Our Lady and St Walstan Church


In the years which followed the Reformation, the Catholic Faith was kept alive in secret by small groups of people who refused to convert to the Protestant Church of England. Often these were wealthy families and one such family was the Jerningham family of Costessey Hall who kept up the rites of the Catholic religion in their secret chapel hidden in the attic of their hall.In the early years of the nineteenth century, following the Catholic Relief Acts of 1778 and 1791, Catholics began to enjoy a certain toleration. The Jerningham family commissioned a new chapel to be built in the grounds of the Hall to be dedicated to St. Augustine of England. The chapel opened in 1809 and the need for the old Attic Chapel came to an end.

In 1820, a young priest of German extraction, the Reverend Frederick Husenbeth, became chaplain of the Hall. The congregation numbered about 200 but continued to grow such that by 1830 parish records had information on 514 Catholics in the district and people would come to Mass at Costessey from Wymondham, Dereham and villages up to 20 miles distant.

The now “Lady” of Costessey Hall, Lady Stafford expressed a wish to Husenbeth that he should undertake the building of a public chapel in the village of Costessey on land donated by Lord Stafford. The architect, John Buckler, who had been involved in the rebuild of Costessey Hall, was commissioned to build a Church using funds donated by public subscription. In 1834 the building began,but due to the lack of funds from time to time, the building was only completed in the Spring of 1841 with the adjoining presbytery finished at a similar time. The total cost of the church building and furnishing the church was £4,415 7s 10 1/4d

The Grade II listed St Walstan’s Church, is an unpretentious brick building in the Gothic revival early English style accommodating about 220. It has an attractive setting, standing as it does in a raised position among trees in the middle of the village. The local congregation was much involved in the building of the church with materials often locallysourced. The church was in constant use until Husenbeth’s death in 1872 whenit closed as there was no priest whom the Bishop could send to replace him. It remained so for 38 years with services returning to the Hall chapel. In 1910, at the same time as the new Church of St. John the Baptist was opened in Norwich, St Walstan’s reopened for full parochial use. The Church of Our Lady and St Walstan has been in constant use ever since.


Source: St Walstan’s Costessey W.T.F Jolly