St. Augustine of Canterbury Church, Leeds Centenary Book.1905-2005

The Birth and Growth of a Parish


In 1890, Harehills was a mainly rural agricultural area on the outskirts of Leeds. Farmhouses and farm cottages were scattered over the area and two or three early Victorian mansions could be found around Harehills Lane. Harehills Colliery could just be seen from Harehills Lane. Harehills Road was a cart track; Ashley Road a bridle path and Compton Road a footpath bordered by a beck. Foundry Lane meandered through the fields to Seacroft.

The nearest Catholic church was St Patrick’s, but within a few years of the opening of St Patrick’s, the Parish began to extend towards Harehills in the North, and Crossgates in the East. Both places were marked out by Canon Augustine J. Collingwood, Vicar General of the Diocese, as future parishes in their own right. and when the need of a school at Harehills became urgent the Canon seized the opportunity of fulfilling a long cherished ambition to build a Church and School dedicated to the Apostle of England, his Patron Saint.

St Augustine’s School-Chapel 1897
St Augustine’s School was the first of the Parish buildings to be erected and on 1st October 1897, Mass was said for the first time in the School Chapel. Harehills district was placed under the care of Fr. Austin Collingwood, a nephew of the Canon and Assistant Priest at St Patrick’s but sadly he died in 1902. St Augustine’s continued to be served from St Patrick’s, and did not become independent until July 1905, when it became a Parish in its own right and Fr. James Coffey became the first Parish Priest.
Fr. Coffey began the work of building and consolidating the Parish and was supported in his work by the enthusiasm and encouragement of the Parishioners. He had been negotiating for land for a church when the site on Harehills Road close to the school and large enough for a church and future developments, became available

The Timber and Iron Church 1908
The Church of St Augustine of Canterbury, a temporary structure of timber and corrugated iron on a brick foundation, became known to the parishioners as the ‘Tin Church’. The Foundation Stone was laid by the Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Cowgill, in 1907 or 1908 owing to the ill health of Bishop Gordon.

The church was opened in 1908. The interior consisted of a central knave leading to a chancel arch and a large window behind the altar which was fronted by a large crucifix. Two side aisles with further seating were surmounted by a wooden gable structure. The congregation showed their loyalty and generosity by their efforts at fundraising for the new Church, School and Presbytery with weekly collections, school socials, whist drives in parish homes, congregational teas at the Clayton Hall and notably the bazaars at the Albert Hall and the New Leeds Constitutional Hall. The parish also responded well with kindness and sympathy during the 1914-18 War, to the appeal for the Belgian refugees. The women organised weekly collections and provided food clothing furniture and accommodation for the homeless Belgian families.

In 1923, after the First War, the new presbytery at the side of the Church was built as a memorial to the young men of the Parish who had fallen on active service and in 1925 a war memorial was placed on the presbytery wall. Fr. Coffey who had previously occupied a terrace house in Roundhay Road was now installed in the new presbytery.
In 1925 the Church was extended and improved to serve the growing population from new housing estates in the area and further improvements were made in 1932.

Fr. Coffey died in November, 1929, and was succeeded by the Rev. Patrick Leonard. Fr. Leonard concentrated on plans for the building of a bigger church. After saying his first Mass at St Augustine’s he announced that early in the new year he hoped a start could be made on the building of a new church, a project dear to the heart of the late parish priest but which had been held up in recent years due to Fr. Coffey’s illness..

In the 1930’s Leeds Council embarked on a massive slum clearance programme, which necessitated the demolition of vast areas of sub standard housing, including many parts of East Leeds. To re-house those being displaced, the building of the Gipton estate was started on the farmland of Harehills, as well as the erection of Quarry Hill Flats. Due to the fact that very many of the displaced families were Catholics, the small ‘Tin Church’ was deemed to be inadequate for the growing congregation. The increasing needs of the Parish and the need for increased accommodation for worshippers, led to the erection of a new building.


Extracts and Statistics from the Parish Records

First Baptism: Phyllis Clare Dewy born 10th July 1905 and baptised by Fr. Coffey on 30th July 1905
First Wedding: Elizabeth Smyth and Cornelius Callaghan, 7th November 1908, officiated by Fr. Coffey

Below: Bishop Joseph Robert Cowgill, assisted by Fr. Coffey (on his right) laying the foundation stone of the original (temporary) church which became known locally as ‘the Tin Church’. These photos were taken in either 1907 or 1908.

The exterior of the original church taken shortly before it was demolished. This is a copy of a picture published in the Yorkshire Evening Post 19 August 1935.

The interior of the original church built in 1908.

Extracts and Statistics from the Parish records
In May 1930 the Outdoor Collection amounted to £56-7s-10d and the Parish book records “we wish to thank all for the manner in which this collection has been received by the people. It is very encouraging to know that it is realised that only by a steady income such as this that we can achieve our great undertaking viz a new and worthy church”. Ironically the collections were smaller after this date and in May 1932 the second collections were referred to in the parish notices as “odious in the House of God”.

Mass Attendance in April 1930: 1,203
Easter confessions: Males 523, Females 734 (Total 1,257) Baptisms 41
Converts 8
Marriages 18

Mass Attendances for the following years
12 April 1931 1,213
10 April 1932 1,370
7 May 1933 1,522
8 May 1934 1,616
28 April 1935 1,731

(It was reported in the records that on 3 September 1933 the church boxes were broken into and the money stolen. Parishioners were asked not to put candle money in the boxes during the week but to save the money and put it in the boxes at the weekend)

A Temporary Home at St Aidan’s
In August 1935 the church was closed and the marriage licence suspended. The old church was demolished with the intention that the new church would be built on the existing site. During this transition period, the parishioners were still able to attend Mass on Sundays and Holydays thanks to the co-operation between Fr. Leonard and the Vicar of St Aidan’s Church on Roundhay Road. It was agreed that St Augustine’s could use their building known as Clayton Hall. The rent was 25/- on Sundays 15/- on Holy Days.

Margaret McHale recalls: “I remember mam talking about when the old tin church closed. Sunday Mass was in Clayton Hall and Mr And Mrs Powell who lived opposite the hall looked after the vestments and chalices until the following Sunday.”

Weekday Masses and Baptisms were celebrated in the school. and this continued until the new church was completed. However, there appears to have been concern that some parishioners were going elsewhere for Sunday Mass, resulting in a smaller collection. Fr. Leonard asked that all parishioners continue to attend the Masses at Clayton Hall to maintain a steady income which was much needed for the new church.