A gravestone older than the cemetery

On Wednesday 1 July 1857 and with the consent of the Home Secretary and the licence from the Bishop of Ripon, Holbeck Cemetery opened for interments.

But here in this Cemetery can be found a gravestone that is older than the Cemetery, how did this come about?

For the answer we need to go to St Paul’s Church which stood in Park Square, in the city centre. This church was built by Rev Miles Atkinson, lecturer at Leeds Parish Church and Vicar of Kippax, on land purchased from Dr Christopher Wilson, Bishop of Bristol. The church was founded and built between 1791 and 1794 at a cost of £10,000.

The Rev Miles Atkinson was also the first minister here and the architect for the project was Mr W Johnson. Dr Wilson laid the first stone for the church on the 26 September 1791 and it was consecrated by Archbishop Markham on 11 September 1793, opening in 1794.

At this time the Wilson family was hoping to develop its extensive Park Estate into an exclusive residential area. Restrictions were placed on Atkinson as a condition of purchase of the land, one of which was that there was to be no burial ground around the church, burials were to be in a subterranean mausoleum.

There were several vaults of such dimensions and form that were deemed as suitable under the church and also under the area within the walls or fence surrounding the church.

There were about 90 catacombs and each one was capable of holding 14 to 20 coffins. These were formed out of the vaulted arches that supported the church. The coffins were enclosed in stonework and, in 1848 were said to be in a good state of preservation, though Robert Baker had not thought so in 1842. Interments began in 1796 and ceased in 1854, though there was one interment permitted in 1865.

St Paul’s church stood in Park Square

St Paul’s was built to provide a place of worship for the residents of the Wilson Park Estate. It had a seating capacity of 1,175 (but estimated at 1,500 in 1818) people and all the pews were reserved and for this a rent of 16 shillings (80p) had to be paid.

The style or architecture was Grecian, the east and west ends displayed four pilasters of the Iconic order supporting their respective entablature and pediment; a light square tower rose at the west end, this was decorated by vases and Ionic windows. The whole was surmounted by a dome, and finishing in a ball and cross. In 1801 a good tone organ was erected by subscription.

Services on a Sunday were held at 10:30am and 6:30pm and on Wednesdays at 7:30 pm. The patrons in 1842 were the executors of the Rev William Atkinson and there was no glebe house. The register of Burials was commenced in 1796, and the chapel was augmented in 1814 with £300 from the Parliamentary Grant, to meet a donation of £200 from W Hey, Esquire.

In 1905 St. Paul’s was served by the Rev John Remington Statten MA, and with the Rev Walter Francis James MA, as curate, with the Vicar of Leeds as Patron. Its clerics received a living of £263 per annum.

The church was demolished in 1905 when the residents had moved from an increasingly busy city centre to quieter suburbs leaving the buildings for commercial use.

River House, now Park Square Residences

The hole where the church had been was around for a long time, but eventually River House was built there for the Water Board and completed in 1938. The mausoleum was converted into a partial underground car park which can be seen from the outside. The building is now known as the Park Square Residencies having been turned into apartments.

When the church was demolished in 1905 the deceased were removed to cemeteries chosen by relatives or to Upper and Lower Worley Cemetery, and the monuments were taken to Holy Trinity Church, Boar Lane.

However, Holbeck Cemetery has one person re-interred here from St Paul’s Church: William Gott, the brother of Benjamin Gott the Leeds Industrialist.

William Gott of Burley was born on 3 December 1745 and died on 31 May 1810. He was originally interred at St Paul’s then reinterred at Holbeck Cemetery in 1905 – hence a gravestone older than the Cemetery.


This post was written by Ken Burton

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