St. Peter & St. Leonard's Church

The Church of St. Peter's and St. Leonard, Horbury.

A drawing of the old Norman Chapel that stood on the site of the present day St. Peter's and St. Leonard's Church. Picture courtesy of Father Christopher Johnson.

The crypt at St. Peter's Church, photograph courtesy of Phillip Wain, April 2019.

Another view of St. Peter's Church probably from the 1950s.

Postcard courtesy Neville Ashby

The St. Peter's School Feast at Horbury in 1907.
Picture courtesy Neville Ashby

The Church tower being repaired in 1898, this picture courtesy Father Christopher Johnson). The essential repair work was done in 1898/99 at a cost of £8,000 raised by subscription and from donations after a further adverse report about the state of the tower by Mr. Hodgson Fowler of Durham.

An inscription on the lychgate at Horbury cemetery, carved by a stone mason on hearing the new church clock's first chime:“Nov 15th 1899 N.C. (new clock) F.C. (first chime) 3 pm. My thanks to Christine Wigglesworth for decyphering the code.

Engraving from the Horbury parish magazine, January 1890.

The eight bells being made ready for installation in 1900 at St. Peter's Church after the steeple was repaired in 1899. Originally, there were six bells that were made at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London by Thomas Mears in 1792. It was decided to add two more bells in 1899 when a tenor and treble bell were added. One bell was re-cast and the others retuned so that church now had a full octave. The fifth bell is inscribed "This peal of eight bells arranged in 1899 during the 65th year of the vicariate of Canon John Sharp, Horbury." 90 year-old Canon Sharp can be seen to the extreme right of the group of men. Another bell is inscribed in Latin, "Gloria in Excelsis Deo. Ed Dono Joannis Carr, architect 1792", which when translated means "Glory to God in the highest. The gift of John Carr, architect."

New bells ready to be winched into position at St. Peter's Church. Photographs by Helen Bickerdike and Phillip Wain, April 2019.

The Church of St. Peter and St. Leonard is a Grade I listed building standing in the conservation area of the oldest part of the township of Horbury. It was built by the architect John Carr on the site of a Norman church dedicated to St. Leonard. About 1788/89, John Carr, who started life as a Horbury stonemason offered to rebuild the old church that had stood in Horbury since the 12th century. The last sermon was preached on January 24th 1790 and work on demolition began on the 28th of the same month. Carr donated a sum of £8,000, with a further £2,000 for the bells and organ, which he added later as a gift to the town of his birth.

The foundation stone for the new church was laid on February 28th 1790, with the stone being laid at the south-west corner of the steeple. The building was completed in 1794 and the first sermon was preached on the 18th May from Psalm 132 v.15 "This shall be my rest forever, here will I dwell, for I have a delight thereon". The preacher was the Rev. John Taylor, then Curate of Horbury.

For many years, it was believed that John Carr was buried at his home at Askham Richard, near York. However, in July 1950, repairs were taking place at St. Peter's church and under the floor of the vestry, a flight of stone steps was discovered, leading to a low wooden door. When this door was opened, a vault was discovered in which lay the coffin of John Carr.

Several children's coffins and those of two of Carr's relatives are also in the vault, but several of the stone ledges are empty. It is not known why the vault lay undiscovered for 150 years or so. The entry in the church register for February 28th 1807 reads "John Carr of Askham Hall and the City of York and an alderman of the said city and a widower, buried." (1)

A portrait of Carr by Sir William Beechey, hanging in the National Portrait Gallery, shows the spire of St. Peter's in the background. The church is built of damstone, from the same source as Sandal Castle, in the classical style having a central portico with the four Ionic columns, its pediment displaying and announcing the Carr gift and the personal pride of a native son of the town. "Hanc aedem sacram: pietatis in deum et amoris: in solum natale monumentum: propriis sumptibus extruxit Johannes Carr Architectus: anno christi MDCCXCI." Gloria Deo in Excelsis Canon John Sharp, a celibate, was Vicar of St. Peters for 65 years from 1834 to 1899 and brought with him the ideas and thinking of the Oxford Movement and the church remains firmly rooted in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. Canon Sharp was responsible for the building of St. John's Church at Horbury Bridge, St. Mary's Church at Horbury Junction, The Houses of Mercy, and St. Leonard's Hospital (almshouses) during his long tenure at Horbury. A fine early twentieth century brass of John Sharp, who died in 1903, shows him kneeling in Eucharistic vestments.

