Building » Newmarket – Our Lady Immaculate and St Etheldreda

Newmarket – Our Lady Immaculate and St Etheldreda

Exeter Road, Newmarket, Suffolk, CB8 8LT

  • © Copyright Roger Cornfoot and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

A substantial basilican design of the 1960s by Sebastian Comper, old-fashioned for its date but well detailed and with a good townscape presence.

Newmarket grew as a racing centre under royal patronage from the seventeenth century onwards. In the nineteenth century the racing industry attracted Irish immigration, and in 1863 a Catholic church was built in Lower Station Road (All Saints Road) by the Rev. T. McDonald. This served until the building of the present church by the Rev. Michael Kennedy. The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Parker of Northampton on 27 August 1964 and the church was opened in 1966. The architect was Sebastian Comper FRIBA, son of Sir Ninian Comper, and the design almost identical to his slightly earlier church of St George, Sprowston, Norwich (qv). The account in the Catholic Building Review (perhaps by the architect) said the building ‘although “derivative” in style, has in fact its own individual character as a modern development of the national tradition’. Comper also designed a presbytery, but this and the parish hall were demolished when land behind the church was sold by the diocese to enable an access road to be built to a new Waitrose supermarket. Proceeds from the sale of the land enabled the construction in 2006 of a substantial attached parish hall to the south of the church, as well as internal reordering. 


A large town church of 1964-66 in traditional basilican style, incorporating some Gothic motifs. It is faced in a pale brown brick laid in Flemish bond, with dressings of cast stone and (mainly) pantile roofs. On plan it consists of an aisled nave, sanctuary with north Lady Chapel and a short canted apse. There is a gabled porch at the west end, a projecting baptistery giving off the north aisle at the west end, and a two-storey sacristy giving off the south side of the sanctuary. The conical roof of the baptistery and the short slopes of the apse roof are covered with plain tiles. The entrance porch is gabled and contains three arched openings, originally open and now glazed. Above the larger central arch is a stone carved set of papal arms. Above this, the west front of the nave has two attached buttresses framing a central rose window with curvilinear stone tracery. The aisle and clerestory windows are round arched, paired below and single above, the bays separated by flat pilasters. The canted apse at the east end has high-level windows, while the Lady Chapel is well lit with large triple-arched windows. The south aisle (but not the clerestory) is largely obscured by the additions of 2006, which are in similar materials (apart from some areas of render), but occupy a large footprint. 

The interior is wide and light, with warm grey brick facing to the walls and a roof carried on arched reinforced concrete trusses. The floor is stone paved. The nave arcade is of six bays, its quatrefoil stone columns with square spurs on the diagonals. An inscribed foundation stone is set into the wall in the north aisle. At the west end is an organ gallery with classical balustraded front, perhaps a nod to the architect’s father’s theory of ‘unity by inclusion’. Although traditional in its design, the church followed modern liturgical principles, with the altar designed from the outset to allow Mass to be said versus populum. The original altar and communion rails were not designed by the architect (CBRS), and neither survives; the sanctuary and baptistery were reordered in c.2006 with a polished travertine floor, altar, ambo and (in the baptistery) font; the original altar and font are now at St Felix, Haverhill (qv). However the original brightly-painted suspended canopy over the altar survives, and is Comper’s design. Against the east wall of the apse, the tabernacle is placed within a central stone recess with an ogee Gothic arch. The openings to the northeast Lady Chapel have been glazed in. The windows throughout have rectangular quarries, with frosted glass below and clear glass in the clerestory. There is modern lighting in the nave, but Comper’s hanging brass chandeliers survive in the aisles and over the organ gallery. The organ itself dates from 1873 and was originally made by T. C. Lewis & Co.  

Heritage Details

Architect: J. B. S. Comper

Original Date: 1964

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed