Building » Bury St Edmunds – St Edmund King and Martyr

Bury St Edmunds – St Edmund King and Martyr

Westgate Street, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP33 1QG

A handsome Greek Revival design of the 1830s, with a stone frontage and built alongside a presbytery of the 1760s. This incorporates at the rear a small chapel, the oldest post-Reformation place of public Catholic worship in East Anglia. The 1830s church has a good and little-altered interior, including a rare example (in a Catholic church) of box pews. It has recently (2014) been sympathetically redecorated and reordered.

In 1633 the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) established a college in Bury St Edmunds, and for a short time during the reign of James II ran a house, chapel and boys’ school within the bounds of the abbey ruins. This came to an end with the Glorious or Protestant Revolution of 1688, but the Jesuit presence in the town resumed in 1755, with the arrival of the Rev. John Gage SJ. He was the son of Elizabeth Rookwood Gage, heiress to the Coldham estates and founder of the mission-house at Coldham Cottage (qv). In 1762 Fr Gage built a house in Westgate Street, with a small (and still then illegal) chapel to the rear. In 1791, following the second Catholic Relief Act, the chapel was licensed for public worship.

The present church was built alongside the presbytery in 1836-7, by the Rev. Joseph Tate SJ. The architect was Charles Day of Worcester, the builder a Mr Newnham and the approximate cost £9,400. The church was dedicated on 14 December 1837. It was fitted out with box pews, for which rents were charged, and a school was established in the large crypt below the church (replaced by a separate school building in the presbytery grounds by 1881; in 1919 the crypt became a parish hall). In 1876 the interior was elaborately redecorated to the designs of the Rev. I. C. Scoles SJ, with a painted representation of the Ascension in the apse, by Robert Park of Preston.

In 1929 the Jesuits withdrew and diocesan priests assumed care of the parish.

Several notable enrichments were made by the Rev. Bryan Houghton (parish priest 1954-69). These included the importation in 1959 of several marble items from nearby Rushbrooke Hall, prior to the demolition of that house in 1961. In 1960 Fr Houghton commissioned (and personally paid) the German sculptor Maximilian Leuthenmayr to create a shrine to St Edmund, incorporating a painted wooden statue of the saint which had been donated in 1887. This was an extraordinary Baroque-style confection, remarkable for its date. Leuthenmayr’s billowing carved shroud backdrop was surmounted by an eighteenth century wooden carving of God the Father, by the renowned Rococo sculptor Ignaz Gunther. God the Son was in the form of a processional cross, the corpus of Florentine Renaissance provenance, and the representation of the Holy Spirit was newly carved by Leuthenmayr. The shrine was removed after Fr Houghton’s resignation in 1969 (in protest at the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council), but the statue of St Edmund remains.

Fr Houghton also replaced the timber altar with a marble sarcophagus altar, previously a garden feature in a house in Guildhall Street; suitably adapted and augmented, it was consecrated by Bishop Parker of Northampton in 1965.

Under Fr Harry Wace (parish priest 1977-82) the eighteenth century chapel behind the presbytery was incorporated into the church as the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, and ramped wheelchair access was formed at the side of the church.

In 2014 the church was reordered and redecorated under the direction of architect Charles Brown (whose practice of Brownhill Hayward Brown had also restored the contemporary and almost identical church built by Charles Day for the Jesuits at Hereford). The sarcophagus was sold at auction, but other parts of the 1965 altar were incorporated in a new smaller altar, consecrated by Bishop Alan Hopes on 28 April 2014. Improvements to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and crypt were also made around this time. 


The list entry (below) summarises the main features, but there are some notable omissions. The following points can be added (the church is orientated north-south, but this description assumes conventional liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar was to the east):

