Churches of the area

By Steve Myall

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The picture shows the original, small version of St. Michael and All Angels’, the foundation stone for which was laid on 29th September 1861. Sir Roy Strong describes the church as a ‘Pre-Raphaelite jewel, one of England’s grandest Victorian churches’. The architect was G.F.Bodley (1827 – 1907) who designed the High Altar Frontal that is on permanent display in Chichester Cathedral.

The church was extended to its present size in 1893. This print was published by Rock & Co in July 1866 as a letter-heading, which would undoubtedly have been used by the priest-in-charge, the Rev. Charles Beanlands. By chance this print also gives us the only C19th engraved view of Victoria Road, showing the original shop that is now the barber’s on the corner of Powis Road. The tall house to the left of the church is the back of 8 Powis Road. The original building date of 1861/62 for the church pre-dates St. Michael’s Place by six years, although Montpelier Villas and Montpelier Street, leading up to Victoria Road from the south, were already well established. The cost of building the original church, £6,728, was met by two spinster sisters, Mary and Sarah Windle, and it is nice to imagine that the publisher put these two ladies in the small open carriage driving down Victoria Road, past their church.

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This is the engraving by Rock & Co of Christ Church, Montpelier Road, published June 1855. It had seating for over one thousand worshippers, was built for the modest cost of £4,600 and was consecrated by the Bishop of Chichester on 26th April 1838.  It was demolished in 1979 and a block of flats built on the site. The engraving illustrates the handsome terraces in that part of lower Montpelier Road.  Their design was based on the Wilds and Busby fronts that make up the northern corners of Brunswick Square - a design that was copied in various terraces in the Montpelier area, with the final examples, with one less floor, appearing in Powis Square in 1850.

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On Dyke Road, opposite St. Nicholas’ church, is the western cemetery to the church.  Above is the engraving that illustrates A.H.Wilds’ original design. This rare aquatint was published by W.H. Mason, of the King’s Road, c1840, after the drawing by the local artist George Earp jnr. The only familiar feature today is the Gothic wall and series of doors that house some of the early tombs. The castellated entrance, far right, is similar to that of Kensal Green Cemetery, and the pyramid on the left was a design by Thomas Willson of 1825, to solve burial problems experienced in central London at that time, but neither of these features was built for the Brighton church.

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Clifton Road Congregational Church, on the corner of Clifton Road and Dyke Road, was built by Thomas Simpson and registered for worship in 1870. In the decade before the church was pulled down the Children's Hospital always held their Christmas party in its basement. In The Argus of 4th February 2006 Adam Trimingham wrote 'A landmark in Brighton was the Dials Congregational Church on top of the hill in Dyke Road. It could be seen for miles with its 150ft tall tower, described by Ken Fines (2004) as “one of the finest landmarks on Brighton's skyline”. It was knocked down in 1972, and replaced by Homelees House'. The church has been described as one of the most important of Brighton’s late Victorian nonconformist churches, with its remarkable circular interior.

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To the right is the interior of All Saints’, Compton Avenue (previously part of Clifton Road) which was registered for public worship in 1853, having been built in 1852 and demolished in 1957. Writing in his 1862 ‘History of Brighthelmstone’ Erredge notes 'the spire remains as yet unfinished'. Erredge goes on to describe the church as “a fine specimen of the Early English style, built of flintstone and with a fine toned organ. It was built in 1852 by Mr. Cheesman, the architect being R.C. Carpenter - the Rev. Thos. Coombe MA of Trinity College, Cambridge, is the priest”. The Church Hall still stands behind the original site of the church, and its foundation stone reads ‘All Saints Church – Sunday School Room, Foundation stone laid 4th July 1900 by T.P.Baptie DL. JP.  Incumbant Rev. F.H.T. Curtis’.

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To the right is ‘St. Nicholas’ Church’ drawn by Robert Havell in 1825. T.W. Hemsley, a verger of St. Nicholas’ Church, wrote ‘A Short History of, and Guide Book to, St. Nicholas’ Church, Brighton’ in 1896. On the origins of the church he writes there is ‘every reason to suppose’ that an early 11th century church stood on the present site and that ‘evidence points to a larger, instead of a smaller structure than the present, and to a more elaborate building, and in the Norman style of architecture’. He re-tells the story that during the 1853 restoration, in taking down the cornerstones on the buttresses to the tower, ‘many of the stones were discovered to be carved with Norman ornaments which had been turned inward, and the carved parts – originally the exterior – buried in the mortar’. He also uses the evidence of the well-known picture map of the French attack on Brighthelmstone in 1545. The church is represented ‘as surrounded by soldiers with spears . . and persons . . in the attitude of prayer. The church is of a large size, with circular tower’ which is ‘pierced with a row of Norman windows, or portholes, and all the windows in the building are Norman’. Hemsley then questions Erredge’s (1862) thoughts that the picture is not a reliable representation of the church, and writes that ‘it is at least exceedingly likely to have been correct in its main features’ – in other words, the original building on this site was a Norman church.

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The only Catholic church in the area is St. Mary Magdalen in Upper North Street, built on the site of a timber merchant’s yard between 1861 and 1864 in a decorated Gothic style, with fine stained glass windows. The architect was Gilbert R. Blount (1819 – 1876). Blount received his early training as a civil engineer under Brunel, working as a superintendent with the Thames Tunnel works. He was later appointed as architect to the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Wiseman, and his most productive period coincided with a resurgence of Catholic church building in England, which took up much of his career. His preparatory drawings for St. Mary Magdalen’s altar and stained glass chancel window are now held in the architectural archives of the University of Pennsylvania. The timber merchant’s yard that gave way to St. Mary’s was probably that of Henry Tulett, a timber merchant and stonemason of 47 Upper North Street at that time.

Of the six churches in the area, two lasted a little over a century, Christ Church managed one hundred and forty-four years, and only St. Nicholas’,  St. Michael’s and St. Mary’s remain.

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Concerning the 1853 restoration of Brighton’s mother church, the above engraving by W.T. Quartermain shows just how extensive it was – the sea can be seen through what little remains. This print is titled ‘Brighton, St. Nicholas’ Church, During the Restoration, 1853’.  T.W. Hemsley wrote ‘The work started on June 3rd 1853 and ended on March 10th 1854. About fifty men were employed daily in the work, no accident happily occurring during its progress’.  The total cost was £5,769. 18s 7d. The architect, Richard Cromwell Carpenter, died soon after the restored church was opened. The tall block of stone-work on the right of the picture is the old tower.

This page was added on 16/04/2011.

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