St Wilfrid's, Brighton (no longer exists)

Photo:Tin Church, St Wilfrid's, Brighton

Tin Church, St Wilfrid's, Brighton

From the private collection of Rita Denman

History c.1900-1980

by Rita Denman

At the beginning of the 20th century, the area which became the Parish of St Wilfrid had originally formed part of the territory of the Parish of Brighton. Between 1890 and 1900 almost all of the area between Elm Grove and Hartington Road was being built over.  This also included land to the north of Hartington Road, known as Scabe's Castle and a small farm called Baker's Farm. Before this development took place, the area had consisted of allotments, disused flint pits and waste land. Such was the district that the then Vicar of Brighton, The Rev J. J. Hannah, gave into the charge of the Rev C.H. Martin in the year 1900.

Finding a Parish meeting place
The first meetings of this new Parish were held in an upper room over a shop at the corner of Brading Road. It was soon found that a larger room was needed and obtained the use of St Luke's Parish room at the corner of Lynton Street. Again this became overcrowded and a house was rented at number 147 Elm Grove.

Building the 'Tin Church'
The need for a temporary mission church became more and more urgent. The priest in charge collected a great deal of money for the proposed new 'Tin Church'. A site was secured where the building of St Wilfrid now stands. For some years it had been an allotment and was known locally as 'the cabbage patch'.  The Tin Church was built during 1901 and it was first opened for worship on 25th August that year. Bishop Wilberforce performed the dedication ceremony in January 1902. The Church bell was formerly the Vicar of Brighton's stable bell.

The Church Choir and Sunday School
The first choir was a mixed one and they sat in the front row of chairs. Later a surplice choir was formed under Mr Kenneth Loader, a young Brighton Solicitor who was the right hand man of the Priest in Charge, acting as organist and choir master.
In 1902 the Church was enlarged by building a parish room under the extended sanctuary. By 1917 the Sunday School had grown to about 500 children. In 1917 the Rev B.H. Pemberton, from St Bartholomew's Brighton was appointed and it was during his many years at St Wilfrid's that the High Anglican teaching and mode of worship was introduced.

The new Parish of St Wilfrid's 1922
The people of St Wilfrid's were called together and asked to become responsible for their own finances. In 1922 the district was made into a Parish and Father Pemberton was the first Vicar.  When the Parish was formed the Ecclesiastical Commissioners suggested that it should take in some extra ground.  Consequently a number of streets between the south side of Elm Grove and the Queen's Park Council Estate were transferred from St Luke's Parish. This amounted to hundreds of houses and 2,000 more souls. To quote Father Pemberton's own words "St Wilfrid's had become a Parish - a unique one, one without a Church."

Building the Parish Hall and the gift of a Vicarage
A building fund was raised which after some years of toil provided almost all of the money required for the building of the Parish Hall. This was erected in Whippingham Road in 1927 and was regarded as one of the finest halls in Brighton and Hove. When some years later the new Church came to be built on the site of the Tin Church, the congregation were able to use the halls during the building.

As the result of the generous assistance of the Chichester Diocesan Fund a gift of a Vicarage, situated in Wellington Road was made to the Parish and was first occupied by Father Westall in February 1932.

Demolition of the 'Tin Church' 1932
On the first Sunday of Lent in 1932 the Bishop of the Diocese launched 'The Sussex Church Builders' where, by the united subscriptions of the people of the Diocese, churches were to be built where required. St Wilfrid's had been waiting for over 30 years for a permanent church and the building thereof was a first claim upon the fund. In May 1932 the demolition of the 'Tin Church' was commenced with ceremony and in the presence of a very large gathering. Although the Parishioners had looked forward for so long to a new church, those who had worshipped in it for so many years felt the passing of the 'Tin Church' very deeply.

Building St Wilfrid's Church
The building was designed by H.S. Goodhart-Rendell and built at a cost of £15,000. Goodhart-Rendell was an adventurous architect who set about creating a church using the most durable materials on a difficult site. The huge tower became a landmark raising a cross of Sussex tiles over Brighton and flooding the church with light. The Foundation Stone of the new church was laid on 3rd December 1932. Almost a year later on Saturday 25th November 1933 the new Church was consecrated by the Bishop of the Diocese in the presence of more than eight hundred people including over sixty visiting clergy. At long last St Wilfrid's had a permanent Church. Sir John Betjeman described it as about the best 1930s church there is. To reflect this architectural merit it was eventually listed Grade II.

Hartington Road Vicarage
The Wellington Road vicarage proved to be very unsuitable for the purpose and in fact was outside the Parish. Accordingly in 1947, 71 Hartington Road was acquired for use as a Vicarage.

The impact of World War II
During the war the Crypt was converted into a public air-raid shelter and an altar was installed. In 1940 Mr Hans Feibusch executed a mural decoration of the North Chapel. The work was a gift to St Wilfrid's made possible by the Bishop of the Diocese and attracted a very considerable amount of attention.

The young peoples' organisations always played a prominent role in the life of the Parish. However despite the long standing tradition of vigorous youth work and societies, the influx of evacuees at the outbreak of World War II, stretched the Parish to the limit. The inability to blackout the Church and the other changes in war-time lifestyle stunted the growth of the Parish. There were also problems to the fabric caused by nearby bombs. In 1956 a new liturgical and pastoral approach was introduced, welcomed by some and saddening others.

Closure of the Church 1980
It was not known at the time the Church was built in 1932, that the blue asbestos used in the ceiling would become a health hazard. Due to the many problems with the building, which arose in later years, it was decided that St Wilfrid's would be closed despite vigorous petitions from the Parish and beyond. A public enquiry was held over its future. The Church Commissioners dropped a plan to demolish it following the inspector's recommendation and it was converted into sheltered housing for the elderly.

The closing service of Thanksgiving was held in 1980.

Compiled from:
St Wilfrid's Church Brighton 1901 - 1951
The Order of the Closing Service 1900-1933-1980"
The Encyclopedia of Brighton by Tim Carder (1990)
This page was added on 22/03/2006.
Comments about this page

I have been researching the Hastings family history for many years. I recently discovered that Donald Pierre Hastings 1900-1938, was commissioned to sculpt 14 panels depicting the stations of the cross by architect Harry Stuart Goodhart-Rendel, for St Wilfrids Church. I am hoping to find out more about these panels. Are they still in situ in the church? If they were removed did anyone take interior photographs of the building prior to it's refurbishment into flats? Please could anyone help me. I would love to see the panels, or photographs of them and to find out much more about them. I will be in Brighton next week - or can visit in the future. Thank you.

By Glynis Hastings (27/07/2010)

A neighbour that has lived in Hartington Road for 50 years has told me that 107 was the old vicarage.

By David Wickham (14/11/2014)

I was baptised at St Wilfrid's in 1956 and attended until 1975. During that time the Stations were (as I remember) rather poor paintings. The vicarage was in Wellington Road (19, I think). 107 became a curate's house for St Martin's Lewes Road around 1974.

By Fr Alan Green (06/10/2015)