TOWER PROJECT

About the project

The chapel as it is today, the dining room of Manor Gate

Background: The structure of the church is under threat. The Tower, particulary near the top,is in generally poor condition.
The damage appears to result from the ingress of water between the stone skin and the internal brickwork which is causing the corrosion of both concrete roofs and floors and supporting beams. Structural issues of the roof structure were confirmed in the Concrete Testing Factual Report by the Norfolk Partnership Laboratory. Unless significant structural work is undertaken the safety of the tower is at risk and therefore the continuing safe use of the church.
The need to carry out critical structural work offers the opportunity to improve interior environment of the church and in particular the heating and lighting. The result is likely to be safe,warm and welcoming building,available to increased numbers of visitors as well as the resident community.

Vision – The project will secure the safe future of the unique Sacred Heart Church building ensuring its continued use by the community of both worshippers and visitors. It will preserve an iconic part of the Southwold townscape and ensure that the panorama seen from the tower continues to be available to visitors.
The essential improvements to the internal physical environment, specifically heating and lighting,will enable fuller use of the building all year round.
Innovative interpretation ofthe building and its context will illustrate the history and significance of Christianity in thearea and the meaning of Christianliturgy for visitors of all.

Works so far – In 2016 the Parish appointed Nicholas Warns Architect Ltd to undertake a detailed review of the building including consultations with structural engineers. This resultedin recommendations for urgent structural work and the development of aproject plan. The First Phase, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, sought to stabilise the tower and prop its roof. Similar work was undertaken in the under-croftbeneath the sacristy. The extent of both the essential repair works was identified together with an affordable programme of improvements. A second Lottery grant together with smaller grants from Historic England and the Southwold Trust enabled the SecondPhase to begin on 7 May 2019

Next steps: The its roof. Similar work was undertaken in the under-croftbeneath the sacristy. The extent of both the essential repair works was identified together with an affordable programme of improvements. A second Lottery grant together with smaller grants from Historic England and the Southwold Trust enabled the SecondPhase to begin on 7 May 2019Next steps: The programme of major works will run from May 2019 to early in 2020. The initial phase of work will concentrate on the Nave and include the improvements to heating, lighting and access including some limited re-ordering to return the church more nearly to its original form. Work on the Tower will start in July 2019 and include work on the great East Window. The Tower work will include the installation of a viewing platform at the top of the tower and the installation of an interpretative art work around the internal face of the parapeprogramme of major works will run from May 2019 to early in 2020. The initial phase of work will concentrate on the Nave and include the improvements to heating, lighting and access including some limited re-ordering to return the church more nearly to its original form. Work on the Tower will start in July 2019 and include work on the great East Window. The Tower work wil its roof. Similar work was undertaken in the under-croftbeneath the sacristy. The extent of both the essential repair works was identified together with an affordable programme of improvements. A second Lottery grant together with smaller grants from Historic England and the Southwold Trust enabled the SecondPhase to begin on 7 May 2019Next steps: The programme of major works will run from May 2019 to early in 2020. The initial phase of work will concentrate on the Nave and include the improvements to heating, lighting and access including some limited re-ordering to return the church more nearly to its original form. Work on the Tower will start in July 2019 and include work on the great East Window. The Tower work will include the installation of a viewing platform at the top of the tower and the installation of an interpretative art work around the internal face of the parapet.

LATEST NEWS

The Tower scaffolding is now in place and work on the interior is moving on rapidly.

The pulpit has been removed and a time capsule was discovered beneath it. We have yet to discover it contents!

The pulpit has been removed and a time capsule was discovered beneath it. We have yet to discover it contents!

The Sacred Heart Church is set in limited grounds on the edge of Southwold Common on prominent rising ground. Its tower of over 100 feet is visible from miles around particular from the South and forms an important landmark in the Southwold townscape. The tower is accessible and offers a unique panorama of the town, Sole Bay and the estuary of the River Blythe towards Halesworth. The church is orientated North/South and is built in the late Gothic style reflecting the final flowering of English medieval architecture of the Tudor period. It was designed in 1912 by Fr Benedict Williamson who was serving as Diocesan Architect to the Diocese of Northampton as well as being a Parish Priest at the Church of the Sacred Heart Chobham. It was built between 1914 and 1916 by local builders’ H A King of Beccles.

The Church, set in its prominent position, represents not only a fine example of post-reformation Catholic architecture and one of the few examples of the Architect’s work outside London and in the late Gothic style but also illustrates the turning point for the re-acceptance of Catholicism in England. At the beginning of the 21st Century the Catholic community of the Sacred Heart is closely linked to their sisters and brothers of all denominations in Southwold.

The design of the church echoes the late Gothic style of Solesmes Abbey which the Architect visited in 1912.

Whilst Williamson’s more usual style was based upon the Romanesque it is likely that in this case, he sought to reflect both the architecture of the Parish Church of St Edmund and perhaps also illustrate a continuity through the style’s association with the Tudor period.

