Gainsborough Road, Felixstowe, Suffolk, IP11 7HT
A good Arts and Crafts Gothic design of the early twentieth century by F. E. Banham, with well-detailed additions of the 1930s and finally completed in the 1950s with a slightly bland west front. The interior retains a number of furnishings of note, including good early twentieth and twenty-first century stained glass.
Until the 1830s Felixstowe consisted of little more than a scattered group of fishermen’s cottages at the end of a rough road from Ipswich, an isolated area frequented by smugglers. The major population centre was upstream at Walton. The mid-nineteenth century growth of Felixstowe was the combined result of the relatively new fashion for sea bathing, the medicinal qualities of the salt water spa established here, and the building of a commercial dock to rival that of Harwich. Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian churches were established along Orwell Road, and in 1894 the Rev. William Cooper arrived ‘with two bags and the bishop’s blessing’, purchasing a plot of land in the less fashionable Gainsborough Road. Here he built in 1899 (not without some local opposition) a temporary church for the small Catholic population of the town.
In the words of Fr Cooper’s 1927 obituary in The Tablet, ‘his charming personality and devotion to duty brought him the esteem and friendship of all in the town. The numbers of the faithful grew rapidly, and the temporary building was soon too small’. Fr Cooper commissioned the architect F. E. Banham of Beccles (who had previously designed churches at Gillingham and Beccles, qqv) to prepare ambitious designs for a church and presbytery. A drawing of 1913 shows a west front based on that of Thorney Abbey, Cambridgeshire, with the addition of a tall offset tower with octagonal upper stage and spirelet.
On 16 December 1911 The Tablet reported:
“The new church, which, thanks to the energy of Father Cooper, is being built at Felixstowe is making good progress. The foundation stone was laid early in February by Canon Rogers, and, announces the local paper, the third and fourth bays of the nave are now being built, and it is hoped that the church will be opened about mid-summer next year. The sanctuary is complete, but the side chapels on each side, and the future sacristy, leave much to be desired. The temporary iron structures are scarcely in keeping with the surroundings, but this can be easily remedied when any donor comes forward to help on the work.”
And on 17 August 1912:
“This popular seaside resort has now a commodious church. It is not yet complete, the portion already built including the sanctuary and four bays of the nave, leaving a side chapel, sacristy, and last bay, with tower and spire, to be added. The cost has been about £3,000, and some £4,000 will be needed to complete the design. The gifts already received include beautiful stained-glass windows for the high altar, statues of the Sacred Heart for the Lady Chapel, altar crucifix, and. other requisites. The architect is Mr. F. W. Banham, Beccles; and the builder is Mr. J. W. Cross, Felixstowe.”
The opening took place on July 31, and King Manoel of Portugal was present at the ceremony. High Mass, in the presence of the Bishop of Northampton, was sung by Father A. Clements, of Harwich. The Bishop of Sebastopolis was present on the sanctuary.
The stained glass in the east window (by Hardman & Co.) was given in 1912 by the widow of Mark Antony MacDonnell, an Irish nationalist politician. The same donor also gave the Stations of the Cross. Economies meant that the presbytery was built to a simplified design in brick rather than stone, whether by Banham or another architect is not clear. The tower was never built, and the liturgical west front (geographical north) and arches giving off either side of the sanctuary were boarded pending their completion.
During the First World War Fr Cooper retired to Woodbridge for health reasons. There he donated the house in which the Carmelite nuns established themselves in the town, and also facilitated the establishment of a school run by the Sisters of Mercy. He died at Woodbridge in 1927. In 1935 a new Sacred Heart altar at St Felix was consecrated by Bishop Youens of Northampton; The Tablet reported that ‘This was his lordship’s first consecration of an altar. He expressed his admiration of the beauty of the work executed for the Felixstowe church’. The side chapels and sacristies built at this time appear broadly to follow Banham’s design intentions, although the architect had died in 1924. The appearance of the (liturgical) east wall of the sanctuary suggests an intention to provide a tall reredos with raised central section. This was never provided, and an undated postcard view of the interior shows a high altar and gradine without reredos at the east end.