Canon John Sharp was offered the vacant Bishopric of the Central African mission in 1862, but he declined the offer, preferring to stay all his life in Horbury. Sharp in his early years at Horbury angered some of the better off parishioners in his congregation who had paid for spacious private pews in the main body of St. Peter's Church. Sharp had them all removed to make space for his growing congregation, many of whom were mill workers.

A new vestry was added to the church in 1884 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the institution of John Sharp to the parish. The later side chapel is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. George and contains the War Memorial to those who fell in the Great War of 1914-1919.

In 1864 the Rev. Sabine Baring Gould came to Horbury as a curate under the care of Canon John Sharp. During his time at Horbury he wrote the hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers" for the children of Horbury Bridge to sing as they marched up the hill to St. Peter’s in the annual Whitsunday procession.

On the night of December 11th 1883, a violent storm struck Horbury. Five feet or more of the church spire of St Peter's came falling down in the high winds. The falling stone went through the church roof and then through the gallery floor, breaking several flagstones and fracturing hot water pipes below.

Faulty design of the original steeple at St. Peter's necessitated the old structure to be dismantled in 1898 because it was judged to be unsafe. The building had been examined by Mr. J.T. Micklethwaite, a London architect. He reported that the walls of the church steeple were badly cracked and that the arch heads had dropped. He advised that bell ringing should be suspended, since the ringing of the bells opened and closed the cracks in the steeple. If the bell ringing was stopped, he thought that the tower might stand for some time longer, but that because of damage already sustained, rebuilding was necessary. 

When the steeple was dismantled, so that the defective part of the tower could be repaired, the stones were numbered for re-assembly and laid out in heaps along Northgate and the church bells placed in the vicarage garden. Two thick concrete floors had to be constructed for the two lower chambers to bind the whole building together. All the floors throughout the tower were to be of the same type, making five in all.

A contract for the repair work was given to Horbury stone mason, William Thickett and rope bound pole and timber scaffolding was used for the job. On Wednesday, August 1st 1899, the two crowning stones for the top of the spire were ready to be hauled up and the cross was screwed into position at 3:30 p.m.

In September 2018 these eight bells were removed and recast by Taylor's of Loughbrough. The new, slightly smaller and lighter bells are in the key A flat rather then G and arrived at the church on Maundy Thursday 2019. They were blessed inside the church by Father Christopher Johnson in a special Easter Sunday service before being winched into the bell tower.

Originally, the church clock at St. Peter's had only one south-facing dial pointing towards the centre of the village. In 1899, Benjamin Wilson (1856 - 1930), a cloth manufacturer who was born in Ossett, but by then of "Inwood", Benton Hill, Horbury donated two additional cast iron clock faces. These were placed on the north and west sides of the church spire, giving people a sight of the church clock from most parts of Horbury. Originally the church had only six bells, Wilson kindly donated another two church bells, making eight in total. This then allowed for a shorter quarter chime to chime at quarter past the hour, half past the hour and quarter to the hour.

The font of St. Peter's and St Leonard was given by Mr. Lomas in memory of his wife who died in 1866. There are four stained glass windows, the one in the north transept being in memory of Mrs. Parker, a relative of John Carr. On the north wall is a fine early twentieth century brass of John Sharp, who died in 1903, which shows him kneeling in Eucharistic vestments.


1. "Some Horbury Yesterdays" by R.D. Woodhall, first published in 1973.
2. "Proud Village - A History of Horbury in the County of Yorkshire", by R.L. Arundel 1951 and republished by Horbury and District Historical Society in 2003.
3. Anniversary Brochure 1794-1944, Church of St. Peter and St. Leonard, Horbury.


Stephen Wilson  April 2019