  • The entrance portico and other stone dressings are of Ketton stone.
  • In the stone-flagged vestibule: stone staircases with iron balusters to the choir gallery; a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, given in 1883 by Captain Rushbrooke of Rushbrooke Hall; a marble memorial to the Hon. Charles Petre (d. 1854), with a bas relief of the Raising of Lazarus, signed R. Brown of 58 Great Russell Street, London; a marble First World War memorial of 1927, with additional panel for the parish dead of the Second World War; and a central entrance to the church framed by two outward-facing terms, from a large chimneypiece formerly at Rushbrooke Hall. Pevsner/Bettley suggests that the terms are mid-seventeenth century and Dutch, and the frieze slightly earlier, possibly Tuscan, and with the arms of the Farnese and della Rovere families.
  • In the main body of the church, the paint scheme dates from 2014, its marbling and stencil decoration informed to some extent by historical paint schemes.
  • A painting on copper in the apse depicts the Ascension and is by Robert Park of Preston, 1876 (Pevsner/Bettley). It is marked ‘Restored by G. H. Pettit Builder and Decorator etc H O U 4 12 21’.
  • The iron communion rails, sanctuary steps, and mahogany pulpit (to one side) are all original to the church. The marble altar at the top of the sanctuary steps dates from 2014 and incorporates the base slab, mensa, columns and relics from the 1965 altar. Also from 2014 is a limed oak columnar ambo, placed on the sanctuary steps.
  • On either side of the apse, doors lead off to the sacristy and parish library.
  • The nave is fitted out with its original timber box pews, a rare feature in a Catholic church, in four banks and each bearing a number in Roman numerals. The perimeter timber dado is also original.
  • The painted plaster Stations of the Cross date from 1925 and were supplied by Messrs Vanpoulle of Vauxhall Bridge Road, London (replacing a painted set installed in 1876).
  • Within the shallow recessed arches of the nave side walls, a series of framed tapestries date from 1970 and were made by the pupils of West Suffolk schools to mark the 1100th anniversary of the martyrdom of St Edmund. They are on loan from Anglican Cathedral at Bury St Edmunds.
  • According to the Norfolk Churches website, glass in the church was brought here from the Willow Lane Chapel, Norwich in the 1980s, when that building was converted to offices. This may refer to the diamond lattice glazing in the clerestory.
  • In the nave, the painted wooden statue of St Edmund was presented by Mrs Milner-Gibson and unveiled by Bishop Amherst of Northampton on St Edmund’s Day, 1877. In 1960 it was incorporated in a short-lived baroque-style shrine to the saint. It is now placed on a marbled columnar pedestal.
  • At the west end, the marble Lady altar (formerly dedicated to the Sacred Heart) was given in 1920 by Henry Francis Harvey in memory of his son, Lt. Harry Thomas Harvey, killed at Ypres in 1917. In 1921 a Carrara marble statue of Our Lady was given by George Gery Milner-Gibson-Cullum, in memory of his mother, Susannah Arethusa; according to Years of Faith (p. 45) Fr Houghton said the statue came from the workshop of the neoclassical sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. The altar reredos comprises two large repurposed doorcases of c.1735, from Rushbrooke Hall.
  • Opposite this, another pedimented marble former door surround from Rushbrooke Hall frames the entrance to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. A hanging sanctuary lamp in the doorway was a gift from Irish drovers, 1876. Glazing in the door incorporates a crown of thorns and chalice etc. by Stefan Oliver, 1978.
  • The timber font was given in c.1996 by Kevin Mayhew, the well-known book and music publisher.
  • The Blessed Sacrament Chapel retains its original Gothick cornice, two Georgian sash windows and gallery. A painting of the Crucifixion (school of Rubens) placed over the altar was donated by Sir Pierce Lacy. The chapel was restored and redecorated in 2012, with the tabernacle and altar re-sited, the floor level raised and new seating provided.

List descriptions



Catholic church. 1837. By Charles Day of Worcester; in Grecian style. Red brick with a stone-faced facade. 3 bays. A projecting central entrance portico with 2 tall fluted Ionic columns in antis is approached by a flight of stone steps. Plain red brick to sides with a stone cornice band and a row of 5 diamond-leaded attic windows in recessed reveals. INTERIOR: the surround to the main entrance was a marble fireplace, a composite piece, with doors belonging to the 2 altar surrounds of c1735, which were originally doorcases. All these features came from Rushbrooke Hall in 1959. The pilastered interior, remodelled in 1877, has a partly glazed and deeply coved panelled ceiling with rosettes. The short sanctuary is behind a screen of 2 Ionic columns. To the west of the church is the apsidal Blessed Sacrament Chapel. This was originally built as a private chapel and formed part of the adjoining Presbytery (qv) but was formally licensed for Roman Catholic worship in 1791, later falling into disuse. It was linked to the church and re-dedicated in 1979. A Lombard frieze surrounds the walls, which are rendered. A contemporary crypt runs below the whole of the church and is fully used for community activities. 2 red brick arcades of shallow rounded arches support the upper floor. On the north side 3 arches are blocked; they contain reset early C19 gravestones commemorating some of the Jesuits who were responsible for the C18 and early C19 organisation of the Roman Catholic congregation in the Bury St Edmunds area.



Formerly known as: No.21 St Edmund’s House WESTGATE STREET. House. Built 1760/61 for Fr John Gage S.J. and used continuously since as the Presbytery for the adjoining Roman Catholic Church of St Edmund (qv). Red brick with plaintiled roof and a wood modillion eaves cornice. EXTERIOR: 2 storeys, cellar and attics. 5 window range: sashes without glazing bars in plain reveals with flat gauged arches. 3 gabled dormers with 2-light single bar casement windows. 2 gable end chimney-stacks. A recessed central 6-panel door within a wood doorcase with panelled reveals, panelled pilasters and a frieze with a central keystone and pediment. A small 2-storey one-bay extension at the west end has a single sash window with a single vertical glazing-bar in a flush cased frame to each storey. A rear wing on the east, now linked with the adjoining church, was built as a private chapel but was formally licensed for public Roman Catholic worship in 1791. INTERIOR: retains many original features. Cellar, brick lined with a high timber ceiling. Ground storey rooms are panelled with ornate plaster cornices and internal window shutters with sunk panels. 6-panel and 4-panel doors. A fine dog-leg stair has vase-on-reel balusters, enriched bracketed open strings and ramped and wreathed handrails. An attic room at the east end of the house has original C18 framing and rafters exposed. The chapel has a galleried upper storey at the north end which still forms part of the house.

(Rowe J: The Story of Catholic Bury St Edmunds, Coldham, etc.: bury St Edmunds: 1980-: 12). 

Heritage Details

Architect: Charles Day

Original Date: 1837

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II*