Building » Diss – St Henry Morse

Diss – St Henry Morse

Shelfanger Road, Diss, Norfolk, IP22 4DX

  • Simon Knott

A modern church of fairly traditional design, dedicated to a locally-born priest and martyr of the Civil War period.

During penal times the Havers family of Thelveton Hall, Norfolk remained faithful to the old religion, and sheltered Catholic priests. On the Suffolk side of the border, Yaxley Hall was in Catholic hands until at least 1630, and in the 1690s Colsey Wood House at Stoke Ash came into the possession of a younger branch of the Bedingfeld family of Oxburgh. With the sale of Thelveton Hall in 1864 regular Masses in and around Diss ceased until 1907, when French Ursuline nuns moved to The Court, a property near the railway station. They returned to France in 1911. Diss was then served once a month from St John the Baptist, Norwich until the time of the Second World War, when nuns from Notre Dame convent, Norwich decamped to Scole Lodge. From here their chaplain established Mass Centres at Scole, Eye, Diss and at local prisoner-of-war camps.   

In 1948 the Carmelite nuns purchased Quidenham Hall from the Earl of Albemarle. Their chaplain said Mass at Diss, firstly in Wren’s Restaurant (run by a Catholic family of that name) and later in the Corn Hall. Finally in March 1952, Bishop Leo Parker of Northampton opened a purpose-built church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity. This was a modest steel framed and blockwork structure, designed by Donovan Purcell and built with a ten-year planning permission on land fronting Stanley Road (the A1066) which was given by the Wren family.

In 1968 Diss was erected as a large parish, covering an area of some 370 square miles. A London prefab was re-erected as a parish hall in 1972, and in 1985 further adjoining land was acquired from the Wren family, including a former bakery on Fair Green, which became the presbytery. A second, larger hall was built in 1986. In the late 1980s plans were developed for a new church in the site, but these were not realised, and instead the existing 1950s church was upgraded and extended in 1999. This site (including the presbytery) was sold to finance the building of the present church, seating 280 and built on the edge of the town. The designs were prepared by Hollins of Framlingham and the church was opened in 2012 (consecrated in 2015).

The church is dedicated to St Henry Morse, who was born within the present parish boundaries at Brome in 1595. His parents were Protestant family but Henry became a Catholic. He was ordained a Jesuit priest in Rome in 1624, and was executed at Tyburn in 1645. In 1970 he was canonised as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.


The church is square on plan, with a pyramidal roof crowned with a lantern. Attached is a longitudinal range providing parish facilities and a flat for the parish priest. The walls are rendered over brick plinths, with gabled brick projections with battered brick sides at the entrances and to the sanctuary. The roofs are clad with slate, with some rooflights on the long range. The upvc-framed ground floor windows have canted heads, and with the pointed arches of the entrances provide a quasi-gothic touch.

The main entrance leads into a large foyer, with parish offices leading off to the left and the church to the right. The church is a single volume, high and light, square on plan and with a sanctuary recess. The timber roof structure is exposed, while the remaining ceiling and wall surfaces are plastered and painted and the floors are carpeted. A font is placed at the entrance, on axis with the sanctuary, which is raised on two steps. There is a central circulation alley, with bench seating arranged around the sanctuary dais.

Furnishings include two representations of St Henry Morse: a stained glass portrait panel in the entrance porch (by Eric Eckersley of Brome, 2001) and a wooden panel carved in low relief in the foyer. Flanking the tabernacle in the sanctuary are four stained glass panels, one dated 1938; these came from the church of Our Lady at Stowmarket (information from Canon Bagstaff). A further window from 2003 has been reset at the end of the corridor in the parish offices. 

Heritage Details

Architect: Hollins of Framlingham

Original Date: 2012

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed