A Roman Catholic chapel of ease, built in 1898 for John Kenyon of Gillingham Hall. It was designed by FE Banham and built by FR Allen, both of Beccles. Not included in the listing is the early-C21 oak Calvary cross standing at the south-west corner of the apse.
Reasons for Designation
The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, built in 1898 to the designs of FE Banham, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: for a modest chapel of ease, it is an accomplished and ambitious example of Romanesque-revival church architecture;
* Fixtures and fittings: although the trompe-l’oeil decorative scheme has been painted over, the church retains many original features including the altar, reredos, sounding board and communion rail;
* Historic interest: it was privately financed by George Kenyon of Gillingham Hall, a prominent Roman Catholic, who had earlier fought with the Papal Zouaves in Rome, and later became Private Chamberlain to His Holiness Pope Leo XIII and His Holiness Pope Pius X;
* Group value: it forms a small group with Gillingham Hall (Grade II*), and two further churches which stand in the hall’s grounds; St Mary’s (Grade I) and All Saints (Grade I).
The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, Gillingham, was opened by the Right Reverend Dr Liddell, the Bishop of Northampton, on the 18th August 1898. It was designed by Francis (Frederick) Easto Banham, a local Catholic architect from Beccles, who was also the town’s mayor at the time, while the building work was undertaken by Mr FR Allen, also of Beccles. The church was constructed at the sole cost of John George Kenyon (1843-1914) of the neighbouring Gillingham Hall (Grade II*), who later became a Knight of the Order of St Gregory and Private Chamberlain to His Holiness Pope Leo XIII and to His Holiness Pope Pius X. On completing his education at Christ Church, Oxford, Kenyon became a student at the Middle Temple. In 1869, he attended Ripon College in Cuddesdon, an Anglican theological training college. However, in 1870, influenced by his friend Cardinal Newman, he converted to Roman Catholicism. In the same year he enlisted in the Papal Zouaves - a corps of volunteers formed as part of the Army of the Papal States - and was serving with them when Rome was entered by Victor Emmanuel’s troops on the 20th September 1870. He was subsequently taken prisoner and incarcerated at the Regina Coeli prison for six months. In 1889, with the sudden death of his aunt, Mrs Henry Eden, widow of Admiral Henry Eden, Kenyon became heir presumptive of Gillingham Hall, Norfolk. His arrival in the area, combined with changes in other notable local Catholic families, encouraged Dom Ephrem Guy OSB, who had arrived in Bungay in 1885, to revive long-running attempts to found a Catholic mission at Beccles. Kenyon arranged for land to be purchased for the building of a house where Mass was celebrated in the dining room, which, with the constant growth of the Catholic community, soon proved to be too small. A new building was subsequently erected and this sufficed until 1898 when building work started on the present Minster, which opened in 1901 and was consecrated in 1908. In the same year that building work started on the Minster, a new chapel, dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, opened in the grounds of Gillingham Hall. It was built as a chapel of ease so that Catholic families in the village of Gillingham could worship regularly without having to travel to Beccles. When it opened it was incomplete, comprising a five-bay nave, sanctuary, sacristy, confessional and south porch. Shortly afterwards the nave was extended by two further bays and campanile bell towers were constructed at the west end, with their design modelled on those at the church of the Santissima Trinità dei Monti, a Roman Catholic, late Renaissance titular church in Rome. The interior was originally trompe-l’oeil painted to resemble marble. However, following the death of Kenyon’s wife, Mary D’Arcy Kenyon, in 1937, their daughter, Anne Todhunter, covered the walls in white paint.
In 2010, an early-Victorian, bronze crucifix of Italian origin, which stood against the south-west corner of the apse, was removed and vandalised. After its fragmented pieces were recovered from the undergrowth surrounding the church, it was restored and re-hung in the nave in 2016 as a memorial to Major Joseph Robert Kenyon (1883-1971), the second son of John and Mary D’Arcy Kenyon. Joseph gained the rank of Major in the service of the Royal Field Artillery and fought in the First World War, being awarded the Military Cross in 1918. Although he resumed his career as a barrister after the war, his shell shock was so severe that, in 1920, he suffered a catastrophic mental breakdown whilst in court in Liverpool. He subsequently spent the rest of his life as a private patient at St Andrew’s Hospital, Northampton. In the restoration of the crucifix, the church trustees decided to celebrate the brokenness of the body as a symbol of the sufferings of those who have been traumatised by mental illness or encountered severe adversity. The wounds and breaks in the limbs, as well as the nails and the Crown of Thorns, were accordingly polished to highlight those injuries. Restoration work was undertaken by Barry Leith, a local artists and distinguished puppet animator, whose work includes the television series The Wombles and Paddington Bear. Four years earlier, in 2012, an oak Calvary cross was erected in place of the vandalised cross as a memorial to Giuseppe Blanco (1951-2011), a local parishioner.
A Roman Catholic chapel of ease, built in 1898 for John George Kenyon of Gillingham Hall. It was designed by FE Banham and built by FR Allen, both of Beccles.
MATERIALS: of red brick with sandstone dressings and a slate roof with some modern fibreglass replacement.
PLAN: it is rectangular on plan, aligned east-west, and consists of two campanile towers at the west end, an apsidal sanctuary at the east end, an aisled nave, south porch and sacristy.
EXTERIOR: of a Romanesque-revival style, the west end of the church is divided by prominent cornices to give a two-stage central section flanked by four-stage campanile towers. A centrepiece is formed by an open, triangular pediment supported on two tiers of Doric pilasters. Its ground-floor has a wooden door with six raised and fielded panels set within a moulded architrave, which is in turn flanked by panelled Doric pilasters supporting a segmental pediment. The second stage contains a large oculus window with a moulded architrave and four decorative keystones. Above the window, and occupying the centre of the pediment, is a plain stone cross standing on a small, cantilevered pedestal. Rising above the apex of the pediment is a stone statue of the Madonna and Child. It stands on a bracketed pedestal set upon a wider plinth, both with blind recessed panels. Flanking each side of the centrepiece are blind, narrow bays with recessed panels to each stage. The whole of the central section is unified by a balustraded parapet set above a blocking course with a blind, recessed panel. The two campanile towers, which project beyond the building line of the central section, are identical in their treatment, with all but their third stages having clasping Doric pilasters. Both the first and second stages have recessed panels with thin, plain pilasters carrying moulded Romanesque heads. The first stages have vertical, rectangular windows with plain stone surrounds and a continuous moulded lintel, while the second stages are blind. The thirds stages are also blind, each with a recessed panel. The final stages are formed of open lanterns with moulded Romanesque arches and lead-covered domes.
The walls of the seven-bay nave are divided horizontally by a prominent cornice and then vertically into individual bays by two tiers of brick pilasters; those to the first stage are plain while those above have recessed panels. Projecting from the first bay of the right-hand return is a flat-roofed porch with a prominent cornice and a panelled door set with a shouldered architrave. A sacristy, also with a prominent cornice and flat roof, stands against the sixth and seventh bays. Its west wall contains a five-panelled door with a moulded surround flanked by thin, plain pilasters with fluted capitals and consoles supporting a triangular pediment. It is flanked on the left-hand side by a vertical rectangular window with a stone surround containing a decorative keystone. The sacristy’s south wall has two identical windows flanked to their right by an external stack with a tall flue rising from between voluted brackets. To the first bay of the left-hand return there is a small, projecting range with a small, horizontal, rectangular window with a six-paned casement. The remaining bays to both returns have two, blind, recessed panels to the lower stage: the lower one being square and the upper one rectangular. The second stage bays to both returns all contain oculus windows with moulded surrounds with four decorative keystones. The apsidal east end is blind and has identical recessed panels to the first stage and a single recessed panel to the second. Standing against the south-west corner of the apse is a Calvary cross supporting an oak sculpture of the crucified Christ (not of special interest). A plaque adjacent to the cross records that it was erected in 2012 in memory of Giuseppe Blanco (1951-2011), a local parishioner.
INTERIOR: the interior is relatively simple with the nave having a barrel-vaulted roof and side walls comprised of a blind arcade with a continuous and moulded entablature on Doric pilasters with recessed arches; the apsidal sanctuary has plain panelled walls and transverse ribs to the roof. The narthex at the west end has a six-panelled entrance door with a semi-circular pedimented doorcase with dentilled ornamentation and panelled frieze. The east and west walls at this end both have six-panelled doors with segmental pediments, plain friezes and panelled recesses. Set into the wall to the right-hand side of the entrance door are two war memorial plaques; a First World War memorial to Clifford Lobban and David Wincup and a Second World War plaque to Squadron Leader John Taylor DFC and Lieutenant Robin Todhunter of the Royal Norfolk Regiment. Separating the narthex from the nave is a late-C19 cast- and wrought-iron screen, by Mr Holmes, the farrier to the Gillingham Hall estate. Attached to the north wall of the nave is an early-Victorian bronze figure of the crucified Christ known as ‘The Crucifix for the Broken’. It was re-hung here in 2016 as a memorial to Major Joseph Robert Kenyon (1883-1971). At the east end is a single-step sanctuary with balustraded altar rail beneath a moulded chancel arch. Extending from the east wall is an elliptical-shaped altar platform on which the High Altar and reredos stand, both being of wood. Above the altar is a wooden sounding board.