Building » Wells-next-the-Sea – Our Lady Star of the Sea

Wells-next-the-Sea – Our Lady Star of the Sea

The Buttlands, Wells-Next-The-Sea, Norfolk, NR23 1EY

A thoughtfully detailed, well-built and essentially Gothic church of 1928, with a remarkable façade that draws on local shaped gables for inspiration. The architect, A. S. G. Butler, wrote a major study of Edwin Lutyens houses and the three stone altars reflect that architect’s free use of classical detailing. The church and adjoining older presbytery make a good contribution to the local conservation area. 

The Revd H. W. Gray, mission/parish priest of Fakenham 1905-33 (and later a cathedral canon) had Dereham, Blakeney and Wells in his large parish and determined to build new churches in each town. He began to form a congregation in Wells that met in houses, but secured funds from an ‘unknown benefactor’, sufficient to buy a c.1800 house (now the presbytery) in the Buttlands, with a view to building a church in the garden. On Wednesday 13 July 1927, Bishop Dudley Cary-Elwes of Northampton laid the foundation stone (still visible externally at the base of the west wall) and the church was consecrated and formally opened on Wednesday 13 June 1928. The builders were Cornish & Gaymer of North Walsham.

The architect was Arthur Stanley George Butler (1888-1965), best known perhaps as the author of the major work on Sir Edwin Lutyens’ domestic architecture, but the designer of a number of (mainly country) houses and a few Catholic churches, mostly in the Home Counties. He entered the competition for Coventry Cathedral with a design reminiscent of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s work and also drew up designs for an octagonal cathedral to stand over Lutyens’ crypt at Liverpool in 1955, perhaps at the request of Archbishop Heenan. The architects Sir Martin Beckett and Viscount Esher trained in his London office and Butler wrote articles and gave lectures, particularly on construction. He was elected ARIBA in 1913 and FRIBA in 1924.

The RIBA library in London holds the contract drawings for Wells (PA210/16 (1-3)) and some photographs taken on its completion in 1928. Quite why Butler was chosen has not been established, but Fr Gray was well connected and quite wealthy himself (was he the ‘unknown benefactor’?); Butler had a cottage at Burnham Overy Staithe, and was living in Wells when he died in 1965.

At some point in the later twentieth century the iron altar rails were removed and a wooden altar introduced to the sanctuary, but no other major changes have been made. The pulpit went to the church of St Henry Walpole in Burnham Market (presumably at the same time as the rails were removed), but is no longer there.

In 2018, a parish room was built to the designs of a local architectural technician, attached to the southeast corner of the church. The original sacristy was reduced in size internally, so creating a direct access from the church.


The church is reverse orientated, with the altar at compass west. As the list entry uses compass points, this account will do the same.

The church is adequately described in the list entry (below), but there are a few errors and omissions:

  • There are no transepts, but there is a southeast nave chapel (to Our Lady Star of the Sea) and the chancel has a north chapel (Sacred Heart altar) and south sacristy.
  • The statuary niche sits above the lintel of the square-headed three-light east window.
  • The south aisle has one single light and two three-light windows, but the north aisle has three three-light windows and a door at the east end. Both aisles are built of Fletton brick and have a tall chimney for a stove at the east end.
  • The clerestorey windows are of timber, with leaded lights.
  • The sanctuary is continuous with the nave, and there are no transepts.
  • The sanctuary windows flanking the altar have a trefoil (not cusped) head and all the sanctuary windows are partly glazed with orange glass.
  • The panelling of the sanctuary incudes an aumbry (south) and credence (north) and the sanctuary floor is of pamments and a red-veined black marble.
  • The nave has three bays (not four), but the east gallery is quite deep and has narrow segmental arches to the aisles. The nave piers and arcade springings are of stone, but the arches and walls are of plastered brick. There are round transverse arches across the aisles.
  • The church has a tie-beam roof with arched braces, the king posts with wavy arched struts.
  • The font is tucked into a recess south of the entrance door, with no room for anyone to stand round it, the priest with his back to the congregation in the nave.
  • The plaster Stations of the Cross of 1924 are in large wooden frames.
  • The front walls include a central raised brick cross.
  • All three altars are of stone with a large predella panel of coloured marble. Each has different classical detailing, finely executed; Butler was surely looking at Lutyens’ work for inspiration.
  • The Sacred Heart chapel has a flat ceiling, but the chapel of Our Lady has a pitched ceiling and an arched triangular window divided into three by mullions in its end wall. The wooden niche for the statue of Our Lady has replaced the glazing in the bottom half of the central trefoil-headed light. The window is glazed with pale and dark blue glass.
  • The solid bench seating is original and fixed to the flat pine floor.

List descriptions



Church. 1928 by ASG Butler. MATERIALS: red brick with stone dressings, pantiled roofs. PLAN: nave, aisles, transepts and chancel. Arts and Crafts style, an unusual blend of vernacular and East Anglian Dutch and Cape Dutch. EXTERIOR: east front, liturgically the west, in form of single 3-tier shaped gable. Canted single-storey porch with gabled parapet and double leaf plank doors set under pointed arch. One single-light window to right and left. 3-light Perpendicular window above, on lintel with statuary niche containing carved Virgin and Child. Stone Latin cross on gable apex. Aisles with one single-light and two 3-light hollow-chamfered mullioned windows. 3 segmental-headed clerestory windows. Transepts and chancel project slightly. Chancel with one 2-light Perpendicular window to north and south and 2 cusped west lights. INTERIOR: 4 bays of semi-circular arcade arches on chamfered square piers. Transverse arches to narrow aisles. East gallery on chamfered square timber posts reached by staircase on south side. Splat baluster balustrade. Arch-braced roof with king posts and queen struts. Plain hexagonal font. Stations of the Cross in plaster attached to aisle walls, by M Chantrel, 1924.

FRONT WALLS: attached curving brick walls sweep out north and south of entrance front. An unusual, very fine and little-altered example of a small church of the period.



Early C19, brick and pantiled. Front yellow brick, rest red brick. 2 storey. flash windows with glazing bars. Flank pilasters and centre projection. Wood porch with Greek Doric fluted columns. 6-panel door with panelled reveals. All the listed buildings in The Buttlands (West Side) form a group and also with Yew Tree House and House adjoining. Listing NGR: TF9160643410

Heritage Details

Architect: A.S.G. Butler

Original Date: 1928

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II