Saxons in Leeds!

  • Over the next few months we’ll be featuring articles from guest blogger Kiera Falgate. Kiera is a student at the University of Leeds and has been using the books and other resources available in the Local and Family History department at the Central Library to find out more about some of Leeds’ most interesting heritage.

    View of the old Leeds Parish Church of St. Peters. This building was demolished in 1838 and the present church constructed. The new church was consecrated in 1841. This is a Percy Robinson Print and was taken from

It’s not hard to imagine Leeds’ industrial history, its grand architectural legacy is everywhere. Evidence of the area’s medieval history is far more subtle, and under-appreciated. To see the art of some of Leeds’ earliest inhabitants, go no further than the Minster down in Kirkgate. As well as boasting a variety of stunning mosaics and stained glass windows, it is home to an Anglo-Saxon carved stone sculpture. (For those who like me, forget the time-frames for these old civilisations – the Anglo-Saxons were after the Romans, and before the Normans.) Known as the Leeds Cross, it’s an impressive 7 feet tall, and was smashed up and forgotten for centuries, before being reconstructed in the nineteenth century.

A delve into the local library records shows that a church has been on the site, near the river Aire, for well over a thousand years, but it has been rebuilt several times. In 1838 (the year Queen Victoria was crowned), the medieval church was demolished, and architect Robert Dennis Chantrell discovered the shattered remnants of an uncertain number of Anglo-Saxon sculptures. Carved between the years 700 to 900 in local stone, we have no idea what their purpose was, worship, grave marking, architectural, or decorative. In his Headingley home, he reconstructed the tall stone cross we can see today, Frankenstein’s monster style, using parts from many different sculptures. The rest of the carved stones were incorporated into the new tower of the church. Chantrell took it with him when he retired to Brighton, using it as a rather impressive garden ornament, and the Vicar of Leeds engaged in a difficult legal battle to get it back. It was cemented into the altar flat, where it remains today, hopefully never to end up in anyone else’s garden.

Leeds Central Library’s local collections are broad and fascinating. If there are any local mysteries that you’re interested in, it’s worth a look.

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