Leeds nostalgia: Church that almost didn’t make 150th

CHURCH PRIDE: (from left) Judith Armitage, Norah Gibson and Sysan Woodhead.

CHURCH PRIDE: (from left) Judith Armitage, Norah Gibson and Sysan Woodhead.

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St Peter’s Church, Bramley, has just marked its 150th anniversary but it’s a milestone the landmark building almost didn’t make, as in the 1970s it came within a hair’s breadth of being closed due to its dilapidated condition.

Of course, it survived but only because the community of Bramley pulled together to pull off one of the fundraising coups of the century by raising a staggering £100,000 in just 12 months.

As the church has marked its 150th anniversary, the community has once again come together but this time to celebrate the church rather than save it.

Norah Gibson, church warden at St Peter’s, said: “We wanted to celebrate the church’s involvement in the community and one of the ideas was to invited different groups to create a banner. We started off with nine groups but were so overwhelmed by the response and enthusiasm of people that it ended up being 15.

“The church continues to be at the heart of the Bramley community. The building is well used and there are several groups in the town, such as Bramley Elderly Action, Bramley and Rodley Community Action and West Leeds Debt Forum which started out as church projects.

“The banner is now hung on the church wall and measures 15ft by 9ft and is a colourful display. It shows the church is still there and still serving a need.”

The Rev Ian Rodley, 66, who retired on Sunday July 14, completed a 100-mile bicycle ride in the month’s leading up to the 150th anniversary, also on July 14. He said: “It’s a huge milestone for the church, which has survived a lot. In the 1970s it had dry rot, wet rot, every rot going. Only last year we raised £140,000 for a scheme with English Heritage to repair the spire.

“One recent project was the Field of Remembrance at the back of the church, which we mark on Remembrance Day - we researched and found every fallen solder from both the world wars and each is marked with a cross.”

The church was built by public subscription in 1863 on land gifted by the Earl of Cardigan but prior to that there was evidence of a church on the site going as far back as 800AD.

The present church, when initially built, cost £5,141 to build and at that time it was the epicentre of a close-knit and wealthy community, with everything revolving around the church, talks, galas, societies and Whit walks.

It was designed by architect John Chadwick, its first vicar, the Rev Samuel Joy, was instrumental in helping raise money to build the church and his successor, the Rev John Gott, member of the famous Gott family of Leeds, instigated the parish magazine in 1868 and the same year formed a church council consisting of clergy, churchwardens and laymen, believed to be the first parochial church council in England.

The church was almost closed when in 1974, a Diocesan Pastoral Committee applied for a redundancy order on the building because of its poor state of repair and despite the fact it had a congregation of around 113 people, most of whom met on a Saturday.

The income of the church that year was recorded as £9,748, its outgoings £10,048 - not a good situation for a building which was used only once a week.

Writing in the Yorkshire Evening Post in October the following year Derek Naylor said: “St Peter’s is on the brink of becoming redundant. The vicar and its parrishioners await only the confirmation of an inevitable death sentence.”

In the years that followed, parrisioners held dances, coffee mornings and all manner of other events in a bid to raise the £80,000 needed to repair the church - they met and exceeded their target in June 1980.

They sold 4,000 wooden ‘bricks’ made from the old church pews at £20 a throw and Ken Dodd appeared at Leeds Grand Theatre in May 1978.

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