Building » Filey – St Mary

Filey – St Mary

Brooklands, Filey, North Yorkshire

  • c.1906

The unremarkable external appearance of this early twentieth-century church conceals an interior of rich polychromatic decoration, the fruit of pioneering studies in early Christian symbolism, art and liturgy carried out by the first parish priest, Fr Eugene Roulin.

Filey developed as a resort in the  nineteenth century, with the establishment of the vogue for sea bathing. The railway arrived in the 1840s, linking the town to Hull and York, and it became (and remains) a popular resort for Yorkshire people. Its heyday was in the years before the First World War, and it was at this time that St Mary’s church was built.

Before the building of the church, the very few Catholics in the area depended on monthly visits by priests from Scarborough, and at the end of the nineteenth century Mass was celebrated in a private house in Queen Street. The building of St Mary’s church was a consequence of events abroad. Driven from France in 1900 by anti-clerical legislation, the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Evron and one of their friends, Fr Eugene Roulin, looked to establish themselves in England.  Fr Roulin had originally transferred himself to Solesmes in Belgium, but moved later to Farnborough Abbey in Hampshire before settling at Ampleforth. There he learnt that the Bishop of Middlesbrough was anxious to establish a mission at Filey, primarily to cope with the large number of summer visitors. It was decided that this would be served by Fr Roulin, although the Bishop stipulated that the mission would only remain under the care of Ampleforth during Fr Roulin’s time there, after which it would revert to the diocese.

Fr Roulin was an academic and a scholar, and was at the forefront of the liturgical and ecclesiological studies being pioneered at Solesmes at the turn of the twentieth century.  He continued to write after his move to Yorkshire. His two main published works are Linges, Insignes et Vetements Liturgiques (1930) and Nos Eglises: Liturgie, Architecture, Mobilier, Peinture et Sculpture (1939). Both works were translated into English. He was a pioneer of the revival of early Christian forms, and his deep interest in art, architecture and symbolism is made very manifest in the church he built at Filey, intended by him as ‘a miniature basilica’ which moved away from ‘a rather commonplace Gothic’. In particular they wanted to ‘reproduce in their little church the venerable ciborium of those basilicas and the noble symbolism of early times: the ciborium to shelter the sacrificial altar with reverence, the symbolism to instruct the faithful, to aid their faith and piety, to elevate and rekindle their souls (quoted in Cramer, A Filey Centenary, 2004, p.7)

All this is a long time before Sir Ninian Comper’s comparable work in an Anglican context (e.g. at St Philip’s Cosham, 1937). There seems little doubt that Comper would have read Roulin.

Roulin was not an architect, and to help him give physical expression to his ideas he enlisted the services of a little-known London architect named Andrew Prentice, an assistant to Thomas Collcutt.  Roulin family money met most of the cost of the church, which was completed in 1906, and of the presbytery, built in 1910. Meanwhile, the Sisters of Evron had established a convent and Girls’ High School in the town. They left Filey in 1967.

The small church was increasingly unable to accommodate the number of summer visitors and in 1961 a transept was added, giving off the sanctuary area. In 2002 a parish hall was built on the north side of the church.


The church is built in a Romanesque style, with some Italianate features. It is built of red Ruabon brick under a pantile roof. Nave with Italianate south tower/campanile and attached porch, shorter and lower, square ended chancel with red and white diapered brick treatment on east gable wall. The 1961 transept extends to the north from this, designed to harmonise with the original work. The most distinctive feature of the exterior, and a clue to the glories that lie within, is the unusual window tracery, reminiscent of Middle Eastern sun screens, but derived from early Christian sources (Cramer says a fourth century mosaic). Panels with monograms and symbols are set into the stout brick buttresses and campanile (both added later, says Cramer). The latter has an open belfry stage and a pyramidal top with a pineapple.  The stone carving is by Milburn of York, who had worked at Ampleforth.

The interior has been altered but retains most of its original decoration and furnishings. As built the church consisted of a nave and short sanctuary, with an elaborate ciborium over the high altar.  This has unfortunately been dismantled, but elements of it survive at the west end (martyrs shrine) and in the sacristy. The polychromatic king post roof, the western gallery, the statues (by Zens of Ghent), the original altar candlesticks and sanctuary lamp were all derived from early Christian sources. The timber altar rails (now reused as frontals to the front row pews – originally the seating consisted of individual chairs) have an intersecting circular pattern of similar provenance. The whole of the interior is painted. The artist(s) responsible for the figurative work has not been established, but the angels in the sanctuary are were apparently painted by two sisters from the convent (Cramer, 10). On the nave walls between the windows are panels and paintings with carved and painted palm trees and representations of apostles and martyrs, males to the left and females to the right. The arch over the sanctuary is also painted with symbolic representations of the Trinity, the apostles, Mary and Joseph. Some of the detail here has been overpainted. Within the sanctuary, the wall to the left is lined with angels, with a frieze of lambs below.  The east wall is painted a stark white, at variance with the prevailing character; early photographs show this hung with a curtain. The decoration on the north side has been lost with the opening up to form the transept, although curiously enough there is further painted decoration in this area, of similar character to the original. It seems unlikely that this should date from 1961, but there is no more credible explanation. More research is needed here. The 1961 work is hardly utilitarian; externally it is respectful to the original design, and inside it has a plaster ceiling, of Jacobean and secular rather than early Christian character.

