Building » Norwich (West Earlham) – Holy Apostles

Norwich (West Earlham) – Holy Apostles

Scarnell Road, West Earlham, Norwich, Norfolk, NR5 8HT

A plain hall-church of the 1950s by Donovan Purcell, built to serve a post-war housing development.

As the church lies parallel to Scarnell Road, it is orientated northwest to southeast. For the purposes of this report liturgical compass points will be used, i.e. the altar to the east.

When the West Earlham Estate was started by Norwich City Council in 1946 an area just south of the central oval was allocated for a Catholic church, hall and school. In the event, a hall/church was built to designs by Donovan Purcell in 1953. A photograph in the Northampton Diocesan Yearbook (1954) captioned ‘New hall to serve as church’ shows the following changes have taken place:

  • The altar has been moved forward from the east wall, but remains at the top of three steps and beneath a canopy. The existing altar may well be made from the original.
  • There was an octagonal panelled pulpit on the north wall in front of the sacristy door.
  • The seating was then of painted benches with conventional rectangular ends.
  • There were three doors at the east end of the south wall, the two for the confessional either side of a painted statue of Our Lady standing on a square panelled plinth. The third door at the east end is larger and may have led into a space used by flower arrangers.
  • The concrete roof beams were painted in two shades, the principal frames darker than the longitudinal purlins, ridge and wall plate.

The church was consecrated in 1966. At some time around 1980, the confessional was converted into a kitchen to serve the Walsingham Room social area, formed from the original choir sacristy to the south of the sanctuary. The present confessional space was constructed earlier this century in the southwest corner of the nave. The windows have been replaced in uPVC.

The church is served from St John’s Cathedral.


The church is built of sand-faced red brick with an artificial slate roof and window and door frames of cast concrete. The concrete frames of the four-bay nave are enclosed in brick buttresses externally and painted white inside. The sanctuary is flanked by a priest’s sacristy to the north and the Walsingham Room to the south, both under a continuous roof. The latter was developed from the original choir sacristy, which has probably been extended. The kitchen was formed from the confessionals that used to protrude from the southeast corner of the nave. There is a large storage loft behind the sanctuary, above a cupboard on the north and a WC on the south; both levels are lit by glass brick windows in the otherwise blank east gable wall. The west porch has built-in cupboards, the outer door is flanked by panels and there is a metal cross mounted on the nave west gable.

Internally the sanctuary is lit by two high-level rectangular windows in the north and south walls, but both borrow their light from a dormer over the priest’s sacristy on the north and patent glazing in the Walsingham Room roof on the south. The internal walls are plastered and painted, with a small cast concrete consecration cross to the centre of each bay. The aggregate of the cast concrete frames to the continuous high level windows contrasts with the smooth walls and window frames. The polished concrete font has a square stone bowl on a slightly smaller dimension square stem. The bowl is inscribed with letters and the stem with motifs related to baptism. The square wooden pulpit on the sanctuary step is a nicely carved piece (of c.1970?) and the benches with triangular headed ends are of lighter stained wood and of a similar date. There are two modern portraits of Saints Peter and Paul by a Norwich artist either side of the sanctuary arch.

Heritage Details

Architect: Donovan Purcell

Original Date: 1953

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed