memorial was erected outside the old presbytery and the Lady Chapel re-painted by Mr A. Jarvis of Ipswich. He used Agnes Rayner, the daughter of a local artist, as his model for the figure of Our Lady and later married her. In 1930, the two storey parish hall was built to the east of the old presbytery and in the following year, the Jesuits withdrew from the parish. The church was re-decorated and ‘some ornaments removed’ in 1957.

In 1990, the church was closed for roof and ceiling repairs and Masses celebrated at Wakefield Anglican Cathedral. Re-ordering of the pews created a central aisle and two blocks, rather than the previous single block with narrow aisles against the side walls. At the same time, the area below the west gallery was enclosed. In 1994, a separate entrance was created from street level to the rooms below the church (and old presbytery) which are now a useful source of income. The interior was re-painted in 2001 and the south porch amended to provide a toilet on the east side and a new door to a ramp on the west – which has become the normal way to enter the church.

The church is aligned to the north east, but liturgical compass points are used throughout this report.

See list description, below. This refers to a ‘Baptistery to west’ when it means the original presbytery to the east of the 1828 church. Behind its gabled facade is the sanctuary; the ground floor windows and former front door light the small rooms which flank the sanctuary at low level, leading to a passage way and staircase behind the east wall. One of these rooms contains the stone font which had been moved from the back of the church, but this did not function as a baptistery. The upper windows and gable of the old presbytery light large rooms that give some borrowed light to the sanctuary through triple arches fitted with sliding glazing. The room on the south has a c1820 fireplace and seems to have been used as a schoolroom at some time.

The list description makes no mention of the large mediaeval wooden statue of St Anne, now at the southeast corner of the nave, whose origin is unknown but has been at St Austin’s for decades. The statue is believed to be Netherlandish, circa 1500.  It is of a type known as ‘Anne te Drieen’ and consists of three figures: St Anne holding her daughter,  the  Virgin  Mary,  who  in  turn  holds  the  Christ  child.    This  fine  piece deserves a better context and to be better known. There is no mention of the Lady Chapel paintings either, but they were covered over at the time of the listing and only revealed again in 2001. The present wooden altars and lectern were designed by the Liverpool architect, Richard O’Mahony. The wooden font is from St Patrick’s church in Leeds.

Only one of the two lamps mentioned in the list description now survives in store in the presbytery.

Heritage Details


Original Date: 1828

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: II