American family join campaign to save historic south Leeds church spire after tracing ancestry back to Hunslet

An American family has joined a host of locals as they battle to save Hunslet's iconic St Mary’s Church spire, the tallest in Leeds, from demolition.

By Alex Grant
Wednesday, 4th May 2022, 4:45 am

Since the demolition of the St Mary’s Church building in 2015, the residents of Hunslet have campaigned to save the adjoining spire.

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Historic south Leeds church spire one step closer to salvation

Mary Kennedy, 72, from Newcastle, Ontario, Canada, her sister Geraldine from Kansas City, Missouri, US and their four brothers are all direct descendants of the Murray and Douglas families of Hunslet.

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Since the demolition of St Mary’s Church building in 2015, the residents of Hunslet have campaigned to save the adjoining spire. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

The sisters recently travelled to Leeds to trace their ancestry and walk in the footsteps of several past generations.

"We were interested in Hunslet and St Mary's specifically, knowing that several of our relatives worshipped there, were baptized there and married there. On our first day here, we found the spire of St Mary's and were so very happy it was still there and already hopeful that the intention was to restore it." Mary told the YEP.

"We weren't even aware at that time of the War Memorial associated with it and that makes its historical significance so much more meaningful. We can already imagine what a beautiful landmark the restoration would make."

The spire of Hunslet`s St Mary’s Church is a grade II listed building and is the tallest church spire in Leeds.

Mary Kennedy, 72, from Ontario, Canada, her sister Geraldine from Missouri, US and their four brothers are all direct descendants of the Murray and Douglas families of Hunslet.

The adjoining church was demolished in 2015 due to subsidence but the spire has stood since 1864 and this date can be prominently seen above the bricked up original entrance to the church.

Speaking to the YEP earlier this month, Kenny Saunders, chair of Hunslet Carr Residents Association, detailed how "Hunslet without a spire would be like Blackpool without a tower."

For Mary and Geraldine, whose mother was born in Hunslet in 1910, they are confident that the passion and determination of local residents will see the spire saved.

"We absolutely loved Leeds. We loved that factories and mills were being restored, maintaining much of their architectural integrity for future generations, we loved the tribute to fallen soldiers from Hunslet Carr school, and the river walk, and so much more. We especially loved that you love it" Mary said.

"Leeds appears to be thriving and I'm certain there would be many who would be interested in saving this historical gem. Your community certainly appears to be on the side of this restoration so, I have no doubt that you've got this."

Hopes of saving the beloved spire were boosted over the weekend with council chiefs confirming they have entered negotiations with church leaders over restoration work on the structure.

The council report added that talks with the Diocese of Leeds, which owns the tower, had taken place recently, and that it hopes to make progress on securing emergency works to the structure "within a year".

Speaking to the YEP last month, a spokesperson for the Anglican Diocese of Leeds explained that it is a complex situation given the important status of the site.

"We remain committed to ensuring the site is developed for community use. As part of the work essential structural and archaeological reports are being prepared. Meanwhile, safety inspections take place every four months." said the spokesperson.