A former Literary and Mechanics’ Institute hall dating from 1850, adapted to use as a Roman Catholic church and parish room in 1929-1930. The hall was designed by William Pattisson and the church interior by J. Arnold Crush.
Reasons for Designation
The Roman Catholic Church of St Thomas of Canterbury and attached parish rooms is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* as an illustration of facilities provided for the Mechanics’ Institute movement and the continuation and revival of Roman Catholic worship in Woodbridge in the C19 and C20.
* as an example of good quality design for a Mechanics’ Institute Hall by local architect William Pattisson and for the church interior by J. Arnold Crush, designer of the church for the Benedictines at Douai Abbey, Berkshire (Grade II* listed) and other Catholic churches.
The Mechanics’ Institute movement was conceived in the late-C18 and gained momentum with the foundation of The Mechanics’ Magazine by J C Robertson in 1823. These bodies were funded by donation and subscription and aimed to improve the literacy and numeracy of working people and provide them with some basic technical education. They played a vital part in the development of adult education in England and it is estimated that by the second half of the C19 there were around 1,200 such institutions in Great Britain, many of which erected their own buildings. The educational role of Mechanics’ Institutes became redundant in the later C19 with the growth of publicly funded provision of child and adult education and libraries.
The Woodbridge Literary and Mechanics’ Institution was founded in 1836 for ‘the instruction of its Members in Literary, Scientific, Agricultural and other branches of useful knowledge, by means of a Standard and Circulating Library, a Museum of Natural History and Works of Art, Philosophical Apparatus and Public Lectures.’ Members were required to pay 10 shillings per year, but the foundation of the Institution was primarily supported by wealthy private donors such as Sir Robert Harland, 2nd Baronet of Sproughton (1765–1848) and East Suffolk Member of Parliament Robert Newton Shawe of Kesgrave Hall, (1784-1855).
In 1850 a committee was formed to raise money by private donation to purchase land known as Pye’s Close on which to construct permanent accommodation for the Literary and Mechanics’ Institution. At first called the Temperance and Lecture Hall and Committee Room, later the Lecture Hall and Mechanics' Institution, the building was designed by William Pattisson, a Woodbridge architect responsible for the town’s fire engine house in Cumberland Street in 1853 and a number of houses for the Anglican clergy constructed in nearby villages between 1845 and 1872. The building contained the Institution’s reference and lending libraries and hosted concerts, lectures and art exhibitions. In the later C19 the building was taken over by the Young Men’s Christian Association until in 1929 it was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Northampton.
The Second Catholic Relief Act of 1791 had permitted the first new generation of Catholic places of worship to be built in England and Wales since the Reformation and the 1829 Act of Emancipation removed most remaining inequalities from Catholic worship. There was a significant expansion in the numbers of Catholics in England between 1850 (around 700,000) and 1911 (around 1.7m) and 1941 (2.7m). This increase was accompanied by the development of a new Catholic parish system in 1908, by the construction of convents, monasteries, schools and social institutions, and by landmark buildings such as Westminster Cathedral (consecrated 1910). The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) introduced profound reforms to the Catholic church, including architectural changes informed by the Liturgical movement and the reordering of churches to reflect a greater ecumenism and communality of worship.
Services for Catholic worship in modern Woodbridge started in 1865, when the Revd Patrick Rogers, chaplain to the Benedictine nuns at East Bergholt, said Mass at the Church Street home of a Dr Moore. Services were subsequently held in a converted warehouse in the grounds of Gate House and in 1872 a church dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury was built on a site on Crown Place.
Following the arrival of Revd Ernest Shebbeare in 1922 the Diocese purchased the Mechanics Institute Hall for £1,200 in 1929. The Birmingham architect J. Arnold Crush (1884-1936) was brought in to convert it to a church at a cost of £2,000. Crush, a pupil of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and Sir Edwin Lutyens, was at the time working on designs for a new church for the Benedictines at Douai Abbey, Berkshire (now Grade II* listed) and would go on to produce other Catholic churches in his final years.
On Monday 7 July 1930 a solemn High Mass was celebrated in the newly furnished church by the Right Rev. Mgr. Duchemin, rector of the Beda College, Rome in the presence of the Bishop of Northampton with the choir of Westminster Cathedral. The church featured a grand pedimented baldacchino with lettering by stained glass artist Margaret Rope behind curved altar rails and a choir gallery (adapted to an organ loft in 1932) incorporating part of the metal altar rails from the Crown Place church. The adjoining part of the Institute building became the church rooms and contained a sacristy and flower room with the meeting room on the first floor.
In 1953 the church was redecorated and repaired with the advice of Eric Sandon, a parishioner and architect who had recently completed the new church of St James in Ipswich. In 1964 a new chapel was created to the east side of the church accessed through the church rooms. The original stair to the first floor meeting room may have been removed at this point and the meeting room adapted, although this might have been in 1975 when the chapel was removed and a new extension was built to the designs of Eric Sandon. This covered the yard behind the church rooms and involved removing the rear wall and ground floor of the rear wing of the church rooms and part of the side wall of the church. Moveable screens allowed the new extension to be used as part of the church worship space. Latterly these screens were removed between church and the rooms and a glass partition installed to divide the front of the church rooms as a lobby. Also, in the 1970s, the font, which had come from the church on Crown Place was moved to the sanctuary but has since been placed in the lobby of the church rooms.
In 1984 a new altar of Ancaster stone designed by Eric Sandon was installed on an extended step. It is unclear if the original curved altar rails were removed at this time or in 1975 when the opening was made through to the church rooms. In 2003 a new doorway was formed in the street front wall of the church rooms to allow level access for those with impaired mobility.
In 1981 number 15 St John’s Street (part of the Grade II listed terrace numbers 15-21) was added to the church complex and an opening formed in the wall between it and the church rooms, chiefly to allow access to the first floor of the church rooms via a stair inside number 15.
The Church of St Thomas and the adjoining church rooms were first listed on 20 December 1971 as separate List entries.
A former Literary and Mechanics’ Institute Hall dating from 1850, adapted for use as a Roman Catholic church and parish room in 1929-1930. The hall was designed by William Pattisson and the church interior by J. Arnold Crush.
MATERIALS: walls of gault brick, red brick and blue brick with limestone and Roman cement detailing under slate roofs.
PLAN: the church building is a single rectangle orientated roughly south to north, although the liturgical arrangements place the altar at the north end. The attached church rooms are joined to the east side and consist of a single open-plan ground floor room. Stairs to the first floor are situated in number 15 St John’s Street accessed by an opening in the dividing wall.
EXTERIOR: the principal elevation to St John’s Street is of gault brick with rusticated quoins in Roman cement. The base is a two-stage brick plinth with stone sills. Three, tall round-headed window openings, slightly recessed, are placed symmetrically on the façade, topped by round hood moulds ending in square stops with raised lozenge details. The windows are original with margin lights and top-opening vents in the upper part of all three openings. The lower part of the central opening has double timber entrance doors with a transom light above accessed via two steps. The façade is topped by a moulded cornice on console brackets with a plain parapet. The parapet has a raised rendered panel around the inscribed date ‘AD MDCCCL’.
The west and east sides of the church abut number 11 St John’s Street and the church rooms. These flank walls and the gabled rear are of red brick. The sides have a single round-headed blind window recess each. The rear has three plain round-headed window openings with stone sills above inverted relieving arches and an oculus ventilation opening in the head of the gable. The fenestration is original but consists of simpler sash windows in contrast to the south elevation.
The St John’s Street frontage of the church rooms is of two storeys, in gault brick with a smaller plinth of blue brick and a simpler cornice, frieze and parapet joining that of the church. A pair of canted bay windows rise through both storeys with sash windows and narrow side lights. They are linked at ground floor by a roof over a doorway of 2003 formed in the brickwork between the bays by rebuilding their lower walls. To the left is a blocked doorway with moulded Roman cement surround with a blocked stair window above it. The rear is of red brick with a small two storey hipped roofed wing projecting and a single storey flat roof with lantern light spanning from the rear of the original building to the rear boundary wall.
INTERIOR: The church is accessed through main doors on St John’s Street under the organ gallery which is supported on fluted ionic pilasters forming a lobby. The gallery is of painted wood incorporating metal tracery panels. It stops at the sides of the street front windows which flank it, but marks in the window surrounds suggest it might previously have extended across them when used as a choir gallery. The coffered ceiling is divided in squares by flat, shallow ribs. The nave seating consists of late C20 benches of a simple open backed design in unpainted timber.
The original simple timber dado panelling of the Mechanics’ Institute survives on the side walls at the south (liturgical west) end. The rest of the side walls have taller large-framed panels of 1929 in plaster which increase slightly in height at the north (liturgical east) end to mark the sanctuary where a pedimented baldacchino supported on four fluted Corinthian columns with the arms of Achille Ratti, H.H. Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) is raised on two carpeted steps. The altar is set on an additional step. At the rear of the altar is a panel painted ‘Altare Privilegium’, part of the 1930 arrangement, but the original hanging behind has been renewed along with the tabernacle plinth in the late C20. Part of the dividing wall between sanctuary and church rooms has been removed, the opening supported on a single steel pillar.
Panelling behind the altar incorporates two side altars with curved pediments. The side altars are late C20 replacements as are the plaster wall panels but the pedimented niches above the altars are original. Short altar rails with turned balusters and heavy rail and posts which may be reused sections of the original curved rails stand in front of each side altar.
The ground floor of the church rooms is a single open space incorporating the extension of 1975 behind the front range with a glass screen creating a lobby at the front with an opening in the wall to a staircase in number 15 St John’s Street. The font from the 1872 church on Crown Place stands in the lobby. It is an octagonal stone font on a moulded base with tracery decoration on all sides of the shaft and bowl. The stone surround in the floor features the inscription ‘FOR THE SOUL OF ANITA MARGARET POLE EDMUNDS 1918’.
The first floor contains a meeting room with a WC situated behind in a small projection from the building. The meeting room has a coved ceiling with picture rail, skirting and fireplace with the cast iron front plate in place.