Our history begins with the de Lacy family in the 11th century. Hugh de Lacy (1020-1085) was a nobleman in Lassy, Normandy, 37km from Caen. His two sons Walter (1038-1085) and Ilbert (1045-1093) came over with William the Conqueror and fought at the Battle of Hastings. For their support King William gave them lands; Walter had land in Herefordshire and Shropshire and Ilbert land in West Yorkshire and Blackburnshire.
The story of the Parish Church is that Walter de Lacy was travelling by horse between Huddersfield and Halifax (they owned a property in Almondbury) when he 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 and kept his promise and the church was built around 1090-1100. The date could not be earlier as the Doomsday book of 1085 records no church in “Odersfelt”.
There are some inconsistencies with this story. Walter died in 1085, and the church was allegedly built after the Doomsday book. Walter was described in the story as the second son of Ilbert de lacy. Ilbert had three offspring; a daughter Matilda (b1068), a son Robert (b1070, d after 1102 but before 1129) and Hugh (b1082-circa 1139). I leave you to wonder, but nevertheless the church was built.
Ilbert became the First Baron of Pontefract. His second child, Robert was Second Baron of Pontefract and he founded Pontefract Priory in 1090. Robert de Lacy (also known as Robert de Pontefract) had several offspring; Albreda, Robert who was killed in 1138 in the Battle of the Standard, Ilbert II 3rd Baron of Pontefract, Henry de Lacy who became 4th Baron of Pontefract.
In 1121, Robert, Second Baron of Pontefract, was banished essentially for picking the wrong friends, by King Henry I (1100-1135) and all of his lands, including the Manor of Huddersfield were given to Hugh de Laval, who in turn gave the advowson (patronage and thithe rights) to the Augustinian Order at Nostell Priory. The de Lacy family regained favour and in 1136 the lands were restored to Ilbert de Lacy II. In 1141 when Ilbert II died his brother Henry inherited, and it is he who gave lands at Barnoldswick to the Mother House of the Cistercian Order at Fountains Abbey to establish a Daughter House. The land proved unsuitable and in 1152 the monks moved to a new site at Kirkstall (Kirkstall Abbey).
It is probable that the Church at Almondbury was erected at around the same time as in Huddersfield and as the de Lacys had a residence in Almondbury the church there would have been constructed first. The church dedicated to St Peter was said to have been constructed in 1073, which contradicts what is supposed above. The first Church was a small edifice in the Norman style and was consecrated by the then Bishop of Negroponte. The advowson of the benefice ie; the right to nominate the vicar was conferred some time before 1131 on the Priory of St Oswald at Nostell, the grant being confirmed by royal charter in the following terms: “Henry, King of England, to Thurstan, Archbishop of York, etc., greeting. Know ye that we have granted to God and St Oswald and the monks of Nostell, for the soul of my father and mother and of my brother, William, King of England, and for my soul and my wives’ and sons’, all those lands which were given to God and St Oswald and the monks in alms viz. the Church of South Kirby, and the Church at Batley and the Church of Huddersfield, with the lands appertaining thereto as Hugh de Laval gave to them.”
The Prior at St Oswald appointed a vicar to the Parish, with the usual allotment of lesser or vicarial and reservation of greater or rectorial thythes. As witness the following Deed of Ordination: “AD1216. Walter, by the grace of God, Archbishop of York, Primate of England, to all the faithful in Christ greeting in the Lord. KNOW ye that WE, on the presentation of the Prior and Convent of St Oswald, have admitted Michael de Wakefield Chaplain to the Vicarage of Huddersfield, and have canonically instituted him to the said vicarage, and have caused him to be inducted into corporal possession of the same, which vicar also, in respect of his Vicarage, shall receive all the oblations and emoluments from offerings at the altar, reserving to the said Prior and Covent the tithes of corn, hay, of pease and beans, in the lands and farms belonging to the said church-saving a suitable manse for the Vicar, to be assigned to him by the same (Prior and Convent) and the Vicar himself shall sustain all customary charges and oblations of the said church, and that this may remain firm and stable for ever we have directed that our seal shall be affixed to the present writing.”
The list of vicars appears in full in the West porch of the present building.
The second Parish Church (1503 – 1835)
During the years 1503-1506 the church was been rebuilt in the “Perpendicular “style. It seems reasonable to believe that the first edifice was not entirely demolished, and that the Chancel and the two side chapels were retained. The Nave and Tower were pulled down and a larger Chancel and two transepts were added. A tower was added or the previous one enlarged. The building was consecrated by John Hatton in 1503. He was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of London and Titular Bishop of Negroponte in 1502. 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. It is believed one such chapel existed at Bay Hall in Birkby, Huddersfield.