The design is simple and, in some way, austere, Gothic shorn of its decoration, but nonetheless its presence is striking, and the interior creates a simple devotional space without intrusive distraction.

Little has changed either internally or externally since he Church was built. Wrought iron sanctuary and baptistery gates have been removed and in 1923 the Sacred Heart side altar was dedicated as the War Memorial altar.

 

The Church and its connected Presbytery are constructed of brick with stone facing. Internally the walls are plastered and painted. The construction techniques included the use of concrete reinforced with steel mesh as well as steel beams. Given the date of its construction at the height of WWI the quality of these materials may be questionable which may have contributed to the current structural issues.

The Church and attached presbytery together is regarded as one of the finest examples of post-reformation Catholic architecture in East Anglia and externally they are ‘unimproved’ since completion in 1916. Internally the Church is relatively plain, and its most notable features are the picture of the Holy Family with the Child Baptist, Tobias and the Angel after Bonifacio Veronese, which hangs above the High Altar and the large (Liturgical) North window of cathedral glass which fills the sanctuary with natural light since it faces geographic East. Included in the wall at the Liturgical West end of the church is a medieval stoop which is reputed to have been recovered from the sea off Dunwich.

The interior in 1923
The interior today

FR BENEDICT WILLIAMSON

Fr Benedict Williamson (1868–1948) was born William Edward Williamson in Hackney on June 6 1868 to a stern Scottish Presbyterian father and non-conformist mother, he studied law for a time and then trained as an architect in the office of Newman & Jacques, architects and surveyors in Stratford.  In his teens he developed a strong social conscience and a deep interest in politics but in his early 20s he resolved that ‘his politics should be those of the Gospel’.

He was received into the Catholic Church in 1896 at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street, Mayfair, and took the name Benedict Williamson.

For the first ten years of his working life he practiced as an architect in partnership with John Henry Foss at Williamson & Foss and it was during this time it is believed that he designed the figures for the Reredos for St Edmunds Parish Church, Southwold.  He designed more than 22 churches over a period of 35 or so years, many in and around London and mostly in the Romanesque style. The Late Gothic concept of the Sacred Heart Church Southwold is unusual though not unique. In 1903, he designed a development of St Michael’s Abbey in Farnborough in the style of Solesmes Abbey in France whose exiled monks had founded Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight; but the First World War prevented its construction.

In 1906, he designed the Church of St Boniface in Tooting for the Archdiocese of Southwark. The original inspiration for the church came from Tre Fontane Abbey in Rome. The foundation stone was laid on 17 November 1906 and the church, still unfinished, was opened for worship on 18 April 1907. St Boniface was the last church he designed before entering the Beda College in Rome to study for the priesthood. He was ordained in 1909 in the Archdiocese of Southwark but continued his architectural work whilst serving as a Parish Priest at Earlsfield and then Cobham. 

In 1911 he, designed St Ignatius Church Stamford Hill, London, for the Jesuits and in 1912, St. Casimir’s Lithuanian Church in Bethnal Green. In the same year he was appointed Architect for the Diocese of Northampton, as well as Parish Priest at the Sacred Heart Cobham and it was in his role as Diocesan Architect that he designed our church in Southwold. Whether there is any connection between the dedication of our Church and that of Fr Benedict Parish at the time is a matter for conjecture.

In 1917 Fr Benedict became an Army Chaplain and served on the Western Front with distinction with the 47th and 49th Divisions. Known by the nickname ‘Happy Days’ on account of his unquenchable optimism. He was regarded by his comrades as ‘the most zealous of priests, the most human of men’ and was always found in the most forward positions ‘inspiring the living and comforting with his faith the parting moments of many a dying soldier. He was gassed a number of times and his health subsequently suffered. 

After the First World War he returned to both parish and architectural duties. In 1922, he designed Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Fulham, London and, inspired by the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb that year, incorporated Egyptian patterns into the interior design of the church. Subsequently in 1927, in collaboration with his original partner John Foss, he added Egyptian designs to the completion of St Boniface’s Church in Tooting.

Fr Benedict designed a number of churches outside London including St Thomas of Canterbury and the English Martyrs, Royston in Hertfordshire and, in 1912, Our Lady Star of the Sea in Portslade, which had some similarity to our own church in Southwold but was sadly demolished in 1992.

In addition to his prolific architectural output and his work as a Parish Priest, Fr Benedict published at least 26 books covering: Architecture, including ‘How to Build a Church – What to Do and What to Avoid’, A Birds Eye View of Rome; Theology, including a considerable number of devotional works on St Therese of Lisieux; History and Biography, including The Bridgettine Order and The Story of Pope Pius XI as well as works on Supernatural Mysticism and the Virtues of Love. 

He was a friend and supporter of St Elizebeth Hesselblad who re-founded the Bridgettine Order and he worked to revive the Bridgettine order of monks. He was also Editor of the now defunct Catholic Review and it has been suggested that he was one of the inspirations for G K Chesterton’s famous fictional Priest detective, Fr Brown. He died in Rome in 1948 at the age of 80.