Building » Falmouth – St Mary Immaculate

Falmouth – St Mary Immaculate

Killigrew Street, Falmouth, Cornwall

A highly successful fusion of French Gothic and Burgundian Romanesque styles by Joseph Hansom and his son. The tower is an unconventional but powerful design and local landmark, and the church and contemporary presbytery together make a positive contribution to the Falmouth conservation area. Internal furnishings of note include two early or original granite altars, as well as stained glass and an altar canopy by Fr Charles Norris of Buckfast Abbey.   

Falmouth developed as a port in the eighteenth century, and by 1800 French sailors had established an oratory in a warehouse loft on the quay. This was soon burnt down, but was replaced in 1803 by a chapel and priest’s lodging, and a Franciscan named Ignatius Casemore took over the mission. In 1818 he was succeeded by the Abbé Jean Baptiste de la Grésille, an émigré French priest, who had to move the house and chapel to make way for the building of the new Custom House in 1814. The Abbé enlisted the support of the French royal family in the building of a new church facing the river, capable of holding 150 people. The terms of the sale of the land required that the church should resemble a pair of semi-detached houses.  This was opened on 24 October 1821.

From the 1860s there was a need for a larger and more central church and the site of the present building was acquired from Lord Kimberley. Built by Fr William (Canon) Cassey, from designs by Joseph Hansom (architect of the cathedral), it was opened on 26 August 1869 by Bishop Vaughan, assisted by Bishop Ullathorne of Birmingham.  The presbytery would also appear to date from this time. In 1881 sacristies were added and the tower and spire completed, from designs by J.S. Hansom, Joseph’s son. The parish school was in the church crypt until 1886 when room for a hundred pupils was provided in what is now the parish hall. The chief benefactors to the church during this time were the quarry owner Thomas Moor Horsford and the granite shipper William George Freeman.

In 1908 Canon James Burns added the baptistery and porch in memory of Canon Cassey, apparently from the original Hansom designs (list description). An organ was also installed about this time, and the Lourdes grotto off the north aisle followed in 1926. In 1939 a granite pulpit was erected in memory of Pope Pius IX (since removed).

Falmouth was bombed several times during World War II, and one bomb fell close to the church, damaging the roof and windows. In 1946 Canon George Cantell arrived in the parish and prepared the church for its consecration by Bishop Grimshaw on 8 September 1948.  Canon Cantell introduced various new furnishings, described below. Following the Second Vatican Council the granite altar was brought forward and the original gradine, tabernacle shelf etc discarded. The font was moved to the Sacred Heart chapel and the former baptistery converted to a reconciliation room.


See list description, below. Additional information:

  • The windows in the sanctuary were given by two sisters, Jane H. Sturgeon Coleman (née Polglase) and Amelia Billar Polglase and show nine events of the paschal mystery.
  • The Lady Chapel off the south aisle has a polished granite altar and reredos in Romanesque style, and windows in memory of the wife of William George Freeman, benefactor of the church.
  • The glass in the large west rose window was given in memory of T. H. Horsford and his wife, who died in 1897.
  • The two windows in the present baptistery (former Sacred Heart chapel) at the east end of the south aisle were given by Canon Cantell and made by Fr Charles Norris of Buckfast Abbey in 1948. They are relatively conventional in design, rather than in the dalle de verre technique later favoured by Fr Norris. They depict the living water flowing from the heart of the dead Christ and the Elizabethan martyr St Cuthbert Mayne.
  • The richly painted canopy over the altar is also by Fr Norris, commissioned by Canon Cantell, and is unusual as a non-stained glass commission for Fr Norris.
  • Canon Cantell also introduced the carved wooden statues of the Sacred Heart, Our Lady and St Joseph, Our Lady and St Bernadette in the Lourdes grotto, and the Stations of the Cross.

The list description makes no mention of the crypt below the nave and what is presumably the attached schoolmaster’s house. Neither does it mention the presbytery, which is connected to the church via a single-storey link. This is a handsome and externally unaltered Gothic design of Killas rubble with granite dressings, with paired Gothic windows on the front elevation with blind trefoils in the arches. It has a recessed lean-to entrance with a diagonal buttress and a Gothic doorway.

List description


Roman Catholic church. 1868, by JA Hansom; tower and spire 1881, by JS Hansom, baptistry and porch added in 1908 to the original designs. Killas rubble with granite dressings including quoins, sills, jambs, arches, weathering to tower stages and granite ashlar to upper stage; dressed granite tower roof with steep gabled ventilators and stair turret roof, all with turned finials; other roofs are steep, dry slate, coped gables at ritual west (north-west) end, porch and above quarter cone roofs at east end of aisles flanking a half cone end of the chancel roof; octagonal roof to left of porch. PLAN: nave/apsidal chancel; narrower north and south aisles with small apses; south porch; west baptistry to south side and square tower to south east corner with round stair turret to its south-west corner plus a north vestry. EXTERIOR: harmonious blend of Gothic and Burgundian Romanesque styles. Overall a deliberately irregular appearance with varied eaves lines, window sizes and types: arcade of round arches to apse and round arches to 3 bottom tower windows; equilateral 2-centred arched doorways and surrounding 2-light aisle windows with round tracery; cinquefoils to quadrant links east of aisles; trefoil above porch doorway, rose window above west doorway; arcade of round-arched louvered lights to upper stage of tower; tall lancets to 2nd stage and flat-headed slit windows to top of lower stage. INTERIOR: arch-braced and scissor-braced roof springing from wooden corbels, higher than the aisle roofs to give clerestory with a 2-light window to each bay; 7-bay arcades of equilateral 2-centred arches on round columns with octagonal caps; plain plastered walls. FITTINGS: polished granite altars to chancel and south aisle, the main altar with a 7-bay arcade with trefoil heads, erected by the Freeman family; octagonal granite pulpit and a small octagonal freestone font at the east end of the south aisle; organ in tower; pitch-pine pews with shaped ends and V-jointed boards. Baptistry not inspected. WINDOWS: 9 memorial windows to the Polglase family.

Heritage Details

Architect: J. A. Hansom, J. S. Hansom

Original Date: 1868

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II