Parish history:

The Roman Catholic Church in St Ives, Cambridgeshire

The Catholic Church has had a very long and close connection with St. Ives. In the year 986AD, the Saxon Lord of the Manor of Slepe gave his manor to Ramsey Abbey, and the Abbot remained the Lord of the Manor for more than five hundred years. He established a Priory here in 1017, and this is described in the official town handbook as the most important building in mediaeval St Ives and the foundation of the town's fortunes.

The Prior was the Abbot's representative and supervised the market and the building of bridges and the reconstruction of the parish church of All Saints. The Pope of those days, Pope Urban the 11, wrote a letter to the Prior confirming the establishment of the Priory. There was nothing very exceptional in this.

Benedictine monasteries were very widespread in mediaeval times: Canterbury, York, Ely, and Peterborough as well as Ramsey, to mention but a few in England, had their counterparts in all the West European countries, where it is estimated they totalled 40,000 monasteries. Each day the bells would ring out the seven hours of prayer: Matins, Lauds, Prime, ….Vespers, and the monks would leave their work at once and assemble in the church in order to chant the praises of God. It was this regular daily worship which gradually led to the conversion and civilisation of Europe after all the violence and lawlessness of the Dark Ages, when the barbarians overran the Roman Empire.

The Rule of St Benedict combined the Christian Way of life with the ancient Roman ideal of law and order. One can imagine how the Priory bells rang out over St Ives and the fenlands day after day for more than half a millennium. Quite suddenly, in the middle of the 16th century, the monasteries were dissolved, the bells fell silent, and the Catholic Church disappeared. As Cardinal Newman wrote: “The presence of Catholicism was at length simply removed - its grace disowned - its power despised - its name, except as a matter of history, at length almost unknown.” So fierce was the persecution in Cambridge and the Fen towns that Catholicism was indeed, for a time, almost extinguished.  

In the late 19th century, however, drovers coming regularly to the cattle markets in St Ives from Ireland and Lancashire requested Sunday Mass, and gradually, as in other parts of the country, a reawakening of the faith began to make itself felt. By 1899 there were enough of the faithful to require a place to meet for Mass. In that year, a civil engineer and businessman named George Craig Saunders Pauling purchased a plot of land at number 2 East Street, St Ives, on which stood a small wooden building. This served as a chapel for the small congregation. Two years later he again came forward as a benefactor to purchase a larger and more permanent building.

The Church Building

The church of St Andrew, built to Pugin’s design in 1843 on a site in Union Road, Cambridge, had become redundant due to the great increase in the number of Catholics in the area. This warranted a much larger building, and the Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs had been opened.

George Pauling's gift of £1000 purchased the redundant church, paid for its dismantling, for its transporting by barge, and for the rebuilding of the church in Needingworth Road, St Ives. Due to the skills and civil engineering experience of George Pauling, the whole process of dismantling and reassembling was completed in less than five months.

Sight architectural changes were made, but the church is certainly still recognisable as being of Pugin’s design. The materials cost £111 and the contract for removal amounted to £765. This work was carried out by Messrs Thackray & Co. The architects were Messrs John Morley from Cambridge and EW Robb from St. Ives and their fees came to £60. The church was opened by Bishop Riddell of Northampton on 9th July 1902 and rededicated to the Sacred Heart. In his speech at the luncheon after the opening ceremony, Fr John Arendzen, the first Parish Priest, proposed a toast to the Mission in St Ives, hoping it would continue as it had begun. Three years previously there had been no thought of a Catholic Mission in the town but now the parish appeared to have around 56 Catholics.

There appears be some dispute about whether Pugin actually liked the church of St Andrew in Cambridge. Very little has been written about it in his own work, and the volume of his diary for 1843, the year in which it was built, has frustratingly disappeared. One newspaper report of the time calls it “Pugin's Little Gem”, whereas another reports that Pugin used to say that he wished the earth would open and swallow that building because it was his mortal sin in architecture! However, what is clear is that Pugin had often to suffer the frustration of his precious designs being compromised or curtailed due to lack of funds on the part of the sponsor, so this is what may have happened with St. Andrew's.

An examination of the Pugin illustrations for St Andrew's reveals that the interior of the present church is essentially the same as the original with two noticeable changes: the porch was rebuilt on the same side as the sacristy instead of the opposite wall, and the font is now by the sacristy door instead of at the back by the porch. In fact, when the church was rebuilt in St Ives, the font was placed just inside the door, but it was moved to the front in 1978. An unusual feature that is not immediately obvious is the church's orientation. The sanctuary wall in a church would normally be facing east, but due, perhaps, to some eccentricity of the builders, it was rebuilt with this wall facing north west. One wonders what Pugin, with his insistence on liturgical correctness, would have said about that.

The wooden beamed ceiling was rebuilt to the original design, but the steeply pitched roof had a clerestory added to give more light. An additional window was also added to the upper part of the back wall under the bellcote. The rood screen which had separated the nave from the altar in the original church does not appear to have been transferred.

