HISTORY and PARISH RECORDS
For around 800 years, St. Matthew’s Church has hosted Christian worship and fellowship in the heart of Chapel Allerton, originally on the site of the old graveyard on Harrogate Road (see below). In 2020 we celebrate 120 years of our current Church building which is a grade II* listed building in the Diocese of Leeds.
'Alretun,' thought to mean "the settlement by the alder trees" is found in the Domesday Survey of 1086 but there is no mention of the Chapel. References to the development of the chapel are sparse but it appears in a land grant of around 1240 AD as "Capella de Alreton". It is possible that it was established by the monks of Kirkstall Abbey for the use of their lay brothers working at the grange or small farm (the present site of the Allerton Grange estate). Alternatively, it may have been a manorial chapel set up by the Lord of the Manor. There are various, fairly slight, references to it during the Middle Ages when it seems to have been treated as a dependent chapel within the Parish of St. Peter at Leeds, and this relationship has continued at least until the beginning of the 20th century. This meant that parishioners were able to attend services in their own area and did not have to make the then arduous journey to Leeds, especially in the winter months. During renovations in 1881, foundations were said to have been found of ‘the old Church in Norman times’ but this seems very unlikely. There is no architectural information about the mediaeval chapel but it is quite likely to have looked like the Church at Adel, with an oblong chancel and nave. What appears to be clear is that the site behind the War Memorial on Harrogate Road has been consistently identified as the site of all earlier Churches and that there has been continuity.
From the 17th century onwards more documentation about the Church and its priests has become available and it is referred to by the Leeds historian Ralph Thoresby. During the 19th century, which is better documented, a picture emerges of a Church building which has been in existence for some centuries and no longer meets the needs of the local congregation. The building of "industrial revolution" housing, for example in the Hawthorns and the Methleys, indicates the level of population growth in the area at a time when Leeds itself was growing considerably.
In 1819 and again in the 1830's, 1850's, 1860's and the 1880's, various attempts were made to enlarge the Church to cope with this greater congregation and to deal with various structural problems. It appears from drawings of the period to have undergone a facelift into a Georgian Chapel with a small tower and spire, an apsidal east end and an internal gallery.
Eventually in 1894 while discussions were being held about the provision of a new organ, it became apparent that there was no point in improving specific aspects of a building which was said to be damp, unhealthy, ugly, and not appropriate to the worship of God. A grant of land which had been made by a parishioner in 1879 for the construction of a parsonage house, and possibly a chapel of ease, on what was then known as Shortcliffe Lane but which we now know as Wood Lane, offered an opportunity to start again. The design proposed by Mr G. F. Bodley* was accepted and the foundation stone was laid on the 18th October 1897. The new Church was consecrated on the 3rd February 1900.
This was not the end of use of the old Church; it continued for some years to be used for guild meetings and occasional services but it's main use was for funerals. The top of the tower became insecure, making the building unsuitable for further use, and it was demolished in the summer of 1935. The shape of the old Church can still be seen in the foundations in the grass of the graveyard. This had been extended several times to cope with the growing population and the graveyard continued in use until it was closed by an Order in Council in 1974.
(This information comes from "The Church in Chapel Allerton, Leeds" by George E. Kirk, Librarian of the Thoresby Society, 1949. and now out of print).
*George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907), was a renowned Victorian architect. He worked in the Gothic style, and largely confined himself to churches. The large separate tower and the stark interior with long internal lines are characteristic of his work.
He was the first pupil of George Gilbert Scott, later establishing a partnership with another pupil of Scott's, Thomas Garner, which lasted for nearly three decades. He was a friend of the Pre-Raphaelites and William Morris and his own most important pupil was the Arts and Crafts designer C. R. Ashbee. Bodley's churches include among many others, St. Michael's in Brighton (1859-61) an early work, Holy Trinity Knightsbridge, and in Cambridge the chapel for Queen's College.
Abroad, his major work was Washington Cathedral. He was also responsible for a variety of church interior architecture - e.g. the nave and presbytery altar for York Minster.
PARISH RECORDS and ARCHIVES
Family historians hoping to uncover information about their ancestors lives at St. Matthew's Church should be aware that the Church only holds current records of births, marriages and deaths stretching back no more than 20 years.
Earlier records relating both to individuals and to the Parish are deposited in the Diocesan archive which is managed and maintained by West Yorkshire County Archive Service. Please contact them using the information below for more details
WEST YORKSHIRE ARCHIVE SERVICES
West Yorkshire Joint Services
Nepshaw Lane South
Telephone: +44 (0)113 393 9788
If your enquiry relates to a recent event for which the Church still holds the register, we will be able to supply you with a copy of a certificate for a modest charge. If we no longer hold the register you will need to contact the Archives Service who should be able to supply you with what you require.
The amount of material deposited with West Yorkshire Archives by the Church is quite considerable, so the more information you are able to supply, the more likely they will be able to help you find what you're looking for.