Old Mill Lane, Marnhull, Dorset
A modest country church with some good furnishings, of historic interest as an early post-Emancipation church.
The Marnhull mission was founded in 1725. The Hussey family of Nash Court were Catholic converts and were the mainstay of the growing Catholic community in the village. In 1725 Fr Thomas Cornforth built a presbytery (demolished in 1953) which adjoined the later priory. In 1795 a community of Benedictine nuns, exiled from Paris, came to Marnhull and rented Nash Court from the Hussey family until 1807 when the Husseys returned to the house and the nuns moved to Cannington in Somerset. It was Fr William Casey, who arrived at Marnhull in 1824 and remained for 43 years, who built the nave of the present church, opened on 3 July 1832. The name of the architect has not been established, but the design bears some similarities to G.A. Boyce’s slightly later church of St John, Tiverton in Devon (1836, now closed).
By 1846 the first school was built. The next major event was the arrival of the Canons Regular of the Lateran of Bodmin in 1884 and their setting up of St Joseph’s Priory (1886). The present sanctuary and sacristy were added to the church at the same time. In 1906 an enclosed order of Cistercian nuns took over the priory and a private chapel was built for their use at right angles to the sanctuary. The priory closed in the 1940s and the remaining building is now a private house. The present presbytery was built in the 1920s.
The list description (below) is fairly brief but accurate. It does not make clear the basic plan form of nave and sanctuary with the former nuns’ chapel attached to the south side of the sanctuary and of similar size to the main nave. The latter is, however, much altered in its conversion to its primary purpose of church hall. The arch between the nuns’ church and the sanctuary is similar to the main sanctuary arch but now has a screen separating the two spaces. The west gallery is supported on two slender posts and has a ‘pattern-book’ balcony front of cast iron, a typical design used on Regency domestic buildings for balcony fronts. Simple blacksmith’s light fittings in the nave. The sanctuary is taller than the nave and of more formal Gothic character. There are Gothic arched doorways close to the sanctuary arch on the north and south sides, one blocked the other opening to a small confessional. Stone altar and reredos, Gothic, the latter with painted panels of saints. Stained glass windows in the sanctuary, some signed ‘A Lusson, Paris 1869’. Antoine Lusson, father and son, where among the main exponents of a return to medieval styles and techniques in nineteenth century French glass making. There are a number of other furnishings and fittings but none merit specific mention.
Church 1832 with extension of 1886 (RCHM). Coursed, squared rubble, ashlar and render. Nave has Roman-tiled roof with stone slate verges; stone coping with bell-cote. Chancel has steep pitched gable-ended tiled roof. Weathered stage buttresses. Lancet windows. Gable window of 3 graduated lancets. West ashlar porch with stone slated roof with stone coping. Doorway has moulded 2-centred head with returned label. Door is original and has a lattice of diagonal ribs. Interior features: moulded 2-centred chancel arch with capitals; octagonal font on octagonal stem; arch in chancel to annex; west gallery; statue on carved angel corbel in nave; cinqufoiled stoop in porch; 2-centred roll moulded west door; C20 seating; king-post roof to nave. RCHM, Dorset, vol III, p 152, no 2.
Listing NGR: ST7831820074
Architect: Not established
Original Date: 1832
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II