The High Altar is the original one designed by Pugin. It is carved of Caen stone in three sections. The centre quatrefoil shows the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei) carrying a banner of Victory. It is surrounded by the symbols of the four evangelists, from the top clockwise: the winged man (St Matthew), the eagle (St John), the winged ox (St Luke), and the winged lion (St Mark). The quatrefoils on the lefy and right bear figures of winged angels. The surface of the stone was originally lime-washed, but it was subsequently subjected to multiple coats of paint. Not until 2002 was it restored (with some difficulty) to its original state.

Tthe left of the altar set in the sanctuary is the foundation stone with the inscription:


The last phrase means “May the English return to the Faith”. Above the stone is a small cupboard which is used to contain the holy oil for the anointing of the sick. The foundation stone was laid on Sunday 16th March 1902 at a ceremony performed by Fr John Peter Arendzen, the church's first parish priest.

The stained glass lancet windows above the high altar are those originally from the church of St Andrew, and the glass was made to Pugin's design by William Wailes of Newcastle. The centre window features Our Lady with the Child Jesus; to the left is St Andrew carrying the saltire cross of his martyrdom, and above and below him are the symbols of St Matthew and St Mark respectively; to the right is St Felix, patron of the Diocese of East Anglia, with the symbols of the other two evangelists, St John and St Luke, above and below. Above these is a small trefoil window showing a descending dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit.

Several other original stained glass windows appear to have been brought from Cambridge. A description written in 1851 lists a mortuary window depicting “the angel guardian holding an olive branch and pointing to a crown above” and a votive window showing the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Nativity, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Our Lord.

The Lady Altar is in carved oak with the inscription:


(Purest Mother, Pray for us)

The Font is an original Pugin design of Caen stone bearing carved quatrefoils.

The church is constructed of red brick with window casements of stone. From the out side, one can see clearly the size of the sacristy, which has two floors and a loft. The first floor was used as accommodation for the priest before the presbytery was constructed.

In 1960, a tester in carved wood was added above the altar, with wrought iron rails placed around the altar. However, in the seventies, the tester and rails were removed again and the altar was brought to the front of the sanctuary to accommodate the liturgical changes fostered by Vatican II.

In May 1978, an extension was built to the church by Allens of Brampton to accommodate the growing number of parishioners for Mass and to provide an area for social events.

Largely due to the expansion of Cambridge as a centre for technology and light industry, the population of the St Ives area has continued to grow rapidly over the last quarter century. Many new housing developments have sprung up and many individual houses have been built in the numerous villages which form part of the parish, as well as in St Ives itself. The parish has attracted at least its share of the newcomers.

It became apparent in September 1997 that a Church Hall was needed to accommodate the social and educational functions that were becoming an increasingly important part of parish life.

Planning permission for the new building was unfortunately not granted until October 1999. The construction was undertaken by Bernard Ward Ltd of Peterborough at a cost of £215,000 including fees. The work began in August 2001 and the new hall was completed in January 2002. It was officially opened on February 12th, 2002, when Mrs Hannah Davies cut the ribbon, Fr Paul Maddison gave a short address and Fr Ray Kerby blessed the building. The hall is now in full use for meetings, social functions, youth activities and educational classes for both adults and children.

Parish Priests and Deacons

Parish Priests

Fr John Arendzen 1900 - 1903

Fr Constantine Ketterer 1903 - 1909

Fr James Purcell 1909 - 1942

Fr Ethelbert Payne 1942 - 1950

Fr Stephen Doupe 1950 - 1970

Fr Bernard Nesden 1970 - 1977

Fr John Drury 1977 - 1981

Fr Raymond Kerby 1981 - 2001

Fr Paul Maddison 2001 - 2010

Fr Edward Trędota MS 2010 - 2015

Fr Karol Porczak MS 2015 - 2019

Fr Thomas J Walton 2019 -

Assistant Priests

Fr Marek Pabis MS 2010 - 2014


John Charles Gardner 1982 - 1988

Terence McCarthy 1991 - 1997

Martin Franks 2001 - 2006

In 1906 a young man, who had apparently become unhinged, caused major destruction to the interior of the newly built church by laying about it with a sledgehammer. The newspapers gave detailed accounts of the damage (a report was even carried in The Tablet) and one of these lists “one or two valuable stained glass windows” amongst the casualties; this would account for the absence of these two original windows from the present church. At the front of the two side aisles two other votive windows, which appear to be more recent than the 1851 dating of the original building, are of St Alphonsus on the west wall and St George on the east. However, the St George window has been restored after being severely damaged by a burglar in 2000.

In 1979 two further stained glass windows were installed. The one above the Lady Altar was donated in memory of Mary Agnes Norman, a parishioner. The second window is above the Baptismal Font and depicts the symbols of Baptism.

Two further stained glass windows were purchased and installed in the side aisles towards the rear of the main part of the church during the Centenary celebrations in 2002. The first Centenary Window depicts the removal of the church building from Cambridge and its reconstruction in St. Ives. The other window depicts St. Felix, St. Etheldreda, and St. Edmund, three saints with important East Anglian connections.

Another two stained glass windows were subsequently installed at either side of the main door of the extension, replacing plain glass windows which had formerly been part of the original church. The St Mungo window is in memory of Gerry Barker, a parishioner who was born in Glasgow. Gerry was the parish treasurer for 18 years until the time of his death in 1997. The Queen Esther window is in memory of Esther Cherry, who left a substantial legacy to the parish.