St Mary’s Street, Bungay, Suffolk, NR35 1AX
An exuberant display of late nineteenth century medievalism right in the town centre, close to the medieval church of St Mary and the ruins of the Benedictine convent. Progressively replacing an 1823 chapel and an 1829 presbytery, this 1888-1901 church built for the Benedictines of Downside Abbey by Bernard Smith contains excellent furnishings and stained glass by firms of national status.
The church is aligned northeast-southwest by the compass, but liturgical points will be used in this report, i.e. assuming an altar at the east.
In 1657, the Tasburgh family at Flixton (southwest of Bungay) hosted Dom William Walgrave of the English Benedictine Congregation at Douai while he ministered to Catholics in the area. That link survives today as the Benedictines of Downside Abbey continue to supply the parish priest.
Post-Reformation Bungay had two Church of England medieval parish churches, Holy Trinity and St Mary (the latter now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust). St Mary was the church of the former priory of the Holy Cross of Benedictine nuns, probably dissolved in 1536; by December 1537, the Duke of Norfolk, descendant of the founder, had possession of the priory site. The twelfth Duke rented part of it to the growing Catholic congregation and by 1823 a chapel had been built in the lancet style, opening on 18 June that year. A priest’s house was built in 1829 on its northwest corner, funded from the proceeds of a French-English dictionary compiled by the mission priest, Dom Peter Wilson. The former priory flint and brick wall separates the new chapel from St Mary’s Street and a brick and flint wall to the north forms the boundary between the chapel and St Mary’s churchyard. In 1873 a school was built in to the southwest from designs by Bacon & Bell, extended in 1899 by F. E. Banham and again in the late twentieth century.
On his arrival in 1885, Dom Ephrem Guy considered the chapel too small but it was only when Frederic Smith, a Bungay solicitor and school friend of Dom Ephrem at Downside, came into his inheritance in 1888 that plans could be made. Initially, Dom Ephrem approached Edmund Kirby, architect of Liverpool (where he had previously been), but Bernard Smith, a London architect with Bungay connections (but no relation to Frederic) was engaged to add a new chancel. The foundation stone was laid in August 1888 and on 9 January 1889, the new chancel was formally opened by the Bishop of Northampton, Arthur Riddell. In April 1890 work began on replacing the 1823 chapel by encasing it with a new nave by Bernard Smith, funded by Frederic Smith. The boys’ sacristy and boiler house were added to the northeast and the ‘exterior of the existing chancel was made to correspond’ (according to the 1899 account). It is noticeable that the chancel tracery has fewer mouldings than that of the nave and is without external buttresses. The new nave was to be longer than it is, but existing graves prevented another bay; some headstones are incorporated in the internal walls of the porch. The old chapel was demolished after Easter 1891.
In 1894 a new presbytery was built to the southeast of the chancel from designs prepared by Bernard Smith in 1891, and the 1829 priest’s house was demolished, to be replaced by the octagonal baptistery, blessed in May 1901. Frederic Smith spent more than £14,000 on these buildings, with more given for vestments and furnishings before his death on 18 September 1903. The church was consecrated in 1910.
In the early 1970s a square marble forward altar was introduced but the reredos and its altar were left in place. The fine iron altar rails by Hardman and Co. were removed in 1992 (but they remain on site in store). The present wooden altar is of 1998, when the sanctuary was reordered and raised in height (the marble altar was taken to St John’s Cathedral c.2000). The pulpit was dismantled and parts used for the present ambo.
In 2021 ownership and administration of the Benedictine parishes of Bungay and Beccles passed to the Diocese of East Anglia.
The list description (below) remains accurate but would benefit from the following clarifications and additional detail:
Roman Catholic Church. 1889-1901. By Bernard Smith for the English Benedictine Congregation. Patron Frederic Smith. Red brick with stone dressings and plain tile roof. Decorated and Perpendicular styles. Chancel, with sacristy etc, nave, north aisle Lady Chapel and octagonal baptistery. EXTERIOR. Chancel a 3-window range of 2-light windows and nave a 4-window range of 3-light windows with buttresses between. West end projects forward by 1 window but blank front has elaborate carved frontispiece around the west door by Ovens of Norwich depicting Saints Gregory and Augustine and scenes from life of St Edmund. Baptistery has flying buttresses, narrow windows, corbelled battlemented parapet and tall octagonal metal roof. INTERIOR. Chancel has stained glass east window by Hardman and Co and wood panelling and a very fine and elaborate reredos of panels of angels in Caen stone, all by AB Wall of Cheltenham. Stained glass in side windows probably also by Hardman. Chancel roof is panelled and has mahogany angels. Nave has complete set of stained glass by Lavers, Westlake and Barnard and carved panelling to the walls including high relief Stations of the Cross by Daymond and Boulton of Cheltenham. Statues in niches on nave east wall also by Boulton. Panelled nave roof. Complete set of pews run uninterrupted across width of nave. A 2-bay arcade of clustered shaft pier and responds leads to north aisle Lady Chapel with similar glass and stone reredos in high relief of the Assumption of the Virgin by Boulton. West end of nave has gallery partly over entrance vestibule and contains organ by Norman and Beard of Norwich. The elaborate baptistery leads off the Lady Chapel through iron gates and has blind arcading with marble columns, patterned stained glass and fan vaulted roof. Octagonal font in various marbles, mainly alabaster, and richly carved font cover.
HISTORY. A chapel was built on this site in 1823 near to the parish church and to the remains of the pre-reformation Benedictine nunnery. A presbytery was added in 1829 next to the street. In 1888 Frederic Smith, a local solicitor, offered a new chancel and sacristy in memory of his parents and this was completed in 1889. He then offered the nave which was built round the old chapel and was restricted in its size by the existing presbytery and surrounding graveyard. The old chapel was then demolished and the new church opened in 1891. The decision was then taken to rebuild the presbytery (qv) to the SE of the church and linked to it and this was completed in 1894. The baptistery was added to the north west corner of the church 1899-1901. The cost of chancel, nave and presbytery was about £14,000, the whole amount paid by the patron. The church displays both inside and out high quality and rich decoration, and with the presbytery, the Church of St Mary (including the ruins of the Benedictine Convent) (qv) forms a very significant group in the centre of Bungay.
Bibliography: Mission and Church of St Edmund, King and Martyr, Bungay. By a Monk of St Gregory’s Abbey, Downside [Dom Francis Flemming], 1899.
Listing NGR: TM3369589680
Roman Catholic presbytery. 1894. By Bernard Smith. For the English Benedictine Congregation. Patron Frederic Smith. Red brick with stone dressings. Plain tile roof with ornamental brick stacks with shafts and cornices. Crow stepped gables. Tudor Revival style. 2 storeys and attic. Gable projecting on right. 4-window range in all at first floor of paired and 4-light sashes in stone mullioned surrounds. 2- and 3-light mullioned and transom windows to ground floor have leaded lights. Entrance under stone arch to right side of projecting gable. Side has similar paired and triple sashes and a projecting gable. INTERIOR only partly inspected but features a corridor leading directly across the whole ground floor from entrance to sacristy of church (qv), to which the presbytery is linked. Together with the church, the Church of St Mary (including the remains of the Benedictine Convent) (qv), and walls in both churchyards (qv) the presbytery forms a very significant group in the centre of Bungay. Listing NGR: TM3372389677
Wall on southwest side of St Edmund’s churchyard
Probably mediaeval, about 8 ft high and up to 3 ft thick, uncut flint.
Listing NGR: TM3367889668
Architect: Bernard Smith
Original Date: 1901
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II*