Building » Wakefield – St Austin

Wakefield – St Austin

Wentworth Terrace, Wakefield, West Yorkshire

A notable pre-Emancipation church designed by Joseph Ireland, now substantially a later-nineteenth 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 £2,500 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 redecorated 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 repainted 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 fully described in the list entry (below), which was revised and considerably expanded in 2019, following Taking Stock.

List description


Summary: Roman Catholic church, around 1825-1828, designed by Joseph Ireland and modified by the builder William Puckrin. Altered in 1856 by Andrews and Delaney with further alterations and additions in 1878-1880 by Joseph Hansom. Neoclassical style with Baroque and Romanesque influences. Attached parish hall added in 1930.

Reasons for Designation: The RC Church of St Austin, including the attached parish hall and front boundary wall, railings and gate piers, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: Architectural interest: * it has an imposing and distinguished neoclassical design incorporating Baroque and Romanesque influences, and despite later alteration and extension its 1820s origins remain readable; * its design incorporates works by the notable ecclesiastical architects, Joseph Ireland and Joseph Hansom; * the richly decorated interior retains features from its various phases that reflect the building’s evolution and development, including a late-C19 conversion of the original presbytery into the church’s east end and sanctuary, which was carried out by Joseph Hansom. Historic interest: * it is an interesting example of a pre-emancipation church and is one of the earliest Catholic churches constructed in West Yorkshire after the Reformation. Group value: * it has strong group value with the attached Grade II-listed St Austin’s Presbytery, converted from a pair of houses in 1868-1869.

History: The RC Church of St Austin was first constructed in around 1825-1828 based upon designs dating to 1824 by Joseph Ireland (c1780-1841), a Wakefield-born architect who specialised in Roman Catholic churches. The designs were subsequently modified by the builder William Puckrin. The church was built as a Jesuit mission at a cost of £2,500, including donations from members of a prominent local Catholic family, the Watertons, and included a three-storey presbytery attached to the sanctuary, and schoolrooms in the basement underneath the church. The church was registered for worship on 17 January 1828, and was formally opened on 4 March 1828 by the Right Reverend Thomas Smith, Bishop of the Northern District. The congregation grew rapidly and in 1852 the church was enlarged by moving the west wall further westwards, creating a larger gallery, and moving the entrance from the west end to the north side and constructing a north-west entrance porch, all to designs by Andrews and Delaney. In 1856 Andrews and Delaney carried out a scheme of interior decoration, which included inserting a false Romanesque-style window to the nave interior, and also Gothic niches (the latter have since been removed). In 1868-1869 two terraced houses attached to the west end of the church were purchased and converted into a new presbytery, and in 1878-1880 the old presbytery was subsumed into the main body of the church and a new sanctuary and vestry (later a baptistery) created within its interior by Joseph Aloysius Hansom (1803-1882), who also added a domed octagonal Lady Chapel and a sacristy. The Lady Chapel and sanctuary were decorated in 1890. In 1921-1922 the Lady Chapel was re-painted by Archibald Jarvis of Ipswich with depictions of the Virgin Mary, infant Jesus and angels (later plastered over and re-discovered in 1990). Jarvis used Agnes Rayner, the daughter of a local artist, as the model for Mary, and later married her. In 1930 a parish hall was constructed at the east end of the church, and in 1931 the Jesuits left the parish. In around 1990 the pews were re-ordered to create a central aisle rather than the two previous narrow side aisles. The underside of the gallery was also enclosed at the same time, and the sanctuary re-ordered. In 2001 the south-west porch was altered to accommodate a toilet and a new disabled-access doorway was inserted into the west wall.

Details: Roman Catholic church, around 1825-1828, designed by Joseph Ireland and modified by the builder William Puckrin. Altered in 1856 by Andrews and Delaney with further alterations and additions in 1878-1880 by Joseph Hansom. Neoclassical style with Baroque and Romanesque influences. Attached parish hall added in 1930. MATERIALS: narrow handmade mellow-red bricks with unpainted and painted-ashlar dressings to the church and former presbytery, red engineering brick and unpainted ashlar dressings to the parish hall. Slate and lead roofs. PLAN: the church is aligned north-east to south-west, but the following geographical references are referred to in their liturgical sense. The church, which is no longer detached and effectively forms part of a terrace, consists of a nave, north-west porch, north-east semi-octagonal Lady Chapel, and a sanctuary at the east end (converted from the original presbytery), with a sacristy off to the south side. Attached to the east end of the church and aligned at a right angle to the church is the parish hall. To the south (rear) side of the church is a large garden.

EXTERIOR: the church has a four-bay nave with a chamfered plinth at basement level, a deep sill band beneath the nave windows, and a bracketed eaves cornice. The pitched roof is hidden from view by a parapet. The nave’s north elevation has three large round-headed windows with quoined surrounds and solid tympanums with blind tracery. The windows contain multipaned sashes and dividing the bays are round-headed niches. At basement level are a series of multipaned sash windows and a wide doorway with partly-glazed double doors accessed by later brick ramps and steps from Wentworth Terrace. To the north-west corner of the nave is a low projecting porch with a bracketed eaves cornice topped by a brick parapet. The porch has a central round-headed doorway with panelled double doors flanked by pairs of round headed windows with columnar mullions, all with moulded arched heads. To the porch’s west return is a later inserted doorway. Projecting out from the north-east corner of the nave is a semi-octagonal Lady Chapel with ashlar banding detail. At first-floor level on the chapel’s cardinal faces are leaded windows with moulded surrounds and pediments; those to the west and east faces are shorter, and below the north window is an inscribed plaque that reads ‘St Austin’s/ 1828’. To the top of the chapel is an eaves cornice, with a leaded-domed roof above surmounted by a cross finial. On the chapel’s west side is a lower pedimented projection with a Romanesque-style two-light window. On the nave’s south (rear) elevation the line of division between the original part of the church and the 1852 addition of the western bay is visible and the brickwork is slightly darker. The south elevation has plainer windows with flat-arched heads and painted-sandstone sills, and basement windows with replaced multipaned casements and segmental-arched heads. A modern lean-to at the east end is attached to both the nave and the 1878-1880 sacristy. The former presbytery, which now contains the church’s baptistery and sanctuary, is attached to the east end of the nave and has unpainted ashlar dressings and a three-bay gabled front to the north elevation, with an entrance to the ground-floor right with a classical doorcase and two sash windows to the left with pedimented surrounds. To the first floor are three smaller sash windows with ashlar surrounds and to the gable apex is a blind oculus (circular opening). Attached to the rear (south) of the former presbytery is a two-storey cross wing added by Hansom in 1878-1880 and formed by the sacristy on the ground floor and former choir loft on the first floor. The wing’s west gable is surmounted by a large bell and cradle, and the roof has two chimneystacks. Attached to the east end of the church is a tall single-storey (double height internally) parish hall, which has a north gable-end facing Wentworth Terrace, with a projecting central porch with partly-glazed double doors and an overlight with replaced glazing that reads ‘St. Austin’s Theatre’, all set within a moulded ashlar surround that rises to form part of a parapet. Flanking the entrance to each side are single plate-glass sash windows with ashlar surrounds, whilst above and behind the entrance is a large lunette window.