It seems that this Second church was altered in the 18th century or possibly earlier. The Southern Transept was raised when galleries were placed in Anglican Churches and the upper windows in the transepts were of that era. The lower windows date from the Tudor period when the church was enlarged. The entrance to the church was on the south side and there was a door into a vestry, adjacent to the Nave, also on the south side. The tower was battlemented; at each corner there were finials and a weather vane surmounted the structure.
Inside, the roof of the Chancel was flat, divided into compartments with oak beams. The roof of the Nave was supported by octagonal columns which divided the church into aisles, similar to those in the present building. The pews were of the high backed style and the pulpit was a triple decker specimen. The organ was situated at the west end of the church and was installed in 1811 at the same time as the church was re-pewed. The instrument was described by Sir Stephen Glynne (see below) as “a good organ”, showing that the people of Huddersfield were very musically inclined and demanded a good instrument in their sacred fane.
Shortly after its demolition in 1835, Sir Stephen Glynne of Hawarden Castle, brother of Mrs William Ewart Gladstone, visited Huddersfield and wrote a description of the second Church which was published in the Yorkshire Archaeological Society Journal (Vol 13).
“The Church has been lately rebuilt. It had been very much altered at different times and never could have been a fine structure. The original features were chiefly coarse perpendicular. It comprised a West Tower, a Nave and Chancel each with wide aisles. The Nave was divided from each aisle by four wide pointed arches springing from slender octagonal columns which had rope moulding in the capitols.
Above them was a small clerestory of square-headed windows. The windows were for the most part Square-headed, except some in the Chancel, the eastern of six lights, but all of an ordinary and coarse character. On the North side of the Nave, there are two tiers of windows as at Bolton.
The South side has been considerably enlarged and a new wall built in a poor style. The Cancel had two pointed arches on each side; the piers octagonal, having square flowers in the capitols. The Vestry on the south side of the Chancel appeared modern and the font a plain octagonal. Pews and galleries in abundance and a good organ. The lower part of the Tower is perpendicular, the rest modern.”
Despite this poor review, the church was well attended and supported by the people within the Parish, which covered a huge area. The peak was in the mid to late 18th century during the ministry of the Revd Henry Venn.
Venn was born in 1725 to the Revd Richard Venn, Rector of St Antolin’s Church in the City of London and Maria Ann Isabella Beatrix. He was educated at various schools run by priests until 1742 when at the age of 17 he was admitted at St John’s College, Cambridge. He won a scholarship that year and removed to Jesus College where he remained for 7 years. He obtained his BA in 1745 and MA in 1749. He was ordained Deacon in 1747 and Priest in 1749. In 1749 he moved to Queen’s College as a Lecturer in Geometry and Greek until 1757, when he married Eling, daughter of the Revd Thomas Bishop DD.
In 1754 he accepted the curacy of Clapham (his second curacy) where he remained for 5 years. Sir John Ramsden offered Venn the vicarage of Huddersfield, even though he had never met him, but on account of having heard good accounts of him. Venn was “grieved at the obstinate rejection of the Gospel during five years by almost all the rich” in Clapham he “determined to remove to Huddersfield” even though his income was reduced by more than a half.
At the time, Huddersfield was a moorland village with a small scattered population estimated at about 5000, some living in the houses congregated around the Parish Church and near the River Colne, other sections of the population lived in houses dotted all over the township, plus people attending the church from the hamlets constituting the Parish. John Wesley visited Huddersfield in 1757 and wrote in his Journal “I rode over the mountains to Huddersfield, a wilder people, I never saw in England. The men, women and children filled the streets as we rode along and seemed just ready to devour us.”
However, when Venn began to preach, the Church became so crowded that many were not able to obtain admission. Many flocked from the distant hamlets, asking what they had to do to be saved. Many changes took place in the town as a result of Venn’s preaching. His health was not good (he suffered from Tuberculosis) and he preached his farewell sermon in 1771. The new vicar did not share Venn’s views and the congregation split into three groups after Venn had left: Loyal church people who stayed at St Peter’s, Methodists who subsequently erected the first Methodist Chapel (old Bank Chapel) and the Independents at Highfield Chapel.
The origins of the present Parish Church
The second church was in a very poor state by the end of the 18th century. There were many representations made to the Vestry Meetings for repairs to the fabric, but with little done, ultimately the present church was built and consecrated in 1836.
Why wasn’t the second church looked after? These are possible contributing factors.
Firstly, after Venn had left, the next vicar, Harcar Crook, didn’t share Venn’s approach and many of the congregation left. Some, the Congregationalists, built Highfield Chapel in 1773 and others, Methodists, built the first chapel on the site of Buxton Road Methodist Church in 1775. This was demolished when the roads at Chapel Hill were altered. Chapel Street still exists in this area.
The growth and appeal of these new churches resulted in hundreds of former parishioners leaving the Parish Church and transferring their membership to these chapels. The costs of building these chapels was helped by voluntary contributions. All of this resulted in less money coming into the church coffers.
