St. Mark’s Church is the last to survive of the three ‘Million’ or Church Commissioner’s churches built in Leeds with the aid of the First Parliamentary Grant to the Commissioners for New Churches following the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 when Parliament approved £1 million to build churches in industrial areas to tackle the perceived threat of civil unrest caused by the mass migration from the countryside into the rapidly expanding towns. The parish was formed in May 1831 mainly from that of St.Peter’s Parish Church. Originally built to designs by Peter Atkinson and Richard Hey Sharp the first stone was laid on 23 April 1823 and the Church was completed in the autumn of 1825 to be consecrated on 13th January 1826.
The church was subsequently “altered” by Adams and Kelly in 1873 who seamlessly introduced window tracery; re-ordered the chancel area and installed new pews to replace the former box pews. Further alterations in the early 1900’s included removal of the south gallery.
After many years with dwindling numbers of loyal but aging regular worshippers; lack of maintenance; condemned electrical and heating installations, St.Mark’s Church was declared redundant by the Church of England in 2001. While alternative uses and potential buyers were being sought the building became a target for break-ins and vandalism causing extensive damage to windows and timber doors.
The church had been on both the English Heritage and Leeds City Council’s Buildings at Risk Registers since early 1990’s.
By 2005 the timber ribbed vaulted ceiling in the south aisle was collapsing. Cold damp conditions had also caused the breakdown of the original Victorian glue based wall and ceiling paintings and deposited brown sticky liquid onto walls, floors, fittings and furnishings. Pigeons colonised the upper stages of the tower and the roof voids. The Churchyard, ‘closed’ in 1992, had become overrun with saplings and Japanese Knotweed.
In 2005 a local evangelical group called Gateway identified St.Mark’s as being suitable for their place of worship, meetings and hub for outreach into the local community and with a 200 strong membership, of whom 75% were Leeds students or graduates, and 4 of its 5 leadership team the same, set about a £1.5 million building project
In 2010 Gateway completed the purchase of the building and working with Richard Crooks Partnership were awarded an initial Repair Grant by English Heritage of £153,000 towards the cost of major repairs to the main roof, parapet, gables and south aisle masonry; new rainwater goods and surface water drainage; replacement of missing glazing and full window protection. Gateway raised a further £30,000 to have the building cleaned. This work was undertaken between June 2011 and January 2012. The building however was still without mains utilities and the interior derelict.
After further fund raising November 2011 to January 2012 saw the reslating of tower roof & new lead gutter linings; strengthening of tower parapets; removal of stained glass windows to north aisle for repair and removal of wall plaster to west end.
2012 saw English Heritage awarding a second Repair Grant of £112,000 towards the remaining masonry repairs and releading of remaining stained glass windows.
Between January 2013 and September 2013 internal alterations were undertaken including new floor construction incorporating underfloor heating to the worship space; installation of mezzanine floor reusing the original balcony front and structural glazing to create first floor meeting room with toilets, kitchen and meeting room/community cafe below; new lighting, heating and audio/visual installations to new west end accommodation.
October 2013 to January 2014 saw replastering and redecoration of the remaining areas of the auditorium/worship space; reinstatement of restored north aisle stained glass windows; conversion of vestry & chapel to administration offices; completion of new lighting, heating and audio/visual installations.
Regular worship and administration opened in St.Mark’s in March 2014. All facilities being available for use by community groups for meetings, concerts, conferences and other events.
August 2015 to January 2016 saw completion of the outstanding masonry repairs to the north aisle; the re-roofing of the vestry and restoration of the stained glass windows to the south aisle.
St. Mark’s contains a fine collection of stained glass by well known stained glass painters such as Clayton and Bell.
The main 5 light east window (left) was installed by Hannah Blessard in 1852 in memory of her husband Robert and their four children. It depicts The Ascension flanked by single figures of the Four Evangelists. The small predella panels below depict the Manifestation, The Crucifixion, The Resurrection and the Baptism of Christ.
