Cromer Road, Sheringham, Norfolk NR26 8RT
Image copyright Alex Ramsay
Image copyright Alex Ramsay
This 1908-10 church, extended in 1934, stands proudly on its corner site and is the most impressive building in the town. It is a highly original design and comes early in the career of the nationally-important architect, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. The furnishings are not Scott’s but are good quality work, some from the pre-First World War Stuflesser workshop, also glass by Dunstan Powell and an altar carving attributed to Eric Gill.
The church is at right angles to Cromer Road, with its liturgical east end facing compass north. Liturgical points will be used here.
In November 1894, Bishop Riddell of Northampton observed in his Advent Pastoral that there was no Catholic mission between Kings Lynn and Great Yarmouth, a distance of eighty miles, and that he proposed to build a new church in Cromer. The town had become a centre for London society looking for fresh air and the area had been promoted by drama critic Clement Scott’s eulogies on ‘Poppyland’, the stretch of coast between Cromer and Sidestrand. George Sherrin’s church of Our Lady of Refuge (qv) was built there in 1895.
Sheringham was not so favoured, and Henry Upcher of Sheringham Hall prevented the railway coming until the early 1880s. In 1902 a Catholic family rented a house in the growing town and invited the Revd Thomas Walmsley Carter to come from Cromer to say Mass.
In about 1905 Henry Deterding, Managing Director of the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, had taken on the ruins of Kelling Hall, which were to be rebuilt by Edward Maufe in 1911-13. Henry’s Dutch wife, Catherine (née Neubronner) was a Catholic, and attended the new Cromer mission. In 1906 she gave Fr Carter the money to buy the Sheringham site from the Felbrigg Estate, and in August 1908 a small chapel dedicated to St Joseph was opened by the newly-appointed Bishop Keating of Northampton. The diocesan magazine for January 1909 states ‘The building is from the design of Mr Gilbert Scott, architect of Liverpool Cathedral and has seating for one hundred.’ Quite how Scott came to be involved is unclear, though Fr Carter was from Liverpool, and was the son of an architect in (Cuthbert?) Pugin’s office.
The new chapel was well attended and in summer overflowed with holidaymakers. Fr Carter persuaded Mrs Deterding anonymously to fund the building and endowment of a bigger church, and in September 1909 Bishop Keating gave his consent. Work started immediately and the church was consecrated (so free of all debt) by Bishop Keating on 2 August 1910. It was two-and-a-half bays long with a main door in the west bay of the north aisle. The 1908 chapel became the southeast weekday chapel of St Joseph and an organ chamber with a tall gable end bell turret balanced it on the northwest side (housing a bell blessed by Bishop Keating on 1 July 1910).
Mrs Deterding, again anonymously, funded a presbytery designed by Scott (built in 1911 beyond the sacristy at the south end of the 1908 chapel) and an elementary school further south and parallel to the Cromer Road in 1914. She died aged 44 in 1916 and was buried against the north nave aisle, her grave marked with a white marble headstone.
By 1933, Fr Carter had raised sufficient funds to extend the church and Scott (now Sir Giles) was engaged once more. He extended the nave by a further two bays, with the west window (with stained glass by Dunstan Powell of John Hardman & Co., given by Mrs Emmeline Watkin in 1912) reset. A low, flat-roofed west narthex containing the baptistery at the south end was added. The brick is not quite the same colour, but is of the original small-scale size and bond, and the new high-level windows repeat the tracery of the 1910 building. A pitched-roof chapel with swept eaves was built against the north doorway as a new Chapel of Our Lady of Walsingham. The altar has a wooden reredos and stone antependium (photo bottom left at top of report); the shallow carving of the Annunciation scene has led to suggestions that Eric Gill was the sculptor. Bishop Youens consecrated the extended church on 25 March 1935.
Canon Carter died in 1938 and was buried just beyond the main west door. The lead Calvary over his tombstone was vandalised a few years ago and has been renewed in sheet metal.
The school closed in 1963 and found a new use as the parish rooms.
After the Second Vatican Council, a timber forward altar was introduced, but this cluttered the sanctuary. Further alterations by Anthony Rossi in 1993 attracted opprobrium from conservationists, particularly from Giles Gilbert Scott’s biographer Gavin Stamp (Piloti of Private Eye magazine). The marble and gilded metalwork altar rails were removed (the north and south sections remain) and Scott’s altar detached from the reredos, shortened and the reliquary beneath it removed. The hanging rood was brought forward by one bay.
Please see list description, which covers the church, boundary wall and gate piers. The list entry was revised in November 2022:
Scott’s attached presbytery was separately listed in November 2022, also Grade II:
Architect: Giles Gilbert Scott
Original Date: 1908
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II