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Church of St Mary in the Castle, Hastings

Description: Church of St Mary in the Castle

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 19 January 1951
English Heritage Building ID: 294035

OS Grid Reference: TQ8201309415
OS Grid Coordinates: 582013, 109415
Latitude/Longitude: 50.8556, 0.5846

Location: Pelham Crescent, Hastings, East Sussex TN34 1PD

Locality: Hastings
Local Authority: Hastings Borough Council
County: East Sussex
Country: England
Postcode: TN34 1PD

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Listing Text

Amended 25-NOV-2010

Former parish church. St Mary in the Castle, 1825-8 forms the centrepiece of Pelham Crescent which was designed by Joseph Kay (1775-1847) for Thomas Pelham, 2nd Earl of Chichester between 1823 and 1828. The church was subject of an Act Parliament which received royal assent on 2 May 1825, and was consecrated on 28 January 1828. The roof substantially rebuilt 1829; the church reworked in the later C19, probably after 1884 when the parishioners took responsibility; it was declared redundant in 1970 and refurbished in the early 1990s.

Stone and brick, cement-rendered, and lined as ashlar, stone dressings.

The church sits in a commanding position overlooking the sea, forming the centrepiece of Pelham Crescent, which is raised above Pelham Arcade and reached by a ramp at the western end of the composition. It is set on a shallow plinth of three stone steps and over a crypt which extends southwards to the rear of Pelham Arcade. The façade is laid out as a double-depth tetrastyle Ionic portico, flanked by single entrance bays, the double depth formed by rear columns set in antis; The church is semicircular on plan, the upper level projecting over the rock face at the rear so that it is constructed of two concentric stone walls, an inner one at lower level, and an outer wall at gallery level, built into the rock. The interior of the church is laid out with a horseshoe gallery to the north overlooking a shallow rectangular three-bay sanctuary which is flanked by single bays which break forward to enclose lobbies which give access to the portico and gallery. Stairs, either side of the church, descend to a crypt, T-shaped on plan, which protrudes into the rear of the Arcade.

The double-depth tetrastyle Ionic portico, achieved by rear columns set in antis, comprises columns set on tall bases, under a pediment, with a clock. It is flanked by single entrance bays which have paired external doors, each of three raised and fielded panels, in a moulded architrave beneath a simple moulded cornice. The church is also reached by entrances in the returns at the rear of the portico. The church is lit by tall round-headed windows, which are set above a rusticated basement under the portico, and recessed between pilasters in the flanking bays; the gallery is also lit by shallow segmental headed windows. Windows have small rectangular panes and a pronounced inner frame. The simply treated attic storey disguises the belfry and to some extent the roof, more in the manner of an extended blocking course than a true attic storey. The church is enclosed by a low wrought iron screen and gates with star-shaped panels and spear head finials.

The interior of the church is laid out with a horseshoe gallery to the north overlooking a shallow rectangular three-bay sanctuary which is flanked by single bays which break forward to enclose lobbies which give access to the portico and gallery. Each lobby has a pair of doors beneath a recessed round-headed alcove which is now blind, but from late C19 photographs appears to have been open. Smaller single doors to each side give onto stone stairs with iron balusters and a moulded mahogany rail with a curtail supported on a slender columnar newel; the outer wall of the church is cut away in a moulded hemisphere to accommodate the curtail. The lobby floor is stone-flagged. The gallery is supported on piers with corbels in the form of angels, while the gallery roof is visually supported on Corinthian columns, now marbled. The main ceiling is a complex structure, in the form of a coved horseshoe rather than a conventional dome. The ceiling is panelled and separated by heavy moulded ribs and brackets which support a rich entablature from which ribs again rise to form the framework of a partly glazed lantern. The pronounced anthemion cornice echoes the detail of the columns, while horseshoes, extant in the 1890s, are repeated in the mouldings of the frieze. The sanctuary has a separate coved panelled ceiling, while the gallery roof also has shallow moulded panels. The church has encaustic tile flooring. In the 1920s the room to the east of the main church was adapted as a baptistery, complete with a stone-lined immersion font, while the spring was converted to a grotto to commemorate the centenary of the building.

Most of the timber and plasterwork, which were suffering from rot, were removed during the 1990s refurbishment, with the exception of the panelled box pews in the upper gallery which appear to survive in their original configuration. The rear wall of the gallery is now exposed coursed stone. The sanctuary, which was restored in 1893, has a rich gilded marble reredos of round-arched and shaped panels inscribed with texts. Above it, the central window has later C19 stained glass.

Internal iron and steel stairs, original on the east and replaced to the west, descend on each side of the church to the crypt which is T-shaped on plan, and formed of dressed stone walls and brick groin-vaulted passage, similar to the arcade, with vaults to each side. Vaults to the west retain tiers of stone and lead-fronted boxes with inscribed panels. The crypt has been opened up and connected to café area by breaking through the rear of the arcade.

The Church of St Mary in the Castle forms the centrepiece of Pelham Crescent which was designed by Joseph Kay (1775-1847) for Thomas Pelham, 2nd Earl of Chichester between 1823 and 1828. Hastings was on the rise as a fashionable resort, aspiring to equal Brighton and Margate, in 1811 having been praised for its situation; for the scenery, the climate and particularly for the sea bathing which 'can be accomplished without the slightest risk or inconvenience'.

Thomas Pelham employed Kay, who had worked on his house at Stanmer Park, to come up with a scheme for land at the foot of the cliff below the castle. It was a difficult albeit picturesque site but importantly, close to the Parade, the raised walkway which had been extended to Pelham Place as part of the fashionable circuit.

Kay had received a classical training under SP Cockerell, travelling abroad from 1802-5, reaching Rome in 1804. His urban schemes included the laying out of Mecklenburg Square, Camden, and the Thornhill Estate, Islington. In public office he was briefly architect to the Post Office and as Surveyor for Greenwich Hospital he worked extensively in Greenwich, laying out Nelson Street and the new market. In Hastings he also worked on Hastings Lodge for MP Frederick North and at Minnis above the Old Town.

William Herbert's plan, and a drawing by WG Moss both of 1823 depict Pelham Place, set against the outline of the Bazaar, or Pelham Arcade as it rapidly became known, with the site of Pelham Crescent and the church behind it. The bazaar, the first part of the scheme to be built, was an unusual concept since it was semi-subterranean and formed the platform on which the carriage drive to the Crescent was built. It opened on 18 August 1825, the same day as the Theatre in the Great Bourne. Meanwhile the Crescent was being developed; a drawing by Kay dated 17 June 1826 shows the Arcade and Crescent with a central gap where the church and Nos 7 and 8, (the houses to each side of it), were to be built. The church was subject of an Act Parliament which received royal assent on 2 May 1825, to build a proprietary, in other words, privately built, chapel in which parishioners were given the opportunity to worship. The church was consecrated on 28 January 1828. The ensemble was completed by Breeds Place, a terrace of eight houses to the west of the Crescent, designed to balance Pelham Place, but since demolished.

The scheme provided all that the visitor could wish for. Within walking distance of the town centre, it included accommodation with unsurpassed sea views, set round a picturesque chapel. Close by was an enclosed arcade, which advertised 28 shops 'for the sale of all fashionable merchandise' on the line of John Nash's Royal Opera Arcade (1816-18) and Samuel Ware's Burlington Arcade (1818-19) in London. To the east of the Arcade, and maps suggest at the rear of Pelham Place, were the New Pelham Baths, described by RL Jones in 1827 in The Latest Edition of the Hastings Guide. He praised the spacious stone entrance hall, two octagonal saloons decorated with 'beautiful Chinese scenery' and its bathing facilities. Apart from the profile of the roof, the Baths do not survive.

Moss's drawing shows a church with a hexastyle portico flanked by towers while Thomas DW Dearn's contemporary print shows a façade which also differs from the finished church. The composition as a whole refers to antiquarian precedent in the tiered arcades of shops cut into the rock in Trajan's market in Rome, and in the Temple of Fortune at Palestrina, near Rome, where the temple is linked to a forum by a series of ramps and terraces In common with contemporary exponents of the Greek Revival, the form and detail of the building itself follow Greek examples in the Ionic portico and debased Corinthian used on the interior and in the treatment of the attic storey. The setting of a church or public building as the centrepiece of a crescent in its grandest form looks to St Peter's Square in Rome and is echoed in San Francesca di Paola in Naples (1817-31) and appears in planned schemes in later C18 and early C19 Britain. For example in Bath, Buxton, Edinburgh and Glasgow. C18 circular Anglican churches were not common, and develop from James Gibbs' un-built design for St Martin-in-the Fields, while Nonconformist chapels were more commonly laid out on an octagonal plan and with an extensive gallery.

The church is ingeniously built against the cliff, and by 1829 structural problems with the roof required substantial rebuilding, while further work is suggested in the date 1841, inscribed in the plaster. A series of watercolours by WH Brooke painted in 1846 record the church and its fittings in detail while more recently a survey by NADFAS Church Recording Group (National Association of Decorative and Fine Art Societies) completed in October 1982 recorded the fabric and contents shortly before the church underwent major refurbishment. The church appears to have been reworked in the later C19, probably after 1884 when the parishioners took responsibility for the church, and when pews, probably the reredos and flooring were installed. The church was first designated in 1951. It was declared redundant in 1970 and leased to The Assembly of God until 1978 before being sold by the Church Commissioners in 1982. It was refurbished in the early 1990s and is now managed as a conference centre, concert hall and public rooms.

Photographs taken at the end of the C19 also show pine pews in the lower level of the church, a double-decker pulpit and panelling to each side of the sanctuary, and a small marble bowl font on a bulbous stem. Photographs held in the NMR, and the NADFAS survey record the fittings and monuments in the church prior to the refurbishment.

Brodie, A, Winter, G, England's Seaside Resorts (2007)
Dobson, Rev CC,The Story of St Mary in the Castle Parish, Hastings (c1931)
Martin, D and B, with Morrice, R, An Interpretative Survey of Pelham Arcade and its Setting, Hastings, Sussex (1998)
Morrice, R, Palestrina in Hastings, The Georgian Group Journal, Vol XI (2001), 93-116

St Mary-in-the-Castle Church Hastings, 1825- 1978, Hastings and Rother NADFAS Church Recording Group (October 1982)

The former Church of St Mary in the Castle, Hastings, 1825-8 by Joseph Kay for Thomas Pelham, and forming the centrepiece of Pelham Crescent is designated Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: church, semicircular on plan, with a double-depth Ionic portico and set over a crypt, forming the centrepiece of Pelham Crescent and Arcade; an unprecedented exercise in town planning of an elevated crescent with a central church, set over an arcade of shops and overlooking the sea; derived from classical and medieval Italian precedents which Kay would have seen in Italy
* Rarity: semicircular plan, with horseshoe gallery, unusual for an Anglican church;
* Historical Interest: built as part of the scheme designed by Kay for Sir Thomas Pelham in response to the rise of Hastings as a seaside resort, competing with Brighton and Margate; contemporary views and accounts of the arcade and its setting in Hastings.

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.