Building » Sudbury – Our Lady and St John the Evangelist

Sudbury – Our Lady and St John the Evangelist

The Croft, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 1HW

A nicely-detailed Arts and Crafts design of 1893 by Leonard Stokes, externally little altered but the interior marred by the loss of historic furnishings and the introduction of large gallery in the nave. The adjoining presbytery is a slightly older building which was retained and remodelled by Stokes. Church and presbytery occupy an attractive site overlooking an open space, near the medieval parish church of St Gregory.

Catholic life in Sudbury revived in the early 1870s, when the Rev. Patrick Rogers would travel from Lawshall (Coldham Cottage) to say Mass in the workhouse near the parish church of St Gregory. In 1876 a chapel was set up in the front parlour of two former weavers’ cottages opposite All Saints’ church, the home of Mr and Mrs John Flowers. This arrangement lasted until 1880, when Bishop Riddell of Northampton appointed the Rev. Valerius d’Apreda resident priest, initially taking up residence at 21 Sepulchre Street (now Gainsborough Street). Fr d’Apreda then rented (in 1882 purchased) a pair of semi-detached houses on the Croft, which he called St Joseph’s Cottage; the party wall on the ground floor was opened up and a chapel created.

There was considerable anti-Catholic feeling in the town, and this appears to have taken its toll on Fr d’Apreda; a plaque set unto the back wall of the presbytery is pointedly inscribed: ‘and you shall be hated by all men for my name’s sake (Matthew 22)’. Broken by his ministry, he left Sudbury in 1891, apparently bound for South America. It fell to his successor, the Rev. William Fippard, to build the present church. Fr Fippard enjoyed a much better relationship with both congregation and town. He made an international appeal for funds to help the mission, and in June 1893 the foundation stone was laid. The church occupied the site of one of the semi-detached pair, the left-hand house being retained as the presbytery. The architect for the new church was Leonard Stokes of Westminster, the builders Messrs Grimwood of Sudbury. The church was completed within six months, opening in December 1893.

Exhausted by the labour of fundraising for and then building the church, in 1894 Fr Fippard was sent to the south of France and Lourdes. He died the following year, at the age of 32. His successor, the Rev. Augustine Peacock, built a small weatherboarded schoolroom at the bottom of the large presbytery garden in 1901 (replaced by a larger building on Beaconsfield Road in 1909).

An early photograph of the church interior shows a large altar and reredos at the east end with flanking dossals, probably designed by Stokes. The nave is fitted up with pews and large framed Stations of the Cross hang from the side walls. 

In medieval times the shrine of Our Lady of Sudbury was a popular focus of devotion at the adjoining church of St Gregory. In 1937 the Rev. Ralph Gerard Moir, a musician and a man of taste, revived the shrine, with a new statue installed at the church of Our Lady and St John.

After the Second Vatican Council the Rev. Antony Foreman is said personally to have removed the altar rails, pulpit and confessional (O’Callaghan, p.61). Plans were drawn up to enlarge the church, or even build a new one in the garden, but these came to nothing. Instead about forty additional seats were provided in 1981, when a balcony at the liturgical west end was considerably extended and provided with tiered seating (architect Julian Limentani of Marshall Sisson Architect).

In 1993, at the time of its centenary, the church was solemnly dedicated by Bishop Alan Clark of East Anglia. A new altar of Cumberland slate was installed, along with a matching ambo, presidential chair and font, made by Donald Simpson. The dedication brochure states that ‘it is hoped in the near future to mark the centenary further by completing the façade of the church. Statues of Our Lady and St John, with a central crucifix, will be placed in the niches over the main door […] Sister Concordia OSB, a well-known sculptor, has been asked to provide the statues’.   


The sanctuary of the church is to geographical west, but this description assumes conventional liturgical orientation, as if the altar were to the east.

The church was built in 1893 from designs by Leonard Stokes, and is in his distinctive free Perpendicular style, of red brick with stone limestone dressings. The west front faces towards The Croft and has a six-light window raised over a high brick base, its unusual tracery incorporating a cusped cross at the apex of the central lights. Stone bands are set into the brickwork at sill level, at the springing of the window arch and in the gable. To the south of this, set back behind two Gothic gatepiers and approached by steps, is a square tower, incorporating the entrance. The tower has attractive Arts and Crafts detail, with stone banding to the upper stage and a pretty lead-covered spirelet. Above a splayed and panelled ogee-headed entrance are three niches, containing terracotta statues of Christ in Majesty flanked by Our Lady and St John, c.1995, probably by Sister Concordia Scott (1924-2014) of Minster Abbey.  On the north elevation, a projecting enclosure under a catslide roof encloses a stair from the church down to an undercroft, built under the east end of the church and taking account of the sloping site. The east elevation (towards the garden) has two large window openings with multi-paned casements to the undercroft, and a sheer blank wall above, articulated only by darker brick delineating a cross on Calvary. On the southern return, a bell hangs from the canopy over a door from the undercroft. Above this a two-light window and a lancet light the sanctuary and nave respectively. The church is built into the earlier presbytery, and its rear elevation was adapted by Stokes, including a slight projection, mainly stone and with two ogee-headed lights, now housing a confessional.

Timber doors with full-width iron hinges lead into a remodelled entrance area, with a stair of 1981 up to the gallery. A confessional gives off to the left before double doors with fine leaded glazing detail lead into the main worship space. This consists of a four-bay nave under an open timber roof, chancel arch, and short, square-ended and side-lit sanctuary. Windows have rectangular leaded panes with delicate circular patterns in the tracery; there is no stained glass. To the left of the sanctuary arch is a 1937 statue of Our Lady of Sudbury, the Gothic-style statue of the Virgin and Child set within an elaborate baroque aedicule on a columnar support. Likewise the polychrome and gilded low-relief panel carving of St John, the figure set in a shallow aedicule, which is placed over the stairs down to the undercroft on the opposite side of the nave. The internal volume of the nave has been divided by the gallery of 1981, occupying about half the space; a gap is left at the west end to allow indirect light from the west window, but even so the space below the gallery seems somewhat oppressive. The gallery front appears to incorporate rails from the former balcony. The floors throughout are carpeted, with modern upholstered chairs for the congregation. The sanctuary is furnished with a slate suite of altar, ambo and presidential chair by Donald Simpson, 1993; in the same materials and probably also by Simpson are the tabernacle plinth and (in the nave) the font. The brass tabernacle may be by Stokes, and is an intricate design with a pelican in her piety at its centre. Modern panelling lines the sides of the sanctuary walls, with inset original piscina and receptacle for holy oils.

List description


1893. Architect Leonard Stokes. Red brick with stone dressings including bands and stone traceried mullion window right. Entrance, left, with stone case, in slightly recessed portion which rises to turret with fleche. History of Sudbury Grimwood and Kay. p61.

All the listed buildings in The Croft (West Side) form a group.

Heritage Details

Architect: Leonard Stokes

Original Date: 1893

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II