Building » Aldeburgh – Our Lady and St Peter

Aldeburgh – Our Lady and St Peter

The Terrace, Aldeburgh, IP15 5HJ

A late Gothic Revival church by Arthur Young, showing Arts and Crafts influences. Young’s design was never fully realised, and the tower suffered wartime bomb damage. Furnishings of note include a fine Flemish-style reredos and rood, unusual painted Stations of the Cross and a recent statue of St Peter in the south porch.

In 1904 a community of French Ursuline nuns opened a convent in Aldeburgh, and their chapel was open to Catholic residents of the town and its rural hinterland. The community departed in 1919 but a local priest named Fr Delaney arranged for the use of a room in the house of a friend as a temporary oratory. This was, in the words of The Tablet (19 June 1920), ‘the only Catholic oratory between Southwold, 20 miles north, Felixstowe, 20 miles south, and Ipswich, 26 miles inland’.

An anonymous donation of £1,000 and other donations soon allowed for the building of a permanent church, the foundation stone of which was laid by Bishop Cary-Elwes of Northampton in July 1924. The design was inspired by the round towered medieval churches of East Anglia, of which the architect Arthur Young made a special study. It was illustrated in The Tablet in August 1925. Sadly Young died before completion of the church, just days after completing his sketches for the reredos. The completed first portion of the new church (tower, porch and part of the nave) was opened by the Bishop of Northampton on the Feast of the Annunciation, 25 March 1925. After Mass at a lunch at the Brudenell Hotel:

‘His lordship the Bishop in his speech said it was a special joy to him to be present, as that was the first church he had opened as Bishop of the diocese. It was also a joy to him to announce that he was the bearer of the Holy Father’s blessing to the Catholics of Aldeburgh and the district. He felt he must congratulate the town upon the acquisition of such a beautiful church. All must feel great sorrow at the death of Mr. Young, the architect, but he must felicitate Mr. Reid, his partner, on the great success of the building; Mr. Redde, the builder; the workmen, the benefactors, and Father Davidson. Undoubtedly the building was a little gem. Father Davidson, responding, thanked his lordship for having made a special effort to be present and for his continuous encouragement and help through difficult times. He hoped that something really permanent had now been erected, the round tower and the dedication to Our Lady and St. Peter recalling the ancient churches of East Anglia, once so faithful to the old religion. He would like to thank first the Ursuline nuns who first made possible the establishment of a Catholic parish, the anonymous donor of £1,000, Mrs. Eyre for many gifts, the many benefactors, the Mayor for his presence, and the town for its good will. The expenditure incurred has amounted to £2,300, of which £500 has been borrowed. After the luncheon there was Benediction and Te Deum, when again the church was crowded to its utmost capacity’.

Part of the nave, the tower, and principal porch have now been erected, while provision is made for subsequent additions which include extension of the nave, erection of sanctuary, and the completion of two aisles forming side chapels. The architecture is fourteenth-century Gothic. Flint has been used in the facings of the walls, and Monks Park stone has been worked for the mullioned and traceried windows. A striking feature is the round tower, and its attractiveness is enhanced by its commanding position over the town steps. The roof of the church is covered in with antique red tiling, while the moulding of the porch ceiling is picked out in red. The beautiful reredos at the back of the altar, designed by the late Mr. Arthur Young shortly before his death, is at present unfinished. This reredos is intended ultimately for the Lady altar at the other end of the church when completed.’ (The Tablet, 4 April 1925)

In 1933, a rood was erected over the high altar ‘designed and painted by Mr James Dagless, the figures being carved at Oberammergau’ (The Tablet, 6 May 1933). With his sister Lilian, Dagless also provided furnishings about this time for the Slipper Chapel at Houghton St Giles, Walsingham and the Walsingham Chapel at St John the Baptist, Norwich (qqv).

Although the placing of the altar at the liturgical west end was intended as a temporary measure, a stone lavabo was set into the wall of the tower. Pre-war, a round tower and two completed bays of the nave sat beyond the porch. The rest is shown as a temporary structure with pebbledashed walls, a weatherboarded gable and metal casement windows. The appearance at this end is almost residential, and it is possible that part of the building was used temporarily as a presbytery. Two more nave bays were completed before 1939, but the side chapel aisles were never completed, or at least not in their intended form. Instead a brick-built Lady Chapel was constructed on the (liturgical) north side in c.1956 from designs by Wearing & Hastings. This was after the tower had been badly damaged in a wartime bombing raid and subsequently repaired in a reduced, apsidal form. At about the same time the church was reoriented, with the sanctuary moved to the other end and the reredos (originally intended for the Lady Chapel) placed behind the main altar. What was now the liturgical east wall was again faced in brick and weatherboard, retaining the somewhat improvised and temporary appearance.


The church is orientated north-south, but this description assumes conventional liturgical orientation, i.e. is if the altar was to the east. 

A small Arts and Crafts Gothic church built in 1924-5 from designs by Arthur Young, completed in c.1956, when the tower was reduced and reformed following bomb damage and a Lady Chapel was added. The plan consists of an aisleless nave of six bays, a south porch, a west tower/apse (now the sacristy) and a north Lady Chapel. The building is faced in knapped flint with Bath stone dressings, apart from the east wall, which is faced in brick with stained weatherboard in the gable, and the north chapel, which is of brick with stone dressings. The main roofs are steeply pitched and tiled, the chapel roof is flat and felted. The windows are each of two lights, with four-centred arches under hoodmoulds. There are stepped buttresses between every second window on the south side. The porch occupies the southwestern bay of the nave; it is embattled, with diagonal buttresses at the corners and a central two-centred arch with boarded doors. In a niche over the arch is a 2018 carving of St Peter, in Kilkenny granite with gold leaf detail (photo). This is by Louise Tiplady, and replaces an earlier stone statue which had been eroded by the sea air.

In the porch a stone holy water stoup with ogee arch is set into the wall. The interior is a single volume, with an open timber roof with arched braces springing from stone corbels. Metal corona lights of Arts and Crafts character hang from the rafters. The walls are plastered and painted, the floor woodblock. The seating consists of modern chairs rather than benches. At the west end, what was originally the sanctuary is now the sacristy; it retains a stone carved Gothic lavabo with ogee arch in the apsidal wall. The tower arch is now boarded and curtained, with two cherub corbels and a clock. In the nave, the Stations of the Cross are tempera painted panels of the 1950s, in a quattrocento style influenced by Piero della Francesca (artist not identified). Behind the forward altar is Young’s Flemish-style reredos, coloured and gilded, with scenes of the Annunciation and the Assumption (it was originally intended for the Lady Chapel). Bettley states (p. 79) that the woodwork is by Messrs Robinson of Westminster. Above it, also fixed to the wall, is a painted rood by James Dagless (1933). On the north side of the nave the post-war Lady Chapel gives off the eastern bays, separated from the main body of the church by flat-topped openings with square piers. The chapel contains a simple columnar altar table with a crucifix and polychrome statues of St Peter and Our Lady of Walsingham above. At the other end are a modern octagonal font and a Della Robbia-style panel of the Virgin and Child.

Heritage Details

Architect: Young & Reid

Original Date: 1925

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed