Building » Lawshall – Our Lady Immaculate and St Joseph

Lawshall – Our Lady Immaculate and St Joseph

Bury Road, Lawshall, Suffolk, IP29 4PL

The Lawshall area was the centre of a Catholic mission in Elizabethan and Jacobean times, centred on Coldham Hall and Lawshall Hall. The present church dates from 1870, added on to and incorporating part of an earlier timber framed priest’s house. The site is of outstanding historical significance and considerable architectural interest.

The Lawshall area was a longstanding centre of Catholic activity, and can claim to be amongst the earliest post-Reformation Catholic missions in the country. Coldham Hall (in the parish of Stanningfield) was built in 1574 and was the seat of the Rookwood (or Rokewode) – later Gage – families, while Lawshall Hall was built in 1577 for the Drury family. Both families retained their Catholic allegiance, Coldham Hall being provided from the outset with an attic chapel and hiding places for priests. The Jesuit John Gerard stayed at both houses while conducting a mission in the area in 1589-91; in 1597 he was imprisoned and tortured at the Tower of London, but managed to escape. In 1606 Ambrose Rookwood of Coldham Hall was executed for his role in the Gunpowder Plot (he provided gunpowder and horses). Henry Garnet, superior of English Jesuits, was also executed, on a charge of misprision of treason; his nephew, Thomas Garnet SJ, was Rookwood’s chaplain. He too was implicated, but was deported to France after no evidence was found (however he was arrested and executed after his return to England in 1607). At the end of the turbulent seventeenth century, the great-grandson of Ambrose Rookwood, also Ambrose (1660-1696), was executed for his involvement in the Barclay Conspiracy to assassinate William of Orange.

Elizabeth Rookwood (1683-1759) married John Gage, the father of John Gage SJ, who established the mission at Bury St Edmunds and built a chapel there behind the present presbytery (qv). In the 1770s the attic chapel at Coldham Hall was remodelled in Georgian Gothick style. The last Jesuit chaplain was Edward Baptist Newton, who died in 1787. He covered a district that included Sudbury, Clare and Long Melford, where he found that ‘nothing is to be met with but ignorance, stupidity, and sometimes a total neglect of religion’ (Kelly, 138). Perhaps in response to this late eighteenth century decline in observance, in 1794 (three years after the Second Catholic Relief Act) a freestanding brick chapel was built at Coldham Hall.

In 1868 the Rokewode-Gage family sold the Coldham estate, and a new church was built outside the gates of Coldham Hall (in the parish of Lawshall), alongside (and incorporating part of) Coldham Cottage, which had been a priest’s house. The church opened in 1870; there does not appear to be any record of its architect or builder. An adjoining coach house was converted to a school. Without the support of a wealthy local family, the mission and school struggled. The pages of the Catholic periodical The Tablet contain frequent appeals for support from the mission priest the Rev. Augustine Alfred Wilkinson (e.g. ‘To members of the Humane Society: Please save Father Wilkinson from being drowned. By your charity help him to keep open the church and school of this desperately poor mission’, The Tablet, 7 March 1891). The school survived until 1949; nothing remains of the building. Today there is no resident priest, and the church is served from Bury St Edmunds.


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

The church and presbytery together comprise a long single range. The list entry (below) describes the house, which is of seventeenth or eighteenth century date, in rather more detail than the church. It suggests that the house was originally of lobby-entry plan, with a central stack, its western half (up to the present church porch) adapted with the first floor removed and new windows formed at the time of the building of the church. Both the house and the church are timber framed and rendered, and the roofs are pantiled under a continuous ridge.  The church windows are mostly of two lights, with timber mullions forming Gothic Y-tracery; there is a larger three-light window at the west end. A single-storey pantiled and rendered range at the rear is centred on the chimney breast of the house, and contains the sacristy and a kitchen.

A tablet bearing the date 1870 is set into the porch gable. The church interior is a single, aisleless volume, with a vaulted and plastered roof over that half formed from the older house and a scissor-braced roof over the 1870 addition. At the east end is a tall pointed recess containing a crucifix and tabernacle. The forward altar is modern, incorporating older re-set carved wheatsheaves and grapes. On the south side of the sanctuary is a small brass memorial tablet to Sir Edward Rokewood Gage, d.1872, ‘in grateful memory of whom this brass has been placed by the Catholics of this mission’. Above this, and possibly dating from the same time, is a stained glass window depicting St Peter and St Paul. The remaining windows have pale pink, yellow and blue tinted glass in diamond and rectangular quarries. The nave seating consists of plain benches, which the Suffolk Churches website says came from the school. The pew frontals, incorporating hexagonal patterns, appear to be the former communion rails. The Stations of the Cross are framed nineteenth century prints, of good quality. Light fittings include a fine brass corona hanging from the centre of the nave.

List description (church and priest’s house)


House (formerly priest’s house) and attached Roman Catholic Church. Late C17/early C18 with church of 1870. Timber-frame whitewashed and rendered with pantile roof and brick central ridge and right end projecting stacks. House has through-passage plan but perhaps lobby-entry originally. 2 storeys and attic; 2-window range of C20 casements. Gabled porch and door. C20 windows on right end and to rear where there is a single-storey wing. INTERIOR: framing visible includes chamfered bridging beams and tie beams though those to ground-floor left room may have been replaced. Here an open fireplace with bressumer and hood above. Deep cupboard with 4-panel door with HL hinges could have been lobby for a lobby-entry originally. Right room has C18 fireplace surround. 6-panel back door has massive HL hinges. Winder stairs, plank and panel doors with H or HL hinges. First floor has C18 fireplace surround with early C19 cast iron grate and wide floorboards. 4-panel doors with HL hinges. Attic has wide boards and unusual lengthwise bridging beams with chamfers facing upwards. Floor below may have been raised at some time. Roof has coupled rafters and continues over adjacent church.

Church: 1870 with part originally the priest’s house. Similar materials. Simply tracery wooden windows, 2 light to front and rear, a single 3-light to ritual west end. Gabled porch front. INTERIOR: Simple interior has set of C19 engravings as the Stations of the Cross and a Crucifixion at east end. Part of roof a simple vault under earlier roof (see above) and part C19 scissor braced.

Heritage Details

Architect: Not established

Original Date: 1870

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II