INTERIOR: internally the north-west porch leads into the nave, the west end of which underneath the 1852 gallery was enclosed with a glazed screen in the 1990s in the style of a narthex and confessionals inserted at the south end. The gallery, which has fixed tiered pews and an organ installed in 2017, is supported by two slender cast-iron Ionic columns and two plainer columns, which are believed to possibly be the original supports for the smaller 1825-1828 gallery. The four-bay nave contains late-C19 wooden pews and has a deep coved ceiling with a heavy cornice. The coving is believed to be part of the original 1827-1828 survival, and the eastern end of the coving marks the original east end of the church. Decorative plasterwork to the easternmost bay also denotes the original location of the sanctuary before the presbytery was converted into a new sanctuary in 1878-1880. Romanesque-style two-light false windows, with hybrid Ionic columns and glazed roundels bearing Christograms to their tympanums, exist to the inside of the nave’s three western bays’ in front of the original Georgian sash windows. These were inserted in 1856 by Andrews & Delaney, but the eastern bay’s south window was left without. There are later plaster Stations of the Cross to the nave’s side walls, and also to the side walls are the faint outline of Gothic niches that were introduced in 1856, but later removed. Towards the eastern end of the nave is a wooden font brought from St Patrick’s Church, Leeds in the early 2000s. The church’s modern altars and lectern are by the Liverpool architect Richard O’Mahony and were installed following the interior’s re-ordering in the 1990s. The sanctuary entrance is framed by giant Corinthian columns (believed to be original) that support a deep entablature incorporating a single-bay return into the nave at each side with paired columns in the same style, additionally flanked by piers with acanthus leaf and egg and dart detailing to the capitals; those to the north frame the Lady Chapel entrance, whilst those to the south frame a window. Set below this window is a wooden medieval statue that is believed to be an ‘Anna te Drieen’ statue from the Netherlands, although it is unknown at which point it arrived at St Austin’s or from where. The statue, which possibly dates from 1500 or earlier, depicts St Anne holding her daughter the Virgin Mary, who in turn is holding the infant Jesus. The Lady Chapel entrance incorporates three round-arched openings set in between the columns and piers, with the centre opening forming an open doorway. The chapel’s windows have classical surrounds incorporating segmental pediments, and to each west and east side are slight projections set behind round arches. The north walls of the chapel are adorned with a 1921/1922 wall painting of the Virgin Mary, infant Jesus and angels by Archibald Jarvis of Ipswich, which was restored by his grandson in the 1990s. A small altar below is by Richard O’Mahony. Two small round-arched windows in the west wall contain stained glass by a local artist, Steve Simpson, installed in the 1990s. Flanking the sanctuary entrance are two doorways with moulded architraves, floating cornices above, and six-panel doors; that to the left leads into the baptistery, whilst that to the right leads into the sacristy. Above the doorways are tall round-headed statue niches that were formerly leaded and stained-glass windows (the window glazing survives and can be seen in the choir loft and storage room overlooking the sanctuary) with balustrading in front. The original sanctuary rails, tabernacle and altar have all been removed, along with three arch-shaped paintings set within moulded frames on the east wall, and a new altar has been moved to a forward position. The sanctuary is lit from above by a massive nine-light skylight and has Corinthian columns in front of the rear wall that are set upon tall pedestals and flank the original location of the altar. The columns support a deep entablature and giant segmental pediment above, and are flanked by blind arches to each side at ground level with moulded heads that connect with a deep cornice that runs around the sanctuary; the south arch would have originally contained the sedilia. The cornice incorporates a wide blind-arch to the south side with a central keystone. At first-floor level to each north and south wall are unglazed triple-arched arcades with a room behind each; that to the north is a tribune, whilst that to the south is the organ gallery. The arcades have columns with stiff-leaf capitals and balustrading set within the arches. The baptistery (originally a vestry) is plain and contains an octagonal artificial-stone font with a wooden lid. The sacristy contains a mixture of built-in and freestanding cupboards, and a chimneybreast survives, but the fireplace has been removed. A doorway in the south-east corner leads into a small L-shaped single-storey extension that was probably added when the adjacent parish hall was built in 1930 and which contains a kitchenette and toilet, as well as a doorway out to the rear garden. A passageway behind the sanctuary connects the sacristy to a cast-iron spiral stair that accesses the basement and the first floor. On the first floor an identical passageway connects two rooms that overlook the sanctuary behind unglazed triple-arched openings, which are now covered over by plastic sheeting. Stained-glass windows that formerly overlooked the nave (now blocked up and converted to statue niches on the nave side) can be seen in each room. The south room, which was possibly a choir gallery originally, is larger and has panelled walls, a painted-stone fireplace, and a bench along the south wall. A four-panel door in the west wall leads into a small room containing a water tank and a bell rope. The basement, which was originally used as school rooms, has been partly modernised to create a café area, toilets and storage rooms, with the former school rooms now meeting spaces. Cast-iron columns and some wainscotting survive, along with timber floorboard floors under later coverings. At basement level there is access through to the neighbouring double-height parish hall, which has a stage and storage/dressing areas at the south end, a cinema-style balcony at the north end, and toilets and a rear entrance off to the west side. An open-well stair at the north end with cross-shaped balustrading and a ramped timber handrail leads up to the main entrance off Wentworth Terrace, which enters the building at balcony level and has an entrance foyer with a quarry-tile floor and toilets off. Original 1930s doors survive throughout and the tiered balcony has cinema/theatre style tip-up seats.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: enclosing the north front of the church alongside Wentworth Terrace is a very low brick wall with ashlar copings surmounted by replaced late-C20 cast-iron railings. Aligned with the former presbytery entrance, basement entrance, and the north-west porch are sets of gate piers with segmental-headed caps; those in front of the porch are larger and were originally surmounted by large gas lamps (one lamp survives in storage in the presbytery, along with the base of another lamp).


Books and journals: Pevsner, N, Radcliffe, E, The Buildings of England. Yorkshire: The West Riding, (1967 2nd ed), 650

Other: Architectural History Practice. Taking Stock Report. Diocese of Leeds, ‘St Austin, Wakefield’. 2008; D Chappell & H Longbottom. St Austin’s Catholic Church, Wakefield. Heritage report. June 2018

Heritage Details

Architect: Joseph Ireland; Joseph Hansom

Original Date: 1828

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II