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UK Mount Saint Mary's Church

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This was not an easy one but worth the bruises, cuts and grazes in my opinion!


The following information was gleaned from the web and (mostly) from other reports:

This is Mount Saint Mary's Convent Church (or “the Famine”) church of Leeds; in an area known as “the Bank” on the crest of Richmond Hill. The church reportedly sits upon a network of mines, split into three levels, that date back to the 1600’s. Built in a Gothic revival style, the building was designed by Joseph Hansom with its interior designed by Edward Pugin (son of Augustus Pugin, who is responsible for the interior of the Palace of Westminster), at a cost of £8000. The church was opened in 1852 although the building was not fully complete until 1866. The building was designated Grade II* status on the 5th August 1976.

In 1829 the Catholic Emancipation Act was passed and by 1850 the Catholic hierarchy was restored to England. The country was divided into various dioceses and the construction of various churches and cathedrals ensued – with Mount Saint Mary’s as one of them. The founders of the church begun construction without any explicit guarantee for funding in order to serve the burgeoning Irish population who had emigrated to Leeds to escape the ruinous potato famine in Ireland. The church was dedicated in a ceremony presided over by Bishop Briggs, on the 29th July 1857; the ceremony was attended by the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman, and the founder of the Oblates, Eugène de Mazenod, who was made a saint in 1995.

The area in which the church was built had recently transformed from arable to industrial usage and had attracted a large proportion of the incoming destitute Irish Catholic population. They had emigrated there in order to pick up work in the construction of canals and railways, as well as the plethora of local mills. The area itself was denoted by poverty and housing conditions were considerably appalling; being an industrial area the quality of the environment was notably grim. The city council itself was interested in the new demographic predominantly for their utility as cheap labour and as such did very little to meet the needs of their spiritual or physical wellbeing. After the Irish potato famine, the Irish Catholic population of Leeds had risen from a purported 50 in 1780 to 10,000 in 1850.

The church was established at the persuasion of a group of men of St Saviour’s church in Leeds, who had left the Anglican church in order to become Roman Catholics. Funding was raised by the local Irish Catholic population, as well as a mysterious benefactor who donated a significant sum of money despite remaining anonymous. A school was founded in 1853 to serve the Irish Catholic girls, who were mostly working in the local flax mills, at a fee of 2d per week. By 1858 they had raised enough funds to establish their own covenant next door which remains open to this day. The church served as testament to the solidarity and resolve of the Irish Catholic refugee community whilst it remained in use.

Following the Second World War the majority of those living in the area were rehoused as part of a national relocation scheme aimed at improving the quality of housing in Britain. As a result, the congregation halved in size and by 1979 the parish’s population had fallen to 790. As the church was positioned at the top of a hill it was subject to heavy winds and was especially vulnerable to poor weather. Falling into a state of disrepair it was determined that the cost to bring the church back to a safe state would come to £1.5 million. For such a small congregation, this was considered too expensive and in June 1989 the Oblates of Mary Immaculate passed the church over to the Diocese of Leeds for deconsecration. The site was sold to the Sanctuary Housing Trust in 1996 and has remained abandoned in a state of dereliction ever since.




















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Nice first report of a great place. I especially like the look up on the fourth photo.

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