A Parish Church has stood on this site in Huddersfield for almost 1000 years. The first church was built by Walter de Laci, the second son of Ilbert de Laci, a wealthy nobleman, who held a great deal of land in Yorkshire, including the manors of Huddersfield and Almondbury.
The story goes that Walter, as he was riding from Huddersfield to Halifax, was thrown from his horse into a swampy marsh. Fearing for his life, he vowed that if he were spared, he would found a church at Huddersfield. Walter lived to keep his promise and the church was built around 1090 – 1100. (The date should not be earlier, since the Domesday Book of 1085 records no church yet in ‘Odersfelt’.)
Soon the de Lacis fell from favour, and the Manor of Huddersfield passed to Hugh de Laval, who in turn gave the advowson (patronage and tithe rights) to the Augustinian order at Nostell Priory. The first Vicar of Huddersfield on record was Michael de Wakefield (1216). The full list in the west entrance porch includes Henry Venn (1759-71), a noted member of the Evangelical movement who invited John Wesley to preach here.
During the years 1503 – 6 the church had been rebuilt in the ‘Perpendicular’ style. The Parish Church had at least two chantry chapels possibly at some distance from the church. Masses would have been said here for the dead, before the reformation. We believe one such chapel to have existed at Bay Hall in Birkby, Huddersfield.
By 1830 the town had grown considerably and the fabric of the Parish Church was in a poor state. Mr Pritchett, the York architect who also designed Huddersfield station, gave an estimate of £2,000 for a simple rebuilding. However, the rebuilding project became more ambitious and it was decided to
(i) raise the floor by eight feet and construct a crypt
(ii) extend the nave by thirty feet to the west
(iii) build the tower much higher to 120 feet.
The cost escalated to £10,000. The new church was consecrated on 27 October 1836. Unfortunately, many of the stones were laid ‘the wrong way round’ and, as a result, have weathered very badly in years since.
A walk around the church
After entering from the west porch, where the plaque recording former Vicars is placed, proceed down the aisle. You can see the Constable staves placed in holders in the middle of some of the pews. Each parish was responsible for providing constables for the town, before the founding of a modern police force. On the north wall you see a plaque in memory of the Revd Henry Venn. To the east stands the Conacher organ pipes of 1908, restored by Philip Wood of Huddersfield in 1984. In the choir the stall ends are of note and may come from the second church.
Looking toward the sanctuary, you can see the main beauty of the church, the east window and baldachino, both designed by Sir Ninian Comper in memory of the fallen of the first world war. The lower part of the window shows a depiction of the risen Jesus Christ, and on his right St Peter, our patron saint; the other figures are St Mark, St Paul and St Aidan, all representing former daughter churches (now closed). The upper lights portray Christ in majesty, flanked by St Michael and St George.
The Lady Chapel is in the south aisle, designed in this form in 1944 as a memorial to former Vicar Canon Leeper. The carved screen and small credence table are the work of Robert Thompson or Kilburn with his signature carved mice. The Arms of the Ramsden family and of Archbishop Vernon are depicted in the glass above the altar. There is new glass too, added here and above the west window at the end of the 20th century.
The Elizabethan font to the west is dated 1570, with the royal cipher ER and the arms of England and France quartered. Its cover is supposed to be that given by Joshua Brooke of New House in 1640. The carved panelling of the gallery above is probably from the second church.
The outside of the church
The choir vestry was added in 1879, balancing the similar octagonal vestry to the north. There are some interesting ‘corbels’ (forming the labels to the hood moulds above the windows). Jesus Christ and his mother Mary are depicted, along with Benjamin Disraeli and a former Bishop of Ripon.
The former graveyard on the north side was taken into the care of the Local Authority in 1952. It is hoped that renovation work will soon be carried out to restore this area as a place of beauty and peace for the people of Huddersfield.
More recent changes
The church was re-ordered in the late 1980s in line with liturgical reform and changes in worship. The main alteration was the extension of the floor to enable a free standing nave altar and a semi-circular area around it where worshippers kneel to receive communion. The furnishings of the chancel can be moved to allow drama or recitals to take place.
The crypt beneath the church has been excavated. Part of this is now taken up with office space for the church and part is leased to the very popular ‘Key’s cafe’. The cafe is open Monday – Saturday.
6th West Yorkshire Rifle Volunteers
Presented 28 March 1868
Laid up on 18 October 1936
Laid upon 18 October 1936
Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, 7th Battalion
Presented on 18 September 1909
Laid up on 8 July 1956
Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, 5th Battalion
Presented on 19 June 1909
Laid up on 20 October 1957
The Colours were taken down, to be stored in a specially commissioned oak cabinet, against the north wall of the church on Wednesday 16 April 2008.
From an address given by Canon Horan, Vicar of Huddersfield, in 1956:
“For forty-seven years these Colours have symbolised something very real, true and important – courage, service, loyalty and chivalry. But what is more important, they have represented faith, hope and love. Colours are the very soul of a regiment.
Colours have been a rallying point for a regiment. Therefore how important it is that the Colours should be brought to what is a rallying point for all the church; the rallying point where all fighting against wrong and evil things in the world is gathered.”