When changes to the appearance and layout of Hunstanton’s Roman Catholic Church were first brought to my attention, I must confess to being somewhat alarmed.
It brought back memories of 1958 when similar concerns had been expressed by my own father after he was shown plans for the red brick extension, which appeared to be totally out of character with the original carrstone church and priest’s house, erected in 1904.
It was in the original church, in June 1953 that I was crozier bearer for the Bishop of Northampton, Leo Parker, when he married hero of the Floods, Reis Lee Leming to Mary Joan Ramsay. My diary records this event, and also mentions my attendance at the reception, held in the famous ‘art deco’ Kit Kat building. There, I mistook champagne cocktails for lemonade and knocked back five in quick succession. Needless to say, I went home to bed with a sore head instead of going back to my place of work at James Lambert & Sons, Grocers and Wine Merchants, in Westgate.
Five years latermy diary entry for October 7 1958 records the fact that I was given leave from the RAF to serve at the solemn high mass and blessing of the red-brick extension by Bishop Leo. Someone even took a picture of me standing at the entrance of the new extension; a cassock covering the uniform that would come in useful later in the day, when it came to hitch-hiking my way back to RAF Wythall near Birmingham.
Bearing in mind the recent ‘Twinning’ of Hunstanton with Reis Leming’s Squadron, now known as the 67th Special Operations Squadron, it is worth mentioning the fact that the parish priest in Hunstanton from 1928 to 1954 was Father Donald Heptonstall, who had been born in the USA and had connections there. This might have enabled him to provide children attending catechism classes with American candy and comics. It is equally possible that these gifts could have come from the US base at Sculthorpe where Father Hep (as he was affectionately known) helped to find accommodation for USAF families within his parish.
The 1904 church had always proved inadequate for the influx of seasonal visitors, and in the summer months (weather permitting) mass would be celebrated outside, using an altar constructed by Polish soldiers stationed nearby in 1943. The year-round presence of the American families made an extension even more necessary, and there is no doubt that the generosity of these parishioners from the US enabled work to commence on the extension during the period that Father John Ketterer was the parish priest at Hunstanton.
More than half a century later it gives me enormous pleasure to say that the recent changes and refurbishment at the church have restored its character and appearance, so that it truly reflects its origins as a delightful example of Arts & Crafts design and architecture, comparable with George Skipper’s magnificent Town Hall, which was erected in 1896.