Secondly, the Parish was enormous compared to today. Those smaller towns which were within the Parish, prior to 1818, that had their own Chapels-at-Ease (Scammonden, Longwood and Slaithwaite) and those who built Churches after 1818 such as Christ Church at Woodhouse (1825), St Paul’s (1828), St John’s at Golcar (1829), All Saints at Paddock (1830) and St Stephen’s at Lindley (1830), felt that as they were now supporting their own churches they no longer had an obligation towards the Mother Church, St Peter’s.
Thirdly, from 1750 onward, Huddersfield had grown in importance as a result of the effect of the Industrial Revolution on the woollen industry and the fact that the Ramsdens had allowed much building on their land. By 1832 Huddersfield was a well-ordered town, centred around the Parish Church. However, the working-class population were not attracted to the “Toryism” of the Anglican vicars or the orthodox Weslyan Methodists and aligned themselves with the Independents and Baptists. Thus, Anglicanism was at a low both spiritually and financially, although all householders did have to pay Church Rates (rates being the then equivalent of today’s council tax!).
Finally, the ground landlord, Sir John Ramsden, was an absent one and he rarely visited Huddersfield. Despite this the Ramsdens were always generous towards the Parish Church and the Baronet contributed significantly to the building of the third church.
Between 1818 and 1823 the Vestry Meeting minute books illustrate the problems of the building and many entries dealt with the poor fabric of the building culminating in 1830 with a note to thoroughly overhaul the church. A local builder was commissioned to deal with the problem.
In a letter in 1830 he says “I have examined the church and with respect to the roof there must be a new one. The rafters and principals are quite decayed and rotten; it is certainly surprising to me that there has not been some accident before this time. A new roof, together with other things necessary to put the church into repair, would cost £780, but it would be almost useless putting a new roof on to the present walls and pillars, they are in such a bad state. There is not a straight, plumb wall about the building. I have seen nearly all the foundations bare both inside and out, and they are in a really very bad way, being generally footed upon loose boulders. Several of the pillars are also not in the perpendicular and must be taken down if the church is repaired.”
This shocking report in 1831 compelled the Committee to get an architect involved. Sometime before 1832 the services of Mr J. P. Pritchett, an architect from York, were secured and a comprehensive report on the structure was produced. Little was done until April 1834 when a Faculty from the Ecclesiastical Court of the Diocese was granted for re-building and restoring the Church. Some money was raised by voluntary subscription along with some generous gifts. A Building Committee was set up, nothing new there then!
Much discussion took place as to what was to be done, between the vicar and architect, with a tender price of £2200. However, the vicar expressed regret that so much of the new church would be below ground level (several feet at the West end). Pritchett suggested leaving the old floor as the floor of a crypt and raising the whole building by 8 feet at a cost of £230. The committee then thought further and asked if the Tower could be raised too. A completely new Tower was chosen, at a height of 120 feet with pinnacles and buttresses, costing £1000, but as there was not a free seat in the church it was thought to be a good opportunity to lengthen the church by 30 feet westwards.
The total list of other improvements was as follows: Stone Communion rails, a stone Pulpit, a Reading desk, Remaking all the old pews, Oak capping and book boards, two canopies over the black marble tables for the Commandments, a new Vestry, hot water heating, enriching the ceiling, a new illuminated clock, two additional bells, enlargement of the organ, a painted East window remodelling the churchyard and crypts and lighting the building with gas.
The last service in the second Parish Church was held on Sunday April 27th, 1834. The Preachers were the Revs John Gildersdale, John Pope and the then vicar, Rev J. C. Franks. The work of demolishing the building commenced on the next day April 28th, 1834.
The “Leeds Mercury” had the following extract on August 20th 1836: “It is fixed that the new parish church for Huddersfield shall be opened for public worship in the last week in October.”
Also, in the same journal a report on October 22nd, 1836: “This beautiful structure, which has been rebuilt by voluntary subscriptions, is now nearly completed. “The new erection is considerably larger than the former and upwards of 30 pews are free and appropriated to the use of the poor. This is the third erection on the same sit. The late church, consecrated in May 1506, and the erection previous to that about 400 years before. The Church will be opened for Divine Service on the 27th inst.”
The final costings were: Income of £8991 11s 11d and Payments of £8952 0s 9d, leaving the Treasurer with £39 11s 2d “profit”.
There are some similarities to today (though the numbers are much greater!): It took an age to agree to the new building, plans were changed an then it required a Faculty to allow the build to proceed. They had a Building Committee, much larger than ours but they struggled to agree on all the alterations. The differences are: We have benefited from several generous grant awards, but they rebuilt the place in 2 years and it took us 6 months to replace a few stones and restore some windows!
After all this, the Church was rebuilt.
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 of 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 Restaurant and Coffee House.
There are seven colours of the Duke Of Wellington’s Regiment laid up in Huddersfield Parish Church. Each one Commemorates a battle:
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.”