Building » Hadleigh – St Joseph

Hadleigh – St Joseph

Long Bessels, Hadleigh, Suffolk, IP7 5DB

A functional and altered design of the mid-1960s by Eric Sandon, with some good artworks/furnishings. The site is fairly prominent in the Hadleigh Conservation Area.

The church at Hadleigh can trace its roots back to the Mannock family of Giffords Hall, near Nayland, who maintained their Catholic faith through the penal years and established a chapel in the house, with a resident priest. In 1825-7 they built a new public chapel and attached presbytery (the latter being a remodelling of an existing house) at Withermarsh Green, dedicated to St Edmund and opened by Bishop Walsh. Between 1842 and 1844 William Wareing, Vicar Apostolic of the Eastern District, was in residence at Giffords Hall. 

In 1902 a church dedicated to the Sacred Heart was built at Nayland by the Cuddon family of industrialists and brewers. The designs were prepared by George Stephenson of the Hadleigh building firm of Downs & Stephenson.

In October 1937 Miss Adelaide Louisa Earles (described in the 1939 census as ‘author, composer and publisher’) donated a former factory building in Angel Street, Hadleigh to the Diocese of Northampton. Part of the building was adapted and renovated at Miss Earles’ expense to serve as a chapel. It was determined that Hadleigh should form part of the parish centred on Withermarsh Green and Nayland, but this only became formalised in 1949, when Fr Montgomery Fulcher began to say Mass regularly here (while still being based at Withermarsh Green). He was parish priest until 1973, and built the present church.

In September 1964 a fire broke out in another part of the wooden former factory building, and the whole structure was destroyed. Fundraising and an insurance payment allowed for the construction of the present church, built from designs by Eric Sandon. The foundation stone was laid in January 1966 and the church officially opened by Bishop Leo Parker of Northampton on 22 September 1966. It comprised a nave seating about 140, sanctuary, sacristy, confessional and narthex with WCs, and was designed to allow for expansion, with transepts on either side of the sanctuary. In the event the worship space has contracted, and is now concentrated on a reconfigured sanctuary with the original nave turned into a parish hall. A new entrance lobby has been added on the south side.

Today the chapel at Withermarsh Green is now in private ownership, although its burial ground remains the property of the diocese. In 2010 the church at Nayland was closed and converted to residential use; some of the furnishings were transferred to Hadleigh. Since 2010 Hadleigh has been clustered with Sudbury (qv), whence it is served. The presbytery (acquired in 1976) is let.


The church is an economical design of 1965-6 by Eric Sandon. It is of cruciform plan, consisting of a nave with western narthex and a sanctuary with shallow transepts (designed for later enlargement, hence the somewhat unfinished look of its gable ends). The main worship space is now in the original sanctuary and re-orientated north-south, with the original nave now serving primarily as a parish hall. The building is of buff brick with slate hanging on the ‘transept’ gables and copper roofs. A raised lantern is placed centrally over the original sanctuary, topped by a copper spirelet; the effect somewhat reminiscent of Maguire and Murray’s influential St Paul’s, Bow Common (1960). Windows consist of superimposed narrow lancets with concrete separations. At the west end the original gabled narthex has some red brick panels. On the south side is a more recent narthex, now serving as the main entrance to the church. This also has narrow lancet windows but is built of contrasting red brick, with a shallow lean-to roof of concrete pantiles.

In the modern narthex is a fine, expressive low-relief sculpture of The Deposition (Christ supported by St Joseph of Arimathea), by the Benedictine writer and sculptor Dom Hubert van Zeller.

The main body of the church is in essence a square space, with the sanctuary against the north wall and the tabernacle placed in an arched recess to the left. Over the space an open timber roof rises to the lantern, with plasterboard infill panels. A folding partition divides this space from the former nave, which is now a parish hall but can be used as overspill accommodation; it also has an open timber roof. The following furnishings may be noted:

  • Madonna and Child, in Clipsham stone, by Peter Watts.
  • Modern wooden crucifix (artist not identified) hanging in the hall, formerly over the altar.
  • The more traditional wooden crucifix now hanging over the altar (which Fr Brett says may have been made in Oberammergau) came from Sacred Heart, Nayland, as did the marble altar table itself, the tabernacle and the paschal candlestick.
Heritage Details

Architect: Eric Sandon

Original Date: 1965

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed