Building » Cromer – Our Lady of Refuge

Cromer – Our Lady of Refuge

Overstrand Road, Cromer, Norfolk, NR27 0JH

A well-built small brick church of 1895 in free Gothic style, extended in 1938 and with an attached 1994 hall. Its furnishings largely belong to a 1970s reordering.

In November 1894, Bishop Arthur Riddell of Northampton observed in his Advent Pastoral that there was no Catholic mission between Kings Lynn and Great Yarmouth, a distance of eighty miles, and that he proposed to build a new church in Cromer. The town had become a centre for London society looking for fresh air, and the area had been promoted by the drama critic (and Catholic convert) Clement Scott’s eulogies on ‘Poppyland’, the stretch of North Norfolk coast between Cromer and Sidestrand.

Bishop Riddell had already secured a plot some way west of the town from Lord Suffield in July 1894, but on condition that a church be built within three years. The bishop decided to use some of Mrs Yolande Lyne-Stephens’ 1893 legacy, and a contract to build the nave of a mission church designed by local architect George Sherrin was signed on 3 May 1895. Chapman of Hanworth was the builder and the total cost (including fees) was £576. On 25 August 1895 Canon Richard Duckett blessed and opened the church, which seated 100. The plot was finally purchased for £510 in June 1900.

Canon Duckett was a priest of St John the Baptist in Norwich (then at Maddermarket) and he had travelled to the area by train regularly from about 1885 to celebrate Mass at various Catholic homes. Once a congregation had been established in Cromer, the Assembly Rooms in Brook Street were used, particularly in the summer months. The bishop first instructed him to find a plot for a mission in May 1888. It was not until 1902 that the Revd Thomas Walmesley Carter, a recent ordinand, was appointed, the mission boundaries determined – to include Sheringham, North Walsham, Holt and Aylsham – and an appeal launched for a presbytery. A substantial donation from Sir Hubert Jerningham (a regular visitor to Cromer from Berwick) enabled the house to be built in 1903 by the same builders and architect, at a cost of £1,070 (almost twice the cost of the church).

The Jesuit Chapel in Willow Lane, Norwich had closed for worship in 1894, and the altar and pews were brought to Cromer. A large crucifix was given by the Shepheard family of Abbots Hall Farm, Aylsham, where Fr Duckett had celebrated Mass from 1885. Frank Loads of North Walsham gave a statue of the Sacred Heart and pedestals and Miss Hoskins gave the tabernacle.

In the First World War a double door was formed in the temporary timber east wall to allow troops to hear Mass under an awning. This proved useful after the war when holidaymakers returned. Fundraising to finish the church was begun and the new sanctuary was opened on 20 December 1938, one month after the death of Canon Carter, builder of the original church (and of St Joseph, Sheringham, qv, where he is buried). The designer of the addition to the church at Cromer has not been established. A statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was given by a Miss Carey.

In 1972 the Revd Joseph Parr initiated a reordering, which seems to have disposed of every furnishing except the two Gothic pedestals, crucifix and the statue of Our Lady. In 1994 a parish hall was opened, designed by John Featherstone of Sheringham and built by H. Bullen & Son of Cromer. It stands to the northwest corner of the 1895 nave and they share a west porch. It won a craftsmanship award from the Norfolk Association of Architects in 1995. A brick ramp to the porch was completed in 2005, in memory of Fr Peter Cansdale (1991-97), whose bequest funded it and the car park.  On the amalgamation of Cromer and Sheringham parishes in 2008, the presbytery was let and a new brick sacristy built to the northeast of the 1938 sanctuary.                                         


The church is aligned northeast/southwest but liturgical compass points are used in this description.

The church, 1994 parish hall and 1903 presbytery are all built of red brick with limestone features (the hall with mainly timber windows) and roofed in red machine-made tiles. A four-and-a-half bay unaisled nave with low side walls is linked to the presbytery (and original sacristy) at the southwest corner and to the parish hall at the northwest corner by a small porch. The square 1938 sanctuary is much taller, its blank east wall relieved by a raised brick cross in the steeply-pitched gable. The north and south walls each have a three-light, square-headed brick and metal window. Access to the 2008 north sacristy from the church is by a wooden door inserted beneath the window. Each nave bay has a row of four rectangular windows with ogee tracery heads between buttresses. The five-light four-centred west window has an external ogee hoodmould and tracery of late medieval pattern. The west gable kneeler stones have a curved profile, which with the overlapping roof detail to the presbytery link gives the west approach an Arts and Crafts character.

The chancel arch dominates the interior; its stone mouldings are without imposts and its shape is uncomfortable. The nave is open to the collar purlin roof, which has double timbers to the principals. The sanctuary has a simpler open roof but is so much higher than the chancel arch it cannot be seen from the nave. All the furnishings except the two Gothic pedestals, the crucifix and the statue of Our Lady, are of c.1972, with three types of timber benches. These replace more Gothic-styled benches that stood either side of a central passageway; the chair rail is 1970s. The font in the sanctuary is within a small timber octagonal stand.

Heritage Details

Architect: George Sherrin

Original Date: 1895

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed