Of course, Christian worship in Kirkstall
dates back long before the building of St Stephen's Church. Around
1152, a party of Cistercian monks from Fountains Abbey chose the forest
by the River Aire as a suitable place to found a new monastery. They
obtained land, with permission of Baron de Lacy, the Baron of the West
Riding, and built Kirkstall Abbey, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, which was
completed in 1182.
The influence of the Abbey on the Christian life of the local community
was significant; local residents were able to attend the services at the
granges (farms belonging to the monastery) around the Headingley area.
In 1539, however, Kirkstall Abbey was surrendered to the commissioners of
Henry VIII, and dissolved. The monks were all granted pensions.
To link to the Kirkstall Abbey website
Although Christian worship continued at St Michael's Church, Headingley
(consecrated in 1627, possibly on the site of an older chapel dedicated
to St Giles), St Stephen's is perhaps most closely the descendent of the
chapel which was established at Kirkstall Forge. The Forge can be
traced back to the 17th century. In 1779 it was rented by partners,
Butlers and Beecrofts.
The chapel was built because of the requirement for all workers to
attend a place of worship every Sunday. The Butler family have
remained closely connected to St Stephen's Church, providing financial
help as well as participating for many years in the life of the church.