Building » Leominster – St Ethelbert

Leominster – St Ethelbert

The Bargates, Leominster, HR6 8QS

A carefully-designed and little-altered Gothic Revival church by Peter Paul Pugin, in a town with associations with two Catholic martyrs. The church contains good quality stone carving by Wall of Cheltenham, a sculpture of St Ethelbert by William Storr-Barber, a memorial plaque by Eric Gill and stained glass by the Hardman firm. The church uses its constricted site to advantage and makes a positive contribution to the local conservation area.

Leominster was a recusant centre during penal times, and is associated with two Catholic martyrs: it was the birthplace of Nicholas Wheeler (Woodfen), a priest executed at Tyburn in 1586, and was the place of execution (in 1610) of the Herefordshire priest Roger Cadwallador (both men were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1987). The persistence of Catholic practice was demonstrated again in 1687, when the Franciscans built a house and chapel in the town. This was during the brief period of Catholic tolerance during the reign of James II; the chapel was demolished a year later during the ‘Glorious Revolution’.

The modern history of the parish started in 1868, when a disused Congregational chapel in Burgess Street was acquired for Catholic use and dedicated to St Ethelbert (of Kent). It was purchased by Mrs Louise Herbert, the Catholic wife of a solicitor and former mayor of Leominster; she was from the notable Berington recusant family. She also made available a family property in Barons Cross Road to serve as a presbytery (an arrangement which continued up to the early 1960s) and was the principal donor of the present church in The Bargates. Also dedicated to St Ethelbert, this was built by the Rev. Athanasius Rogers, who served as mission/parish priest from 1884 to 1915. In the absence of the bishop, the foundation stone was laid by the Cathedral Prior of St Michael’s, Hereford (Belmont Abbey) on 6 September 1887. The architect was Peter Paul Pugin of Pugin & Pugin, the contractor Messrs J. Jones & Sons of Smedley, and the estimated cost £1300. The completed church opened for worship on Palm Sunday, 1888, with the grand opening by Bishop Hedley following on Whit Monday, 22 May.

The church has been relatively little altered since it was built. The principal changes have involved additional furnishings and post-Vatican II reordering, both described in the list entry and below. A house next door to the church was acquired to serve as a presbytery in the early 1960s, and in 1994 a small meeting room was built behind the church.


The church is orientated roughly north-south, but this description follows conventional liturgical orientation, assuming the altar is located to the east.

The building was listed relatively recently, in 2009, and the list entry is more detailed than most (see below). Repetition is unnecessary, and this description is limited to additional information and one correction.

  • The roof of the timber framed porch is covered with oak shingles, not slate
  • The tracery of the east window is said to be modelled on that at St Ethelbert’s church, Lyminge, Kent. The stained glass here is a memorial to Louise Agnes Herbert, donor; artist/maker not identified
  • The four carved stone heraldic shields below the west window commemorate Fr Rogers (cross and A.R. monogram), the arms of Pope Leo XIII and Bishop Hedley, and Mrs Herbert (floriated cross and initials L.A.H.)
  • There are three two-light stained glass windows in the Lady/Cadwallador Chapel: to the east (The Annunciation, in memory of Nigel Fowler Wright, by Hardman & Co., 1988) and south (to Bl. Roger Cadwallador, 1976, by Patrick Feeney of Hardman & Co., and to Bl. Nicholas Wheeler, in memory of the Norman Charles Reeves, scholar and author of the parish history, d. 2001, signed W & B).
  • William Storr-Barber, responsible for the stone statue of St Ethelbert in the niche on the west front, is a Leominster sculptor who carved several First World War memorials
  • The only memorial in the church (other than those introduced from elsewhere) is a marble tablet in the nave to A. C. Amsler, ‘musician and linguist’, d.1918
  • The Eric Gill memorial in the Lady Chapel is to Richard and Geoffrey Snead-Cox, both killed early in the Great War. This and other items (including a pipe organ) were brought to St Ethelbert’s from the Snead-Cox family chapel at Broxwood (1863, Charles Hansom, listed Grade II), which was closed in 1987 and has now been converted to residential use.

List description

List entry Number: 1393339
District: County of Herefordshire
District Type: Unitary Authority
Parish: Leominster
National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.
Grade: II
Date first listed: 18-Jun-2009
Date of most recent amendment: Not applicable to this List entry.

Reasons for Designation: The Church of St. Ethelbert, Leominster is designated for the following principal reasons:

  • The building was carefully designed by the noted architect Peter Paul Pugin to contrast rough and smooth textures and solid and light elements and constructed to take advantage of its narrow site and to create an impact with its street frontage.
  • It follows in the stylistic tradition of Roman Catholic architecture in the British Isles established by the Pugin family.
  • Its design includes good-quality carving by Wall of Cheltenham, a sculpture by William Storr-Barber and a memorial plaque by Eric Gill.
  • It has suffered little loss or re-orientation. 


808-1/0/10011 BARGATES 18-JUN-09 86 Church of St Ethelbert 

A Roman Catholic church, designed by Peter Paul Pugin and opened in 1888.

MATERIALS: The building is of coursed rubble with ashlar dressings and a plain tiled and slate roof. The sandstone of the plinth is local from Eyton, but above that level it was brought from Godsall, Staffordshire.

PLAN: The site on which the church was built appears to have been originally intended for a pair of semi-detached suburban villas and is relatively narrow. The church is consequently oriented N-S, instead of E-W, with North acting as the ritual eastern end. The nave and chancel form one continuous body with a single step to mark the transition. There is a timber-framed porch projecting to the south-east corner, a vestry projecting to the north-west and a chapel dedicated to Roger Cadwallador which projects at the north-east. All have gabled roofs; that over the porch covered with slates.

EXTERIOR: the style is Gothic; transitional between Decorated and Perpendicular. There is a four-light window to the ritual west end, below which are shields and the text, in high relief which reads `Ad. Majorem. Dei. Gloriam’. To right of the window is a canopied niche containing the effigy of St. Ethelbert added in 1908 and sculpted by William Storr-Barber and there is a small arched window to the gable. The east window is of three lights and the flank windows, of which there are three to the east side and four to the west, all have two cusped lights with a quatrefoil to the apex. The chapel dedicated to Roger Cadwallador has panel tracery to its two eastern windows. There are buttresses with offsets to the full height of the wall. The porch at the south-east angle is glazed to three sides. It has chamfered timber posts, between which are set panels of diamond-pattern leaded glazing with cusped heads and yellow glass quarries to the margins.

INTERIOR: The roof structure has stone corbels carved with apples, pears, hops and other local crops, carved by Wall of Cheltenham, which support wall posts. These rise to join the principals and support arched braces which connect to the collar beam, from the centre of which two small braces arch outwards to join the principals. The reredos, of red, Runcorn sandstone, has a central canopied niche for a monstrance which is flanked by a blind arcade which terminates at either end in two further canopied niches which contain wooden figures of the Virgin and Child and St Joseph, bearing a lily. The stone altar was originally attached to the wall, immediately below the reredos, but it was separated following the recommendations of the Second Vatican Council and moved forward to allow the priest to face the congregation during the Mass. This separation appears to have been managed with the minimum of alteration to the individual parts. The side chapel has stained glass windows showing episodes in the life of Roger Cadwallador and has a fireplace to the south wall. Above this are three memorial tablets to members of the Snead-Cox family killed in the First World War, including one to Herbert Arthur Snead-Cox, carved by Eric Gill removed from Broxwood Church to this position in 1987. The flooring throughout the church is parquet and there are wooden benches of two different patterns, which early photographs show to have been a later insertion. The entrance porch has patterned encaustic tiling to the floor and a bench to the north side. There is no evidence of decorative painting to the walls of the church or in the chancel and the present painting of the stonework of the reredos was undertaken recently by the present incumbent.

HISTORY Leominster has associations with two of the Roman Catholic church’s sixty-three Beatified Martyrs of England, Wales and Scotland. It was the birthplace of Nicholas Wheeler, who was executed at Tyburn in 1586 and the place of execution of Roger Cadwallador. The town was also a stronghold of recusant activity throughout the times of persecution in the C16 and C17. In the C18 Catholics in the town were served by priests from the churches at Hereford or Weobley and in 1868 the congregation bought the former Congregational Church in Burgess Street. In 1877 a priest was appointed to the town and in 1884 Father Athanasius Rogers started a tenure which lasted until 1915. Money was provided by Mrs. Louise Herbert, the widow of a solicitor in the town and the new church, designed by Peter Paul Pugin, was opened in 1888. The site chosen was one in a row along Bargates which was being developed as a street of large villas at the time, on the western outskirt of Leominster. Following the Second Vatican council of 1962-4 the church was slightly re-ordered. This involved detaching the stone altar from its former place beneath the reredos on the ritual eastern wall and making it free standing. At the same time the former altar rails were removed and are now lost. In 1987 a number of memorial tablets to members of the Snead-Cox family were removed from The Church of the Holy Family at Broxwood following its closure and placed in the Cadwallador chapel, including one carved by Eric Gill.

SOURCES Paul Atterbury, Clive Wainwright et al, Pugin a Gothic Passion, 1994; Norman C Reeves. The Parish of St Ethelbert, Leominster.

Heritage Details

Architect: Pugin & Pugin

Original Date: 1888

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II