Hunslet’s spire is set to stay

Rumours that the tower and spire of St Mary’s church in Hunslet might be demolished have been firmly scotched by the Church of England and Leeds City Councillors at a meeting last week (24 October 2019).

The spire, visible from many parts of South Leeds, dates from 1864 and is a Grade II Listed structure. The original church was demolished and replaced in 1975, but the new building proved structurally unsound and was itself demolished earlier this year.

The meeting was called by a group of concerned residents calling themselves Save Our Spire (SOS).

Cllr Mohammed Iqbal told the meeting:

“We know how much the spire means to local people, but unfortunately there is no magic wand. However, we are talking with the Church of England about the future of the site, plans are perhaps coming together, we can’t say anymore at this time, but we will do our very best to save the spire.”

Cllr Paul Wray added:

“There has been no agreement as yet. Once we are at a stage when the Diocese is happy and we are happy as a Council, to say what we’ve discussed we will inform the residents’ associations.”

The Church of England who still own the spire and the land are prepared to sell the whole site (including the spire) for £1 to the right buyer.

“The spire is a liability, but the land is worth something, it’s an asset. They have to go together. We will give away an asset if they (a future buyer) will take on the liability” explained Charlotte Lilley from the Leeds Diocesan Board of Finance.

The hope is that a buyer can be found who will provide a development on the land that is of benefit to local people, but is also financially sustainable so that they can safely take on the risk and expense of maintaining the spire.

  • A number of facts about the tower were clarified at the meeting:
  • The tower is structurally sound. It was not relying on the church building, in fact the building was causing it problems.
  • The eight bells, as well as the clock chimes, are still in the tower. The bells are not valuable and the church wishes to give them to another church where they can be used by another congregation.
  • The building is Grade II listed and although the listing mentions the bells, removing them would not alter the listing status.

Charlotte Lilley clarified that if a suitable buyer wasn’t found imediateley they would go on looking. Whilst the possibility remained that the spire might have to be demolished if it proved impossible to find a suitable scheme, such a decision was many years away.

Cllr Elizabeth Nash told South Leeds Life:

“The Council has a responsibility to see that owners of listed buildings keep them in good repair and have been in discussion with the Diocese regarding the Spire`s future.

“My colleagues, Cllr Iqbal and Cllr Wray and I have pledged funding for the restoration of the clock with an automated wind-up equipment, but we need the permission for this from the Diocese.

“I can assure readers that your councillors are giving their fullest attention to this much-loved landmark. We will be reporting the final outcome for the spire’s future to Hunslet Carr Residents Association and Hunslet Tenants and Residents Association, the properly recognised community groups.”

Ideas for a future use of the site suggested at the meeting included social housing, a community centre, a museum and a remembrance garden.

What do you think? What could that space become? What would best serve the local community? Please get in touch and share your ideas.