Building » Costessey – Our Lady and St Walstan

Costessey – Our Lady and St Walstan

Townhouse Road, Costessey, Norfolk, NR8 5AA

A thoughtful essay in the lancet Gothic style, designed by J. C. Buckler in 1834-41 for the Jerningham family of Costessey Hall. The plan of a long nave and two-bay chancel was the first of the Gothic Revival in Norfolk. The conscious use of the thirteenth century lancet style and the accomplished furnishings demonstrates Buckler’s capacity for original design based on historical precedent.

The Catholic Jerningham family were given the Costessey (or Cossey) estate by Queen Mary and built the Hall in 1564 on a normal E-plan. Their private chapel was in the attic of the southern lateral wing and remained in use until 1809, when Edward Jerningham (lawyer, poet, amateur architect and Secretary to the General Board of English Catholics) built a large chapel adjacent to the Hall, loosely modelled on King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. [The attic chapel’s panelling and altar are now at Swynnerton Park, Staffordshire, home of the Fitzherbert family].

Around 1826, the architect J.C. Buckler was commissioned to enlarge the Hall. Dr Frederick Husenbeth, chaplain at that time, had created a list of 514 Catholics in the area and in 1830, Lady Stafford (as the Jerninghams had become) asked him to build a new public chapel in the village. Lord Stafford donated the site and on 21 May 1834 the ‘first stone was laid’, though no foundation stone exists and no formal ceremony seems to have taken place. Although further funds were hard to raise, the building was completed in the spring of 1841 at a total cost of £3,793 18s 9d; with the furnishings, the cost was £4,415 7s 10¼d. By then, a presbytery had been built to the southeast, linked to the church by a sacristy. The church was dedicated to Our Lady and St Walstan, a pre-conquest Norfolk saint, and was opened on 26 May 1841. Dr Husenbeth was a keen antiquary and the biographer of Bishop Milner, antiquary and Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District. He doubtless exerted a strong influence over Buckler’s design. According to the account of the opening in The Tablet, ‘The Missal used at high mass was a venerable black-letter Sarum Missal, written entirely with the pen on vellum, and most richly illuminated, one of the Catholic times, and which belonged to Archbishop Chicheley, and had not been used at the altar for more than three centuries’. The account described the church as ‘remarkable for the purity of its architecture, the beauty of its proportions, and the solid excellence of its construction, being the work of Mr. Kidd, of the village, who has so well executed the new Cossey Hall’.

Dr Husenbeth remained in charge of the mission until his death in 1872, after which the church was closed and the presbytery let. Mgr George Davies took on responsibility for the mission and Mass now took place at the Hall chapel, as did baptisms and weddings, with St Walstan’s used only occasionally for funerals. On his retirement in 1896, Canon Fitzgerald was sent by the Bishop of Northampton to live in the presbytery, though he continued to use the Hall chapel. Finally, in 1909 the sanctuary of St Walstan’s was restored sufficiently for Bishop Keating to hold a confirmation service and in December 1910, the whole church was re-opened for parish use.

The last Lord Stafford of the Jerningham line died in 1913, when the chapel was closed. Some statues and the large painting over the chancel arch were transferred to St Walstan’s, but otherwise the contents of the Hall and chapel were dispersed, including the medieval stained glass, which went to the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The altar may have gone to St Peter, Gorleston; in 1939, when that church was being rebuilt by Eric Gill, its parish priest advertised for sale its altar, reredos and altar rails, being ‘unsuitable for [the] new church now nearing completion’. They were described as ‘over 140 years old, made from oak from the Costessey estate’. The fate of the furnishings has not been established.

The army occupied Costessey Hall until 1919 and with no further use, the Hall and chapel were demolished by 1922.

Fr Joseph McShee was parish priest from 1925-65 and ‘modernised the sanctuary’ of St Walstan’s in 1963. By 1973, the altar had been brought forward from the east wall, but the stone altar rails remained until removed in a later reordering, when an apron platform was created in front of the chancel arch. It was perhaps c.1980 that the glazed box (‘the crying room’ for children) was put under the west gallery north side, displacing the font which is now at the northeast corner of the nave. The apron was removed and the sanctuary floor recovered around 2005, when a polygonal porch replaced Buckler’s small gabled porch at the west end. The church was consecrated in 2006.