The date of the reordering that involved the dismantling of the ciborium/baldacchino has not been established. A further reordering took place in 2002, with a new circular altar and other sanctuary fittings in keeping with the decorative scheme. The sanctuary has been arranged to face both towards the nave and the transept; a not wholly successful resolution of a difficult problem.

List description (the church was listed in 2015, following Taking Stock)


Summary: Roman Catholic church, 1906, which illustrates research by the academic Father Eugene Roulin into early Christian forms, art, architecture and symbolism. The hall, added to the south side of the church in 2002, is not of special interest and is excluded from the listing.

Reasons for Designation: The Roman Catholic Church of St Mary is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Interior: especially for its interior decoration thought to have been designed by Fr. Roulin, a notable academic particularly interested in early Christian art and symbolism; * Architectural interest: for its unusual design, being a relatively early example of the revival of early Christian forms; * Historic interest: as a marker of the way that religious communities suppressed by the French government were able to find a new home in England; * Craftsmanship: the building also includes some examples of high quality craftsmanship such as the ornate oak balcony front.

History: The Roman Catholic parish of Filey was established in the early years of the C20, partly to serve the spiritual needs of holiday makers. In 1904, a convent was opened in John Street for nuns from the Order of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Evron. These nuns were part of an influx of French Catholics who came to Britain in the early years of the C20 as a result of the Laws of Association passed between 1901 and 1905 by the French Government. This series of anti-clerical legislation, continuing the secularisation of the French state that had begun in the French Revolution of the late C18, saw the disbandment of religious communities in France. A French Benedictine monk, Father Eugene Roulin, also came to Filey to serve as the convent’s chaplain. Fr Roulin was an academic interested in the revival of early Christian forms, art, architecture and symbolism. He worked with the London architect Andrew Prentice to build St Mary’s Church which opened in 1906. The interior decorative scheme is thought to have been designed by Fr. Roulin, drawing on early Christian sources, and was at least partially painted by nuns from the convent. In 1961 the church was extended with a large transept extending from the south side of the chancel. The post-Vatican Two re-ordering of the church in the late C20 saw the dismantling of the original ciborium over the altar and the loss of the decorative scheme from the east wall of the chancel. A large hall was added to the south side of the church in 2002, this being excluded from the listing as not being of special interest, about the same time as the internal painted decoration within the church was restored and partly simplified.

Details: Roman Catholic church, 1906 by Andrew Prentice and Fr. Eugene Roulin. Broadly Lombard Italianate style. Attached church hall added in 2002 is not included in the listing. MATERIALS: very thinly jointed red Ruabon brick incorporating white rendered panels, cast concrete windows, modern buff tiled roof. PLAN: nave without aisles, eastern chancel and western chapel, north porch and campanile. A large added transept extends from the south side of the chancel. EXTERIOR: the nave is of five bays, the western bay of the north side being taken up by the campanile and the adjacent porch. The nave windows are round arched with cills, imposts and keystones formed from flat tiles. The window tracery is of cast concrete in the form of Middle Eastern sun screens, but said to have been derived from an early Christian mosaic from the C4. The nave is supported by stout buttresses which are embellished with panels, some bearing monograms and symbols. The nave’s eastern gable is raised and coped, surmounted by a simple cross. The campanile is Italianate and is also embellished with panels bearing symbols. It has an open belfry stage with a pyramidal roof capped by a pineapple finial. The chancel is square ended and of a single bay. The east wall is embellished with a brick and render diaper pattern and has a mosaic roundel to the centre flanked by small, round arched windows without tracery. The north wall has a Lombard style paired window, being two round arched windows sharing a central stone pillar. The west chapel is in the form of a canted bay, but with a projecting, double-pitched roof. Its west window matches those of the nave, being flanked on the canted sides by windows similar to the eastern chancel windows. The south transept is of well matched materials and extends for four bays southwards from the chancel. The southern bay has a shallow, open porch, the other bays having Lombard style paired windows. The attached church hall, added in 2002, is utilitarian in design and is not included in the listing.

INTERIOR: the nave is open to the roof which is supported by king post trusses, the whole displaying an elaborate painted scheme. The western bay has a raised gallery accessed from the west chapel, the ornate balcony-front being of oak. The part-glazed oak screens below are a latter addition. The side walls are oak panelled to window cill height, incorporating resin roundels forming the Stations of the Cross. The door to the sacristy is also oak, but incorporates gilt relief decoration. Above the panelling, the walls are plastered and embellished with an elaborate painted scheme with figurative and symbolic depictions of saints and other early Christian motifs. The north wall also incorporates two large painted relief panels. Windows have plain glazing, lighting of the interior being supplemented by roof windows. The chancel arch is a plain round arch which is also included in the decorative scheme, although this has been simplified. The chancel has been re-ordered and the decorative scheme of the east wall painted over. Windows have figurative stained glass. The transept is more simply treated, but has a Jacobean style plaster ceiling. Its windows are plain glazed. The west chapel, the Martyrs’ Shrine, has figurative stained glass to the two flanking windows. To the centre there is the church’s original altar set beneath the front half of the ciborium.


Other: “Churches in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Middlesbrough: An Architectural and Historical Review” Architectural History and Practice Ltd. March 2008

Heritage Details

Architect: A. N. Prentice

Original Date: 1905

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II