While clearing out decades of rotting drapes, service books and other long-ago discarded items from the former underground organ pump chamber immediately prior to commencement of the internal works Richard Crooks discovered a small shattered panel of stained glass. This was carefully passed to Jonathan & Ruth Cooke stained glass conservators who after research concluded this depicts St.Mark and is probably the only remains of the original east window of 1823 and stylistically related to windows from St.Matthew Holbeck and in Leeds Minster, both by Thomas Wright. The significance of the ‘St.Mark’ panel is as a rare surviving provincial work by a relatively little known Leeds-based glass painter of the late Georgian period. This panel has been conserved and is on display in the church.
The western window in the north aisle depicts the Stoning of St. Stephen, an excellent window of c.1913 on the style of Christopher Whall, with the vision of Our Lord appearing in the sky surrounded by angels. The design is understood to be a late reuse of the cartoon for a window in Somerton Church, Oxfordshire, itself a later reworking of the Resurrection window from Swanscombe Church in Kent. This window has now been repaired, releaded and reinstated in the window opening formally blocked by the organ and is now in full view. Previously the window had been partially obscured by the gallery.
The Conservation and Repair Philosophy for this project was to repair the building using traditional materials and techniques appropriate to historic buildings.
The roofs were repaired using good quality second-hand slates and parapet gutters relined with lead sheet. Lead damp proof courses were introduced below parapet and gable copings to prevent damp penetration into the head of the walls which previously has damaged internal finishes and caused decay of the roof and ceiling timbers.
At ground level the building is surrounded by new French drains to keep the base of the external walls dry and free from rising damp.
The windows have been re-leaded and are now protected externally by both polycarbonate sheet and wire mesh guards. The void between the glass and the protection is ventilated to prevent the build of heat and condensation which can otherwise be detrimental to the lead cames and also the stained glass.
The external masonry had been repointed in the past with hard Portland cement based mortar which had accelerated the rate of decay of the soft sandstone and this was removed and the building repointed with traditional lime mortar.
Damaged internal plaster finish which had been ‘sealed’ in the past with inappropriate modern emulsions was replaced with traditional lime plaster finished with ‘breathable’ paint to enable any moisture in the walls to quickly evaporate and maintain the masonry in a relatively dry condition thus maximizing its thermal insulation properties. The use of insulated plasterboard linings was briefly considered but ruled out on the basis that recent research has indicated that after a year or two such linings cause the moisture content within thick masonry walls to increase towards the internal face thus reducing the thermal insulation qualities of the construction and the risk of interstitial condensation.
The vaulted ceilings are constructed of traditional lime plaster on timber lathes and these have been preserved intact. However sheep’s wool insulation blanket has been laid over the ceilings to significantly reduce the heat loss through the roof. This material was used as it is able to absorb a degree of moisture without affecting the integrity of the insulation.
The ground floor and new suspended first floor incorporate underfloor heating pipes and high levels of thermal insulation. As far as possible original fixtures and features have been retained and re-used. The ornate oak screens have been glazed and reconfigured to form offices. Original features such as the font and pulpit have been carefully dismantled and are stored in the accessible floor voids for future reference. The ornately carved choir stalls and communion rails are stored in the Vestry at the east end.
This historically important Leeds building has been carefully repaired and brought back into the use for the purpose for which is was originally built and is now accessible for all to see and admire.
Since the building reopened, thousands of Leeds residents have benefited from the restored St.Mark’s Church. Whether it is the refugee receiving a food package at the Food Bank outlet, the lonely single mum enjoying community at the mums and tots group or the bored teenager enjoying the Friday night youth programme the members of Gateway Church have helped restore a building to its original purpose and given more than they have taken.
Many former local residents and worshippers have returned to see the transformation of the building and attend the special Christmas concerts and Open Days. Many sharing memories of their family celebrations held in the church. The Church is currently putting together a permanent exhibition detailing the history of the building and including a number of interesting artefacts.
In 2017 the Ecclesiastical Architects & Surveyors Association and The National Churches Trust awarded Richard Crooks Partnership the King of Prussia Gold Medal.