Howdale Road, Downham Market, Norfolk, PE38 9AB
A converted Victorian stable building, much altered and enlarged in 1980. The older elements of the site are of some local historical interest, and the carrstone presbytery makes a positive contribution to the conservation area.
In December 1914, a Miss Noel expressed the wish to open an Oratory in her house, The Moats at Fincham, and a painting studio in the house was converted for that purpose. The Downham Market mission opened there in the following year, using a converted stable building as a chapel. In 1937, Miss Wall, a Catholic, bought Tower House (also known as The Towers) on Howdale Road; this was a substantial late-Victorian residence with extensive gardens, standing approximately where the church car park now is. The house had been a Red Cross hospital and was used by Miss Wall as a house for children with special needs. Part of the billiard room was converted into a chapel and this became the Mass centre for Downham Market. In 1941, the former stables belonging to Tower House became St Dominic’s church. Fr Pitt was the first parish priest.
In 1965 Tower House burnt down. Only the billiard room survived, in itself a substantial structure, which is now a private residence. The (rebuilt) gate piers and wrought iron gates which originally stood at the entrance to the house now stand alongside the carrstone presbytery. The present parish room was originally a harness room and the upper room a hayloft.
In 1975 the church became the centre of national attention when the then parish priest continued to say Mass according to the Tridentine rite, in defiance of the bishop.
The church was extended with a substantial new sanctuary in 1980, when a bell tower was also added. In recent years, the sanctuary has been enhanced by a new stone altar and lectern, marble floor and other fine stonework. The church was finally dedicated in 2006.
The church is not orientated: the liturgical east end faces north. All directions in this description are compass directions.
The original stable building converted to a church in 1941 is rectangular on plan with a pitched roof. The side walls are of white brick, the gable walls of carrstone with white brick dressings and the roof coverings of natural slate. A flat-roofed glass-fronted lobby is built across the south front, presumably c.1980, with a small brick tower at the east end with a pitched slate roof. The east gable wall has a large lunette window. Attached to the north side of the original building is a substantial extension with walls of white brick with panels of carrstone. This part of the building is largely top-lit.
The interior of the original church is a single space with a carpeted floor and walls partly plastered and partly painted brick. The timber roof has decorative iron braces to the principal trusses. A Lady altar is set against the east wall, presumably in the position of the original high altar. The original north side wall has been removed to extend the nave and contain the sanctuary. The new space has side walls of barefaced red brick and a flat ceiling with top lighting. The sanctuary is defined by a single step with the altar and lectern. The centre of the wall behind the altar is plastered and has a stone reredos of three blind arches with prominent keystones. The reredos, altar and lectern (both with paired pilasters on the front) are of early twenty-first century date. The seating in the body of the church is a mixture of modern benches and chairs.
Set at right-angles to the southern entrance front of the church is the former harness room, now the parish room. It is a two-storey building with front wall of carrstone, side walls of red brick and a hipped slated roof. On the ground floor, two carriage openings have been glazed in to form large windows. Attached to the south end of the parish room is a carrstone house, now the presbytery.
Architect: Not established
Original Date: 1941
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed