Building » Lowestoft – Our Lady Star of the Sea

Lowestoft – Our Lady Star of the Sea

Gordon Road, Lowestoft, Suffolk, NR32 1NL

  • By Sirpecangum - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

A fine, well-built Edwardian design of red brick and Costessey terracotta ware in c.1300 English Gothic style, by George and Reginald P. Baines; they were prolific church architects but this is their only purpose-built Catholic church. The building is of high townscape value and the richly-decorated interior retains many original and later furnishings of good quality.

The church is orientated northwest to southeast but for the purposes of this report liturgical compass points will be used i.e. the altar to the east

Once established at St Mary’s, Great Yarmouth in 1850, Jesuit priests travelled to Lowestoft to celebrate Mass at various venues, establishing a mission in 1867. The Revd Geoffrey Brennan was appointed the first mission priest in 1881 and secured a former carpenter’s shop above a net store in the Denes as the first permanent chapel. His successor in 1884, the Revd Alexander Scott, began to raise funds to build a new church, securing the present site for £1,600 in 1885. He asked the local surveyor, F.W. Richards MSA to design a church, but funds were insufficient until an anonymous donation of £10,000 in 1899 allowed the realisation of a more ambitious scheme. Sarah Wharton, who donated the thirteenth Station in 1927, may have been the benefactor.

The father and son architects, George and Reginald P. Baines of London were engaged, an unexpected choice as they principally designed Nonconformist churches and chapels; this is their only purpose-built Catholic church. However George Baines had trained in Great Yarmouth and was perhaps still known by someone in the congregation (or even the anonymous donor). The same practice built the South Cliff Congregational Church in 1902-3, which became the second church in the parish (St Nicholas Pakefield, qv) in 1996. Working with F. W. Richards, the Norwich builders G. Hawes and Son were contracted and on 23 August 1900, Bishop Riddell of Northampton laid the foundation stone on the north side of the sanctuary. The building was opened and dedicated to Our Lady Star of the Sea on 5 June 1902.

In 1904-6 F.W. Richards built a large, red brick double-fronted and detached presbytery to the northwest of the church.

Some redecoration was undertaken in the 1930s, especially to the apse ceiling. The church was finally consecrated on 22 October 1952, after World War II bomb damage had been made good.

After the Second Vatican Council a wooden altar was placed at the east end of the nave, but in 1984-5 Fr Anthony Sketch reordered the sanctuary, preserving most of the original furnishings,and created the glazed narthex under the west gallery. The present forward altar was consecrated by Bishop Alan Clark on 20 July 1985.

In 1985-6 the Stella Maris Hall was built to the designs of Boris Kaye, parallel to the south side and linked to the southwest porch (photo bottom right at top of report).  This required the southwest door to be blocked internally; the font had been removed from here in 1984.

At the time of the visit, scaffold was being struck from the tower after completion of major repairs partly funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

This is claimed to be the most easterly parish church in England.


The list description (below) is broadly adequate, but the following corrections and additions could be made:

  • After his son Reginald P. Baines joined George Baines’ practice in 1901, it is usual to attribute their churches to both architects.
  • The church is built of red Somerleyton brick and Costessey ware (not stone), a terracotta made near Norwich.
  • The architectural style is a rich early fourteenth century English Gothic, with some ‘free-Gothic’ touches, such as the glass and ironwork.
  • There is a copper covered octagonal timber fleche about two-thirds along the roof ridge, presumably for ventilation rather than a Sanctus bell.
  • The apse is flanked by square chapels with gabled roofs and circular east windows.
  • The nave has a double gabled confessional block on its north side and the sacristy is at the northeast corner (but not linked to the presbytery). A similar double gabled block was intended on the south nave, the doorways survive.
  • The west front buttresses terminate in large octagonal (not ‘pepper-pot’) pinnacles as does the tower northeast staircase, but the other three corner pinnacles of the tower are square.
  • The gable over the finely-moulded ogee west door rises through the terracotta parapet of blind tracery along the shallow west porch beneath the west window, lit by cusped lancets flanking the door.  
  • There are no ‘occasional statuary niches’ but large praying angel hood stops to the west door gable and a deep niche flanked by small windows above the segmental arched west door lintel.
  • The square ‘narthex’ (southwest porch) was also the original baptistery; its doors have fine ironwork (like the west door) and the tympanum over its segmental arch has three cusped windows.
  • There is a large gabled door to the north face of the tower, with a niche in the tympanum.
  • The internal arcades have alternating round and octagonal capitals and the bases are on high stone plinths. The responds are of painted stone.
  • The principal rafters (not ‘braces’) of the roof have large false hammerbeams that secure the tie-rods, presumably part of the original construction. The aisle lean-to roofs have similar large principals with spandrel cusping.
  • The seven-cant roof has plastered and painted panels (not ‘boarded’) with the thinner ridge panels including quatrefoil vents.
  • The sanctuary arch capitals are naturalistic (not ‘stiff-leaf’), the north of oak leaves, the south grapevine (or blackberry?).
  • The apse roof was decorated in the 1930s (and restored after World War II damage), depicting the Kingship of Christ and the English Martyrs, in a slightly Expressionist style. The two figures of St Thomas More and St John Fisher over the north sacristy door and the north chapel wall painting are presumably of c.1935 and more Arts and Crafts in character.
  • The original reredos, central throne and altar were carved by A.B. Wall of Cheltenham; parts were painted and gilded in the 1960s. The ambo and font were placed here in 1984 after the sanctuary floor was extended and the altar rails removed. The ambo is formed from the original pulpit; the sides of the font are carved with the Seven Sacraments and Our Lady Star of the Sea in arched panels. The sanctuary has fine ironwork grilles separating it from the side chapels. A ceramic mosaic floor like that of the side chapels might still exist under the carpet.
  • The Sacred Heart chapel at the end of the north aisle retains its marble altar, reredos and altar rails. It has a painted plaster groin vault, with angels holding shields decorated with symbols of the Passion, but has lost some colour/stencilling under white paint.
  • The Lady Chapel at the east of the south aisle also retains its original furnishings and blue painted vault with similar angels and chequer ribs.
  • At the west end of the nave against the narthex is a 1938 plaster replica of the original sculpture of Our Lady of Boulogne, brought to Lowestoft in 1948 as part of a peace pilgrimage from Boulogne to Walsingham.
  • The west gallery holds the Norman & Beard organ of 1902 but the narthex below was created in 1984, re-using glazed panels from a draught lobby.
  • The pews are original and almost complete.
  • The large framed Stations of the Cross were erected in 1927.
  • Most windows are filled with white glass with coloured Arts and Crafts patterns of c.1900, but stained figurative glass appears in the chapels and the five apse windows of 1951-2; none appears to be signed.

List description


Roman Catholic Church. 1900-02 by George Baines and F.W. Richards. Red brick with stone dressings and slate roofs. Continuous nave and apsed sanctuary, nave aisles and off-set north-east tower (compass points refer to liturgical use). Nave with angle buttresses terminating in pepper-pot pinnacles to south-west corner only. Central arched portal under straight gable reaching up to 5-light west window in Geometric Decorated style. Below the window are bands of arcading and occasional statuary niches. Gabled roof. South nave has a square narthex and an arched portal under a gable. 3-light Decorated aisle windows and six 2-light Decorated clerestory windows. 3-stage tower lit through a 2-light Decorated ground-floor window, blind arcading to ringing chamber, twin 2-light lancets to each face of belfry stage. Crenellated parapet with double merlons and pyramid pinnacles with crockets.

INTERIOR. 5-bay arcade comprising red granite columns on water-holding bases and moulded pointed arches. Colonnettes rise to support canted arched braces to roof. Roof boarded. Chancel arch with stiff-leaf capitals. Apsed east end lit through five 2-light windows. Painted roof.

Heritage Details

Architect: George and Reginald P. Baines with F. W. Richards

Original Date: 1902

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II