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:
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
Architect: A.S.G. Butler
Original Date: 1928
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II