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

Out with the Old – In with the New

The Re-ordering of the Church in 1960s

The interior of the church underwent major changes in 1960 during the time of Fr. Craig at a total cost of £9,457. Fr. Craig felt the alterations would enhance the church and had confidence in the people “that when faced with this scheme (they) will rise to the occasion and that when encouraged by their priests will hurry to replenish any expenditure undertaken”. The 17 steps leading from the altar rails to the altar and the limited space at the top of these steps had proved problematic. It was therefore decided to move the altar from the back wall to the centre of the chancel. Furthermore the large lights, which lit the centre of the church, were removed, as they had needed to be lowered each time a bulb needed replacing. In fact one had fallen during Mass. Openwork stainless steel altar rails replaced those of brick. The brick pulpit was demolished and the large crucifix was taken down and replaced by a large mosaic of The Risen Christ. The bare brickwork was plastered and painted.

Professor Derek Walker who was commissioned as the architect for the alterations has this to say: “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.”

The sad part for Derek is that during the installation the Bishop vetoed certain elements. The major work on the rear wall was to be a superb gesso painting of the Crucifixion by Tom Watt, who headed the painting department of the Leeds College of Art. In the end this was substituted by commissioning another friend Roy Lewis, a graduate of the Royal College of Art who crafted the mosaic now in place. The mosaic came in numbered square sections, about a foot wide, from Italy and was put in place by Andrews Tiles. Their employees John Carroll and Dick Fletcher did the actual work. John’s wife has said that on the few occasions they have visited St Augustine’s since then, John always remarks, “I did that” as he points toward the mosaic.

A low sculptured wall with a series of medieval figures cast and carved in a concrete stone mixture defined the sanctuary. These unique artistic pieces, which formed the sanctuary enclosure, told the story of the angelic host and the birth of Jesus. Again these were not accepted by the Bishop and were substituted by cast stone of a similar colour. The pieces, which were designed by Jill Messenger, who trained at the Slade School in London, are still partially on view in Derek’s garden in London.

“All the other furniture and fittings I designed lovingly in copper, stainless steel and travertine leather. It was like all compromises; it lost a little in translation. However one element that escaped veto was the Baldachino (a canopy of fabric or stone), which provided a spectacular construction above the altar and sanctuary. I still have great regard for the church, which I always felt, had weathered well and I was proud to make a modern contribution.”

Derek says that as a young architect this early project for which he had sole responsibility gave him an appreciation of detail and product design, which served him well in later years. He later became Professor of Architecture at the Royal College of Art and has since worked all over the world including the planning, design and exhibition design of the Royal Armouries in Clarence Dock.

Above left: Baldiachino

Above right: The Mosaic of the Risen Christ which replaced the large crucifix


New altar rail

Priest's chair

Part of the wall



The Wall and the Sanctuary on 25th June 1961, Donald Stoker's ordination

The excitement of the refurbishment of the Church helped with fund-raising when the Covenant Scheme was introduced and a parish dinner was held in the Drill Hall of Fenton Street Barracks. In December 1962, the Cathos Renewal Campaign was held which was attended by about 700 people in Roundhay Park. Every home was visited and everyone invited to make promises. The campaign seemed to stir people’s consciences as it made a significant difference, not only to the Sunday collection but also to the Sunday Mass attendance. Before the campaign in 1962 it was 2,502. Afterwards in 1963 it rose to 2,816.

In November 1962 there was no response to an appeal for male choir members and it was recorded in the Parish records as follows:

“The life of a parish is reflected in the strength of its men. If this be so, then St Augustine’s must be well nigh dead.”
During Canon Murray’s time there were house Masses in different parishioner’s homes and a portable wooden altar made by Ken Wallis was often used. When house Masses stopped Ken gave the altar to the school and they used to use it for Mass in school but it got burnt when the school was destroyed by fire. Also at this time some parishioners remember the parish social activities, evenings out, a meal annually and also trips to Temple Newsam and Barwick in Elmet. The parish desperately needed a hall, and this finally came to fruition in 1965. The building included a large stage, meeting rooms, kitchen and toilets and was opened on 16 February 1966 by Mgr. Kelly VG.

With the Second Vatican Council came further changes to the church. Between 1964 and 1965 the altar was moved to the front of the chancel to allow the priest to say Mass facing the congregation. It was a confusing time for many parishioners so Fr Donavan arranged for Nigel Bavidge to give a series of talks in the new parish hall.

In 1970 the Communion rails were removed in order that Communion could be received standing and in processional form and the Baptismal font was moved to the foot of the sanctuary.

The Organ was refurbished in 1972 at a cost of £21,000. The potential cost and difficulty of finding a 3- manual organ resulted in a 2-manual refurbishment from a redundant Methodist church in Leeds.

Carpet tiles were laid through the nave in 1974 and the church was decorated. A new lectern was installed and the sanctuary was carpeted. The presbytery was extended and underwent alterations in Fr. Murray’s time. A new kitchen was installed and a new flat for the housekeeper. The front door was blocked up, a porch was added to the side door and a new garage and carport were built.

Between 1983-1989 the church was rewired and new lighting fitted. The baldachino remained in place although the lights down the centre were removed to comply with the new Health and Safety Regulations.

A brass plaque was placed on the nave wall in 1988 by the Ukrainian Community to commemorate the Millennium of Christianity in the Ukraine 989-1997. The Ukrainian Community have been using the Church to celebrate Mass in the Byzantine Rite on the 2nd Sunday of every month since 1957.

During Fr. Durcan’s time, the old central heating was replaced, the Lady Chapel was renovated, a new lectern installed and the sanctuary carpeted. In 1991 the present marble altar was erected in memory of Mgr Spelman. It was originally in the Junior Seminary of the Verona Fathers in Mirfield and was the work of two Italian priests from the Verona Fathers, both skilled sculptures. When the seminary closed Fr. Murtagh who had been a priest there, had had the altar erected in the church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour at Seacroft. When the church at Seacroft closed the altar was bought by St Augustine’s and the names of those who contributed were placed within it.

Above: The Altar erected in memory of Mgr Spelman.

Right: The Lady Chapel

As in many other parishes, during the latter part of the 20th Century, there was a gradual reduction in Sunday Mass attendance, especially among the young. Although this has become a national trend, ‘a sign of the times’, at St Augustine’s there have been other contributory factors. ‘Upward social mobility’ is one of them – families moving further away from the city centre into more affluent areas with semi-detached houses and gardens. The rows of terraced houses in Harehills that once housed the many Catholic Irish immigrant families have since become an ‘Inner City Area’ and home for many immigrants from Asia, many of whom are Muslim. They in turn have built themselves a Mosque on Harehills Lane.

Sunday Mass attendances reflect this trend. In 1981 attendance was 1,843. In 1990 it was 1,491, and in 2000 the figure dropped to 588. In 2001 Mass attendance started a gradual increase and the figure for 2004 was 658 with 54 baptisms and only one wedding.

In 1997, the benches were removed from the balcony and a few rows of benches were removed from the back of the church. This created space that has been used for displays and a place to linger and meet other parishioners after Mass. At nearly every parish assembly since then there has been a debate about screening off the area. Bright blue foldaway screens were bought, but were not to everyone’s liking.

The last purchase at the end of the twentieth century was a new bell for the bell tower, which was in place in time to commemorate 2,000 years of Christianity as it was rung at dawn on 1st January 2001.