The list description of 2010 (below) is detailed and remains broadly accurate, but the following additional details and corrections may be noted:

  • The 2005 west porch is slate roofed with a raised entrance gable.
  • Below each lancet is a square Cossey red brick, with a deeply recessed cross bottonée. They are probably intended to be consecration crosses.
  • Buckler added a narrow corridor to the north side of the chancel to provide the only link between the sacristy across the east wall and the church. Nevertheless, the door beside the chancel arch is at an awkward angle and inexplicably small. It gives altar servers and others access to the sacristy without going through the presbytery. A tall chimney has been added at the east end of this corridor.
  • The west gallery is decorated with two roundels of stiff leaf sculpture and a hanging shield decorated with a crowned M and W.
  • The former arcaded stone altar rail, presumably with wooden gates, has been relocated between the outer arches of the gallery, behind the pews.
  • The numbered benches are not from the Hall chapel, but were made for the church. The ends are each topped with a roundel carved with a rose, its centre with the letters ‘ihu’ for Jesu surrounded by petals each with a letter spelling ‘Mercy’ all in Gothic script. This is perhaps what Buckler thought a thirteenth century bench end might look like, none actually surviving to give him a pattern.
  • The arcaded font was a gift from Buckler and with the similarly arcaded altar is of 1841 and not from the Hall chapel. The altar may have been shortened when moved from the east wall and the painted wooden panels with saints attached to it are said to have come from the Hall chapel.
  • The ‘reredos’ was created after 1973 by adding an elevated section of panelling. The cresting (brattishing) is only fully carved along the east wall.
  • The good quality Stations of the Cross are again not from the Hall chapel. Recent conservation work has shown that they are by at least three different artists.
  • The east lancets contain figures of Mary (north), the Sacred Heart (centre) and St Walstan (south).
  • It is not known when the bellcote lost its upper stage, but the present arrangement is visible in a 1964 photograph. There are no bells.
  • The ground floor of the presbytery has been enlarged three times (twice this century), including creation of a garden room for parish use.

The history section of the list description suggests that Costessey has a ‘preaching-box air to it’ because it retains Nonconformist elements. However, the interior is a rectangle filled with benches, not pews, with a distinctly longitudinal emphasis on the altar at the east end. This is not a form that any Nonconformist preaching box, that is, an essentially square building, would take. Buckler was aware of the normal medieval-style chancel, not just from his association with Pugin at Oxburgh, but also through his extensive travels throughout England sketching parish churches. The conscious use of the thirteenth century lancet style, and not Pugin’s Middle Pointed, as well as the accomplished designs for the furnishings, demonstrates Buckler’s capacity for original design based on historical precedent.

List description

Heritage Category: Listed Building

Grade: II

List Entry Number: 1393711

Date first listed: 05-Mar-2010


County: Norfolk

District: South Norfolk (District Authority)

Parish: Costessey

National Grid Reference: TG 17293 11583

COSTESSEY 1135/0/10001


Our Lady and St Walstan RC Church 

II Roman Catholic Church. 1834-41. By J.C. Buckler for the Jerningham family of Costessey Hall. Red brick laid in Flemish bond; pantiled nave, concrete tiled chancel. Plan of nave and chancel with C21 polygonal west porch.

EXTERIOR: large preaching nave of seven bays with stepped side buttresses separating tall single lancets. Angle buttresses to west end. Triple stepped lancets to west above single-storey west porch. Double stone bellcote to east nave gable, on brick plinth. Lower two-bay chancel with single lancets north and south separated by stepped side buttresses. Three stepped lancets to east end.

INTERIOR: stone west gallery (doubling as organ loft) consisting of three double-chamfered arches on circular columns and responds. One stiff-leaf roundel in central spandrels. String course and plain parapet. Stone staircase in south-west corner, with panelled balustrade. North-west corner opposite partly filled in. Panelled dado below nave windows. Roof of principals, secondary rafters and ridge piece. Chamfered chancel arch with roll-moulded hoodmould. Panelled chancel dado, raised for reredos. Circular font with arcade of trefoils in arches to the bowl. Stations of the Cross painted in oil on canvas within timber frames. East chancel lancets with glass by James Grant, 1841, that in centre light probably replaced by Joseph Grant c. 1860. One south and one north chancel lancet with glass by James Grant, 1841.

Heritage Details

Architect: J. C. Buckler

Original Date: 1841

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II