CAMPAIGNERS have presented a 600-name petition urging the authorities to save the church where ancestors of the Duchess of Cambridge are buried.
The Grade II listed St John’s stands in the once affluent Victorian suburb of Roundhay, Leeds, but dwindling attendances led to its closure in 2007. It was sold for £1 in 2010 by the Church Commissioners to the Leeds branch of the Jamaican-based Pentecostal City Mission Church.
The Mission met there only briefly, however, and lead-thefts, weather damage, and minimal maintenance made the building unusable within a year. In 2012, remedial work was estimated at £100,000, but efforts to persuade the owners to restore the building were largely ignored.
Now neighbours and relatives of those buried in the church’s two graveyards have formed a Friends group, which, last month, submitted a petition urging Leeds City Council to step in and force the Mission to act.
The group was founded by Caroline Feeman, who lives in the United States, but was raised in Leeds, and still makes regular visits there. “My family has experienced the circle of life in St John’s Church,” she said. “My parents were married there in 1946; my sister and I were christened and confirmed there; I was a bridesmaid to my aunt and uncle; and my parents, grandparents, aunt, and uncle are buried in the north graveyard.
“Roundhay St John’s is located in a conservation area, and makes a very valuable contribution to the character of the neighbourhood. It is currently at great risk due to a mixture of mismanagement and neglect, and the very diverse group of Friends is unified by a shared concern for the future of the church and its grounds.”
The church’s south graveyard, which dates from the foundation of St John’s in 1826, holds the graves of several people related to the Duchess of Cambridge, including Olive Middleton, her paternal great-grandmother.
During the summer, the Friends mowed the overgrown site, tidied graves, and funded the resetting of fallen headstones. “The south yard is finally a respectful place to lie for those who gave their lives for the country in two world wars, Lord Mayors, industrialists, philanthropists, and the ancestors of the Duchess of Cambridge” Mrs Feeman said.
Last year, the Mission had paid for damp treatment, but the work was not completed, she said. Efforts to contact it were invariably unsuccessful. “There is no answer; or the stock reply of ‘In two weeks,’ or ‘Yes, we intend to worship here.’”
Efforts by the Church Times to contact the Mission were also fruitless. Emails were unanswered, and the number on its website for the Leeds Pastor — Light Brigade Linton — is a private line. The person who answered denied any connection with the church. Calls to the London HQ were either unanswered, or met with a request to ring back. No messages were taken.
A spokeswoman for Leeds Council said that it had recently issued an enforcement notice after having to intervene “significantly” since 2011 to get repairs made. “We will also look at the petition to consider what further we can do to protect this important building.”