The side view of the Minster Church of St Benet in Beccles shows the grand scale of the church, with its tower, gabled roof and three storey nave.
The Minster Church of St Benet, Beccles (newly listed at Grade II*) © Historic England Archive
The Minster Church of St Benet, Beccles (newly listed at Grade II*) © Historic England Archive

Historic Roman Catholic Churches Listed

Four historic Roman Catholic churches in the East of England have been listed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the advice of Historic England.

The Church of Our Lady of The Assumption and The English Martyrs, Cambridge (relisted at Grade I)

This spectacular Cambridge church was built between 1887 and 1890, to the designs of Archibald Dunn (1832 to 1912) and Charles Hansom (1842 to 1900) of Newcastle, specialists in Catholic building projects.

The cost of the church building was funded by Yolande Lyne-Stephens, a successful ballet dancer in France before her marriage to Stephen Lyne-Stephens. On his death in 1860, she inherited a considerable fortune and became a generous supporter of Catholic causes.

When it was consecrated on 8 October 1890, The Church of our Lady of The Assumption and The English Martyrs was one of the largest catholic churches in the country. At 65 metres high, the church spire is only slightly lower than the tower of Ely Cathedral.

The impressive exterior is richly carved and features a sculptured choir of angels. Inside the church has a majestic cathedral-like quality.

The Church of Our Lady of The Assumption and The English Martyrs has been relisted at Grade I for the building’s superb quality, craftsmanship and architectural vision.

Our Lady of the Annunciation, King’s Lynn (newly listed at Grade II)

The Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation was designed in Gothic Revival style by William Lunn (1849 to 1902) and completed in 1897. It replaced an earlier church designed by renowned architect A W N Pugin, which was consecrated in 1845, but by the end of the 19th century was in poor repair.

The Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII), complaining that his Catholic guests at Sandringham were inconvenienced while attending Mass at Kings Lynn, financed a report from Lunn, which showed that the building was beyond economic repair.

It was rebuilt under Lunn’s supervision, re-using some parts of the old building and its furnishings, including the rood (a cross or crucifix), the font and stained glass. The Prince contributed fifty guineas towards the cost.

The foundation stone was laid on 29 September 1896 and the new church was opened by Bishop Riddell of Northampton on 2 June 1897.

The Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation played an important role in the revival of the shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, one of the most important pilgrim destinations in England during the later medieval period.

In 1897, the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham was established in the new church’s Lady Chapel by Fr George Wrigglesworth, who, in August 1897, led the first pilgrimage from King’s Lynn to Walsingham since the Reformation of the 16th century.

This tradition continued to grow into the 20th century. In 1934, a national shrine was established at Walsingham, with a Pontifical Shrine remaining at the Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation.

Roman Catholic Church of St Felix, Felixstowe (newly listed at Grade II)

In 1910, Francis (Frederick) Easto Banham, a Catholic architect from Beccles, was asked to prepare plans for a new church to accommodate Felixstowe’s growing Catholic community.

He proposed an Arts and Crafts-influenced Perpendicular Gothic design with a four-bay nave, a chancel, two side chapels, Lady Chapel, sacristy and an elaborate west front with a tall tower.

When the church was officially opened on 31 July 1912, with King Manuel II of Portugal in attendance, only the sanctuary and four bays of the nave had been completed. The church was built in stages as funds became available, the original grand design modified between the first building phase and its completion in 1958.

The stained glass in the east window, depicting the Mysteries of the Rosary, was designed by John Hardman and Company of Birmingham, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of stained glass. It is believed to be the largest collection of the company’s work in East Anglia.

Banham died before he could see the completion of his vision for St Felix. The sacristy, Lady Chapel and two side chapels were built from 1931 to 1932, broadly to his designs, by W F Cross of Felixstowe.

Banham’s son, Father Cyril Banham, served at the church as parish priest between 1945 and 1961 and set about completing his father’s design, overseeing the completion of the west front of the nave in 1957.

A 21st century reordering has seen a new sanctuary floor, altar, ambo (elevated desk or pulpit) and tabernacle plinth (a fixed box in which the Eucharist is stored) in a collaborative design by architect Neil Birdsall and present parish priest Father John Barnes.

In 2018, two striking stained glass windows by the artist Thomas Denny and stained-glass conservator Elizabeth Hippisley-Cox, on the theme of the Divine Mercy, were installed at the west end of the nave (Denny’s work also features in the Cathedrals at Durham, Gloucester, Leicester and Hereford along with the Trinity Church, Wall Street, New York).

Minster Church of St Benet, Beccles (newly listed at Grade II*)

Originally intended to be the site of a monastery served by Benedictine monks from Downside Priory, in 1898, a minster church was built in Beccles on land given by John George Kenyon of Gillingham Hall, a Catholic convert.

The architect commissioned was Francis Easto Banham, who was a resident and mayor of Beccles.

The foundation stone was laid in 1899 and the first mass was celebrated in the nave on 4 September 1901. It took until 1908 to complete the church, including the sanctuary, but the intended baptistry in the north-west bay, ambulatory and Lady Chapel in the south-east of the crossing were not completed.

The grand interior features a high, barrel-vaulted plastered roof with elaborate stencilling around the arches and a continuous inscription taken from the Rule of St Benedict. The east nave bay has a gilded and stencilled ceiling and the area over the adjacent sanctuary arch is richly painted, imitating fabric. The sanctuary ceiling is domed and decoratively painted and the vault in the east apsidal Lady Chapel is painted dark blue with gold stars.

A beautiful stained glass window, showing the Resurrected Christ, over the north-east aisle door, commemorates the architect’s mother, Easter Eliza Easto Banham. The architect, and other members of the Banham family, are buried just outside this door.