St Mary’s Church, Whitkirk, is the second oldest church in Leeds. Vicars of Whitkirk can be traced back to 1185 AD although there was probably a church on this site before that date.
It is possible that there was a Saxon church of blackened timber which was then replaced by a stone church giving rise to the name “Whitechurche” (Whitkirk). The earliest reference to “Whitechurche” is in a charter of Henry de Laci conferring land to the Knights Templar. The names of the witnesses prove the date of this charter to be between 1154 and 1166.
The font and the piscina date from the 12th century although the present Grade 1 listed building is predominantly from the 14th and 15th centuries, with later additions and alterations. The font is a single piece of magnesium limestone identified as being from the quarry which provided stone for the construction of York Minster.
Temple Newsam House
At St Mary’s Church, Whitkirk, there is an inscribed tablet in the Holy Trinity Chapel (also known as the Ingram Chapel or the Irwin Chapel) which commemorates Sir Arthur Ingram (1565-1642) who, in 1622, built Temple Newsam House which is situated three quarters of a mile from the church.
On 19 September 1922 the mansion and park were sold to Leeds Corporation for a nominal sum of £35,000. As part of this sale Edward Frederick Lindley Wood (created Lord Irwin in 1925 and 1st Earl of Halifax in 1944) insisted on three covenants one of which stated that a service of Holy Communion should take place once a year according to the rites of the Church of England to commemorate the transfer of the house and the park to the City of Leeds. This annual Sung Eucharist is usually celebrated in the Long Gallery at Temple Newsam House on the Sunday that falls nearest to the 19th September.
“The Father of Civil Engineering in Britain”, John Smeaton was born, raised and ultimately died in the parish of Whitkirk. He is buried within the Church.
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