Kings Arms Street, North Walsham, Norfolk NR28 9JL
An interesting Art Deco church of 1934-5 by E. Bower Norris, remarkable for its use of reinforced concrete beams in place of internal arcades to allow uninterrupted views of the sanctuary, and for the survival of most of its original architectural features (though only the font and altar rails remain from the original furnishings).
North Walsham formed part of a new mission territory centred on Cromer, established by Bishop Riddell of Northampton in 1902. Fr Walmesley Carter’s first convert, Miss Sarah Durrell, married Frank Loads, a draper of North Walsham in 1902 and the following year Fr Carter celebrated Mass in their drawing room over the shop. The only other nearby Mass centres were at Abbots Hall Farm, Aylsham and the chapel of Lord Trafford’s Wroxham Hall.
Frank Loads became a Catholic in 1904 and the bishop declared North Walsham a separate mission. On a pilgrimage to Rome, the Loads asked for a papal blessing to build a chapel, and on their return converted a loft above the shop garage into a ‘Gothic-style’ chapel. The nuns of the convent of the Perpetual Adoration in Cromer donated furniture from their school chapel, which had recently closed. Fr Carter continued to visit from Cromer and a charabanc collected Catholics from neighbouring villages until 1929, when Fr William Arrowsmith was appointed the first resident priest. He began to plan for a new church and in 1931, Frank Loads purchased the present church site next to his home (now the presbytery) for £750. The Loads erected the Calvary in 1933 and donated the site to the Diocese of Northampton in 1934.
The architect for the new church was E. Bower Norris FRIBA, a prolific Catholic church architect with offices in Stafford and Manchester. This is his only church in the (then) Diocese of Northampton and is not clear why he was chosen, but there must have been a personal connexion. Bishop Youens of Northampton laid the foundation stone on 30 August 1934 and local builders Cornish & Gaymer completed the building in just seventeen weeks; with architect’s fees etc. the total cost was £4,120 2s. 11d. The new church was described in The Tablet as ‘a good, cheap church, […] modern without being Modernist. It is no mechanical reiteration of a ‘style’ building from the old text-books: but neither is it silly, ugly or bizarre […] The architect has resolved that North Walsham’s Catholic church shall have nave and aisles, but he gives them without using any detached piers. The roof of his nave is carried on two beams of reinforced concrete which span the whole length of each aisle, with no need of supporting pillars. Thus there is no point in the nave or aisles from which the Sanctuary cannot be clearly seen’. The church was opened by the Bishop of Northampton on 4 April 1935, and at a luncheon afterwards the bishop awarded Mr Loads the Bene Merenti medal.
The church was used by Catholic prisoners-of-war in World War II and a wooden statue of St Joseph (in the narthex) was carved by a German soldier, Adolf Benz.
The parish was constituted in 1960 and on 22 June 1990 Bishop Alan Clark of East Anglia consecrated the church. A reordering is thought to have taken place in the early 1970s, but the present sanctuary arrangements are of 2004, when a choir loft was built above the original western narthex (architect Anthony Rossi). The font was relocated in a new tile floor in 2008. Fr Walsh redecorated the church in 2018.
A parish hall behind the presbytery was opened and blessed by Bishop Peter Smith in 1999.
The church is on a north-south axis but this description uses the conventional liturgical compass points.
A surprising building to find in rural Norfolk, its Art Deco style otherwise usually seen in cinemas, though the design of the massive brick City Hall in Norwich was known from 1931. E. Bower Norris often used brick but his style is usually more Early Christian or Byzantine, though with ‘Moderne’ touches. Sacred Heart is more thoroughly Art Deco and the daring use of concrete beams replacing nave arcades is a real surprise after the relatively conventional exterior. The survival of the original screens, ironwork and floor and windows all contribute to the building’s interest.
The list description of 2003 (below) remains broadly accurate, but the following amendments can be noted:
Church. 1934-5 by E. Bower Norris. Red brick laid in Flemish bond; flat lead roofs. Nave, aisles, chancel and south-west porch-tower. Scandinavian Art Deco style. EXTERIOR: west front with slightly projecting centre section with rectangular stone doorcase. Recessed double-leaf single-panel doors. Centre section projects above parapet line and contains 3 tall lancets fitted with metal casements, the centre one rising higher. Each light flanked by triangular brick fillets which rise to parapet and drop through apron to lintel of doorcase. One single-light metal casement right and left of doorcase. Aisle west ends terminate in single-storey square extensions lit through one metal lancet to each exposed face. That to south developed as base of porch-tower, with a triple-rebated square-headed doorway to south containing single-panel door. Each face of tower with 2 square brick fillets rising to stepped parapet and enclosing 2 tiers of metal lancets. Parapet with 3 set-offs, the second one with 3 tall narrow recesses. Stone parapet with one raised panel to each face. Aisles lit through 3 sets of triple lancets containing metal casements, framed by triangular brick fillets rising from plinth course to parapet. 3 cast-iron water hoppers and downpipes to aisles and blind clerestory deployed as part of design. Chancel with one triple lancet to north and south. Blind east end. Single-storey vestry rooms attached to north of chancel, embracing east end of north nave aisle. INTERIOR: narrow west narthex separated from nave by west screen. Round-headed arches to north and south into aisle extensions. Nave without division of aisles, which are marked by lower ceiling height. Round-arched doorways at west end of aisles fitted with double doors. Flat nave and chancel ceiling with plastered and painted rolled steel joists. Arched entrances to chapels at east end of aisles. Stilted triangular-headed openings from chancel chapels to chancel, fitted with wrought-iron grilles. Round-headed recess in chancel east wall. Plain octagonal font. Glazed west screen consists of 4 sections either side of double panelled doors. Panelled screen dado and panelled cornice. Each of the 8 glazed sections with Art Deco glass, stained in pale colours and with geometric motifs in leading and glazing patterns. Similar Art Deco glazing to aisle windows. Wrought-iron altar rails with timber top rail. Plaster Stations of the Cross. A fine quality and little-altered church of the period which has very carefully designed external detailing and good fittings including characteristic stained glass.
Architect: E. Bower Norris
Original Date: 1931
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II