Site Home
 



Topic Home


John Harrison

John Harrison's generosity to the town of Leeds has probably never been equalled.  All his life he was concerned with the needs of the town and its people.  He was born in Leeds in 1579, the son of John Harrison of Pawdmyre, the district at the top of Briggate. He had a good education, probably at the Grammar School, and joined his father in business as a cloth merchant. He inherited a considerable amount of money from his father, and bought the North Hall estate and Rockley Hall. In 1603 he married Elizabeth Foxcroft, but the marriage was childless, and Elizabeth died in 1631. Soon after his marriage, John Harrison built himself a house on Briggate, opposite Boar Lane.  Thoresby describes it as 'a good old-fashioned House, with a quadrangular court in the midst'.  Harrison was very fond of cats, and Thoresby tells us that the house had 'Holes or Passages cut in the Doors and Ceilings, for the free passage of Cats.' The house had a garden and an orchard, and Harrison lived there until his death in 1656.

He was a member of the Committee for Pious Uses, established in 1619 to oversee the administration of the town's charities. In the same year he erected a Market Cross at the top of Briggate. New Street, later to become New Briggate was built by John Harrison, and the rents from it used  to help the poor. In 1624 he built a new Grammar School to replace the old school at the top of Lady Lane. Thoresby tells us that he; 'removed it from so inconvenient a Situation to a pleasant Field of his own'. The pleasant field was situated between what is now the Grand Theatre and North Street; the school had a school  yard, and was surrounded by a wall.

Perhaps John Harrison’s best known benefaction is St. John's Church, built 1631-1634 entirely at his own expense on land he owned north of the Upper Head Row. At about the same time he built a set of almshouses to the west of the church. The almshouses or 'hospital' was endowed with a yearly income to support forty poor people.

John Harrison was also involved in the government of the town. In 1626 he took the lead in petitioning the king for a Royal Charter for Leeds, and after this was granted he deputised for Alderman Sir John Savile, and in 1634 became Alderman (later known as mayor) in his own right. In 1629 along with Richard Sykes and six others he contributed to the purchase of the Manor of Leeds to bring it under the control of the Leeds Corporation.

We know little of how John Harrison spent the years of the Civil War (1642-1651), but he probably had  Royalist sympathies. It is said that when Charles I was imprisoned in Leeds at Red Hall in 1647, Harrison brought him a tankard of ale which turned out to be full of gold sovereigns. The story is shown in the Harrison Window of St. John's Church. After the war, in 1651, he was charged by the Parliamentary Commissioners with supplying two horses to the Royalist Army, and was fined £464. 18s. By this time he was suffering from ill-health and was bed-ridden for the last twenty months of his life. He died in October 1656 and it is said was buried in his orchard. Later he was re-interred at St. John's Church, where his black marble tomb is in the chancel. Inside the Church, panels of one of the stained glass windows depict events from John Harrison's life. The scene on the left of the panel shown here depicts him showing someone into the almshouses while the one on the right shows him supervising the building of the market cross.

The church is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. It is open to the public Tues – Sat 11-3pm.

There is a statue of John Harrison, by Henry Charles Fehr and erected in 1903, in City Square.

John Harrison's house on Briggate later became 'The Old King's Arms', and later still the offices of the Leeds Mercury.



Associated Links
Coaching Inns

Click images to enlarge
Grammar School built by John Harrison in 1624
Grammar School built by John Harrison in 1624
St. John's Church
St. John's Church
St. John's Church interior
St. John's Church interior
St. John's Church, interior
St. John's Church, interior
St. John's Church window
St. John's Church window
Panel of 'Harrison's Window'
Panel of 'Harrison's Window'
Statue of John Harrison in City Square
Statue of John Harrison in City Square
St. John's Church, 1999
St. John's Church, 1999




Site Map

© 2003 Leeds City Council | Site created by: LCC electronic information team | 25 March 2003