F. E. Banham’s son Cyril was a priest, and between 1945 and 1961 served as parish priest at Felixstowe. In 1957 he oversaw the completion of the west front of the nave, with an additional bay built to a simplified Gothic design but in complementary materials. The architect was R. A. Boxall ARIBA of Chelmsford, and the cost £9,000.
In July 1988 a new parish hall was blessed by Bishop Clark of East Anglia. It was built from designs by Keith Miller of the Charter Partnership and, according to the East Anglian Diocesan Yearbook, replaced a smaller hall which had been the original temporary church of 1899. The church has undergone liturgical reordering at least twice since the Second Vatican Council, with the loss of the high altar and communion rails as well as the nave pulpit. The most recent reordering has seen a new sanctuary floor, altar, ambo and tabernacle plinth, a collaborative design by architect Neil Birdsall and the Revd John Barnes. Recent enrichments have also included two stained glass windows by Thomas Denny, enabled by a legacy from a parishioner.
The church is orientated north-south, but this description assumes conventional liturgical alteration, i.e. as if the altar was to the east.
The church was built in Perpendicular Gothic style in 1911-12, from designs by F. E. Banham. The side chapels were added in c.1935 and the west end completed in 1957 from designs by R. A. Boxall. On plan it consists of a nave with narrow circulation aisles, and a chancel with side chapels and Lady Chapel. Sacristies and a porch give off on the north side and west end respectively. The building is faced in Northamptonshire (Weldon) stone, with Bath stone dressings and plain tile roofs. The gabled west front of 1957 has flat corner buttresses and a seven-light Perp window over a shallow gabled porch with niche containing a statue of St Felix. The original aisles are set back, their side elevations of four arched bays each with three-light Perp windows set high into the arched recesses. A Lady Chapel of c.1935 projects from the eastern bay on the south side, while from the second bay from the west on the north side a Portland stone link of c.1935 connects to the presbytery. The chancel is narrower than the nave, and has a lower ridge; its east elevation has attached buttresses at the centre and corners and a seven-light east window, the sills of the central three lights raised. Flanking the chancel are side chapels with two three-light windows on their long sides and blank east walls with bays to house internal altars.
The porch leads into a narthex area under a western gallery, built in 1957. This narthex originally housed a baptistery on the south side, but the font has now been moved to the west end of the nave. The nave is of five bays (including the gallery bay), with an arcade on both sides. The details are in Bath stone, otherwise the wall surfaces are plastered and painted. Half columns in the bay divisions continue as ribs marking the bays in a pointed timber barrel vault. The narrow circulation aisles have transverse walls with arches at the bay divisions; above the arches the high relief polychrome Stations of the Cross given in 1912 have been reset into what were originally pierced openings (information from parish priest). At the upper level the chancel arch is framed by blind tracery, while below arched openings on either side of the arch lead into the side chapels. The chancel is of two bays, with paired arches on either side and a seven-light east window.
The sanctuary furnishings are of recent date and include an altar, ambo and tabernacle plinth of matching stone, the stonework reflecting the original architectural detailing, and the ambo incorporating carved symbols of the evangelists from the former pulpit. The stonework is by Abbeygate Masonry, Bury St Edmunds, and is complemented by a new tiled chancel floor. The side chapels and the Lady Chapel off the south aisle all retain their original stone altars of c.1935. In the north (Sacred Heart) chapel is an alabaster, mosaic and mother-of-pearl wall monument to Mark Anthony MacDonnell (1852-1906), in whose memory his widow gave the east window and Stations of the Cross in 1912. The fine east window is by Hardman and depicts the fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary. Amongst other early or original furnishings, the octagonal stone font, with a deep drum incorporating watery motif and the Holy Spirit descending, is worthy of note. Later furnishings include further glass of variable quality by the Hardman firm, in the side chapels and Lady Chapel. The Lady Chapel also has a statue of Our Lady, signed by Mayer of Munich, and recent stencil decoration by Donald Smith. A further recent addition (2018) has been windows at the west end of each aisle by Thomas Denny, on the theme of the Divine Mercy.
The church was listed Grade II in November 2022:
Architect: F. E. Banham; R. A. Boxall
Original Date: 1912
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II