Building » Kirtling – Our Lady Immaculate and St Philip Neri

Kirtling – Our Lady Immaculate and St Philip Neri

Newmarket Road, Kirtling, Suffolk, CB8 9PA

An attractive small Gothic country church of the 1870s, built from designs by C. A Buckler for the Hon William North and his wife Frederica, of Kirtling Tower, who were Catholic converts. A presbytery was built about the same time, in the style of a Tudor lodge. The buildings frame the approach to and form part of the setting of Kirtling Tower, a site of outstanding architectural, historical and archaeological importance. 

The site of Kirtling Tower is of considerable antiquity, being that of a Saxon castle. A fine brick sixteenth century gatehouse, comparable to those at Layer Marney and Leez Priory in Essex, is all that survives of the grandest Tudor mansion in Cambridgeshire. It was built for Edward, First Lord North, who rose to be Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations and thereby benefitted from the spoils of the dissolution of the monasteries. The house was reduced in size in 1748 and demolished (except for the gatehouse) in 1801. It grew again with a large neo-Tudor range built in 1872 from designs by J.A. Hansom for the Hon. William Henry John North (eleventh Lord North from 1884), and with further substantial historicist additions of 1999-2004 for the third Lord and Lady Fairhaven, by Digby Harris of Francis Johnson & Partners.   

In 1867 North and his wife Frederica converted to Catholicism. This no doubt influenced their choice of the Catholic J. A. Hansom as architect for the addition to Kirtling Tower. At about the same time (in 1871) they built a small temporary church of corrugated iron in the grounds of the Tower. Dedicated to Our Lady Immaculate and St Philip Neri, this was served by priests from the London Oratory and Newmarket. In 1877 the temporary church was replaced by the present one, designed by C. A. Buckler, whose clientele included a number of Catholic gentry, both old families and converts. The iron church was transported to Stowmarket (qv), where it served a similar purpose until the building there of the present church of Our Lady. A presbytery was built to the south of the church at the same time or very soon afterwards, probably also to Buckler’s design. There was a resident priest until 1938, after which the church was served from Newmarket until 1967. Since then there have been several resident priests, as well as periods (such as currently, since 2013) when care of the church has reverted back to Newmarket. 


The church is orientated north-south, but this description assumes conventional liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar was to the east.

A small church of flint with limestone dressings, built in 1877 from designs by C. A. Buckler. The style is described in the list entry (below) as Romanesque, but Early English Gothic might be a more accurate description. The church is built of flint with limestone dressings, under plain tile roofs. On plan it consists of a nave and sanctuary, with a north porch and south aisle. A sacristy with gallery/family pew over gives off the south side of the sanctuary. The west elevation of the nave has three lancet windows with stepped buttresses at the corners, with a small cinquefoil window above and a gabled bellcote housing two bells. The north porch has a two-centred arched entrance, double boarded doors and in the gable a mandorla prepared for an unrealised carving. At the east end, the apsidal sanctuary is buttressed with four lancet windows (the central bay is blind), while the south aisle has a lancet to the west and high-level trefoil lights to the south.

Inside, the nave and chancel comprise a single volume, with an arch braced timber roof rising from corbels and ashlars. A three-bay south aisle arcade is supported by circular piers. The floors are of black and red tiles in the nave and aisle, with patterned encaustic tiles in the sanctuary. The marble and limestone Gothic high altar and reredos are crowned by a central tabernacle throne. In front of this is an insubstantial modern forward altar with faux marble finish. The lower half of the chancel walls are wainscoted, and the church bears numerous banners, armorial shields and brass memorials to members of the North family. Placed in front of the lancets at the west end are three panels of sixteenth century stained glass in Renaissance style; brought from the Norths’ house at Wroxton Abbey, Oxfordshire, possibly via Kirtling Hall, whence (according to the list entry) the glass was removed in 1904. There is more recent glass in the nave and chancel commemorating the golden wedding anniversary of Lord William and Lady Frederica North (1908), an Annunciation erected by Frederica North (1910), a window to an Oratorian priest, Fr Philip Gordon (d.1900, erected by Lord and Lady North), and a St Theresa window to Frederica (d.1915), erected by her children. Trefoil windows in the south aisle depict the Sacred Heart and Agnus Dei. The benches in the nave appear to be original, supplemented by later benches at the west end and in the aisle. Near the holy water stoup by the north door is a photographic copy of a 1915 watercolour of the church interior, showing communion rails and a framed picture occupying the now blank wall over the tabernacle throne at the centre of the apse.    

List descriptions



Church built 1877 for Lord North, architect C A Buckler. Flint with limestone dressings; plain tile roofs. Romanesque, apsidal north end, bell turret to buttressed south end, gabled west porch with two-centred arched entrance and double boarded doors, aisle and vestry to east. Four lancet windows in west elevation; three lancet windows in south with stained glass c1530 ‘removed from house chapel of Kirtling Hall 1904’. Marble and limestone reredos and altar; patterned floor tiles. Pevsner, Buildings of England, p420. RCHM (Cambs notes), 1953.

Kirtling Tower


Gatehouse c.1530 built for Lord North (c.1496-1564), house rebuilt c.1872, architect J.A. Hansom (1803-1882). Red brick with black diaper brick patterning, limestone dressings. Flat leaded roof to tower, steeply pitched slate roofs to house with gable parapet to east. Gatehouse, three storeys with main south entrance blocked and ground floor incorporated into plan of C19 house. House, two storeys to rear of tower, double pile extending to east and west. Gatehouse has four octagonal corner turrets rising above embattled parapet with two-light, four-centred arched windows. Two larger turrets to south flank original entrance with four-centred arch infilled with C19 three-lancet-light window. Fine two storey limestone oriel window above, segmental in plan with enriched frieze, mullioned and transomed windows with vertical lines continued in blind panels. Lateral stack with two shafts. C19 house details similar to gatehouse with three first floor and two ground floor mullioned and transomed windows. Closed, embattled porch in angle with boarded and studded door in four-centred arch approached by stone steps. Interior details include oak newel stair to tower with original doors and four-centred arched doorways. C19 details to house with good staircase. The original hall survived until 1801 and was visited by Queen Elizabeth I in 1578, it was situated within the moated site of a Saxon Castle owned by King Harold. Pevsner, Buildings of England, p.420. Bailey, I.S., Kirtling, 1979. Taylor, C., The Cambridgeshire Landscape, p152, 1973. Prints of Kirtling Hall, CC. Maynard Ms. Vol.IX, CRO. Country Life, Vol.LXIX, p102. RCHM (Cambs notes), 1953.

Heritage Details

Architect: C. A. Buckler

Original Date: 1877

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II