St. John's Church
Source: Robinson's Relics of Old Leeds (1896)
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The Church of St. John the Evangelist, in New Briggate, is the oldest ecclesiastical edifice of which Leeds can boast. Built in the time of Charles I., when Gothic art was at its lowest ebb, it possesses none of that grace and elegance of design which characterises some of the earlier churches, though Thoresby, in his enthusiastic way, speaks of it as being "so noble and stately a structure as scarcely to be paralleled in England." The plan is somewhat unusual, consisting of a nave, chancel, and south aisle, with a porch on the south side and a square tower at the west end, having an embattled parapet and crocketted pinnacles. The nave and south aisle are of the same size, and are divided by an arcade of seven pointed arches on octagonal pillars.
The most interesting feature in the interior is the richly carved oak screen which stretches across the entire width of the church, separating the nave from the chancel (there being no chancel arch). This is a remarkably fine example of Jacobean woodwork. The pulpit is in the corner, formed by the junction of the screen with the north wall, it is of the most elaborate execution, octagonal in shape, and has a ponderous sounding board. The pews with which the church is fitted throughout are, like the pulpit and screen, of oak, darkened by age, with carved panels and moulded terminals. The roof is an open timbered one, the oaken tie beams being supported by corbels formed of curiously carved figures. The ceiling is plastered, and enriched by panels filled in with arabesque work. The general effect is formal and sombre, but impressive, and eminently characteristic of the period when the building was erected.
In the Parish Church register there is a record of a baptism in 1579, as follows: — "John Harrysonn, of Paudmire, had a child christened, 16th Aug., named John." To this entry the clerk has added: — "This is that Mr. John Harrison, who of his sole cost and charges built the New Church, with a little Chapel, and the almshouses near adjoining, and the Free School of Leedes."
Harrison was a man of the middle class, and for nearly forty years carried on the business of a clothier In Briggate, amassing a considerable fortune, which he devoted to various charitable purposes. At that time, with the exception of the chantry chapels — one in Kirkgate, one In Lady Lane, and one at the top of Briggate, on the west side — the only place of worship was the Parish Church, where the accommodation was altogether insufficient for the numerous and rapidly increasing population. As Fuller says, "The church could scarce hold half the inhabitants till this worthy gentleman provided them with another, so that now the men of Leeds may say, with Isaac 'Rehoboth,' for now the Lord hath made room for us. He (Mr. Harrison) accepted of no assistance in the building of that fair fabric but what he fully paid for, so that he may be owned the sole founder thereof." . . .
The building was begun In 1631, and was consecrated on September 21st, 1634. The first minister was Robert Todd, who was suspended on the very day he entered on his duties. The consecration ceremony was performed by Archbishop Neale, who appointed his own chaplain, Dr. Cosen, afterwards Bishop of Durham, to preach the sermon. Mr. Todd preached in the afternoon, and by some unguarded remark, which was thought to [43-44]
Robinson, Percy. Relics of Old Leeds. Leeds: Percy Robinson, 1896; London: B. T. Batsford. Internet Archive version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 23 January 2013
Last modified 23 January 2013