A brief history of St Bartholomew's

St Bartholomews Church, Brighton

One cannot fail to be impressed by the sheer size of this building, the only nineteenth century building remaining between London Road and the station. It is 52m (170ft) long, 18m (59ft) wide and 44m (144ft) to the top of the gilt cross making it the tallest parish church in the British Isles.

It was built by the Rev. Arthur Douglas Wagner, an extremely wealthy ‘Anglo- Catholic’ and curate of St Paul’s church in West Street. The foundation stone was laid on the 8th February 1872 and the first service was held on the 8th September 1874.

Designed by the architect Edmund Scott and built of brick, it overshadowed the surrounding small streets as Wagner planned it should. Today it remains high church and hosts classical music concerts.

Comments about this page

  • ‘Tallest parish church in the British Isles’? I’m afraid there are hundreds of parish churches taller than this… the tallest is St. Walburge’s Church in Preston, which is 310ft tall.

    By Jonathan Smith (05/04/2004)
  • I have been told that my grandfather, James Washington, was involved in the construction of St. Bartholomews and that he fell out of the big round window breaking both his legs. Can anyone shed any light on this?

    By Gilly Grimshaw (27/12/2004)
  • St Bartholomews is renowned for having the tallest parish church ROOF in the country. This is the feature it is famous for. The roof certainly is higher than any roof of a parish church in the country. The idea being that it could tower above the houses and be a sign to the poor that the church was available as the ‘Arc of Salvation’. The same pricipal was applied all over in Victorian England. One of the most famous examples was Mount St Mary’s Catholic Church, Leeds, built in a similar area. What it now symbolises lieing derelict is another matter. It is the spire of St Walburgh’s Catholic Church, Preston that makes it 310ft tall.

    By Matthew Wright (16/01/2005)
  • I attended St Bartholomew’s primary school from 1947 to 1952. It is now closed down. I recall dropping a gold ring into the grating in the centre aisle of the church. I wonder if it is still there?

    By Glenys Roberts (14/02/2006)
  • My wife’s parents were married in St Bartholomews in 1927. Her father, Harry Wilson, was in the choir up until they were married and they were both living in that parish. Her grandfather, William Wilson, was educated at the Barts school which we think was next door. He later became a Brighton policeman in 1901 and retired in 1926 but didn’t die untill 1968.

    By George Larbey (14/11/2006)
  • I was told as a child that St Bartholomew’s was built to the same measurements of Noah’s Ark as recorded in the old testament. Is there any truth to this or is it just another tale?

    Editor’s note: St Bartholomew’s is one of the tallest churches in Europe.  It is 170 feet long and 135 feet high.  As to its comparison with Noah’s Ark, I have no information on that – sorry.

    By Lorelei Blackburn (07/02/2007)
  • St. Bartholomew’s has a school attached to it. I attended there from c1942 to 1949. The school playground was overlooked by the houses of London Street, in one of which we resided. Our mother would often wave to us from the bedroom windows at playtime. When the new school was built, London Street disappeared. I was a Brownie Guider there for a number of years, and also worked in the school canteen.

    By Pat Brewerton (nee Gammon) (09/03/2007)
  • It has the tallest NAVE in England…

    By Lucinda Page (09/03/2007)
  • I worked on roof restoration in the early summer of 1967. It involved clearing large amounts of rubbish from bays in the tops of the walls. This included old style ginger beer bottles and the newspapers got older the further you went down. I carved the name “Lou” with a bolster in the top of one of the huge beams that support the roof. I loved the place and still do.

    By Lou Glandfield (09/04/2007)
  • On the last day of 1959, my grandparents took me by train to Brighton from Tunbridge Wells. In those days, there was a good view of St. Bartholomew’s from the viaduct that curved towards Falmer. On the way home, my grandmother criticized the severity and bulk, and wondered who would erect such a monstrosity. I agreed about the stark shape, but I was immediately fascinated by the enormous size, and the way it seemed to dominate the view over the housetops. In 1972, I returned to Brighton as a student, and was amazed to see how St. Bart’s still dominated the view. Visiting the church for the first time was a great thrill. I agree with the critic (Pevsner?) who says entering the church is an experience that brings you to your knees. In the 1970s, the music director was John Mingay, who played the organ brilliantly.

    By Doug MacKenzie (02/05/2007)
  • Lovely church this one. Unique I’d say. Do you know if it has its own web site?

    By Elizabeth Rimmington (18/07/2007)
  • I’m the organist mentioned by Doug MacKenzie above – thanks for those kind words Doug! It’s amazing what you can come across when you ‘Google’ your own name. For so many reasons my time at St Bart’s was very important to me, as a person, a musician and spiritually to name a few. When I left in 1978 I moved to Norway as organist and town musician in a place 150 miles north of Oslo called Ringebu. Three years was enough though, too darn cold in the winter!!
    On my return to England I became organist of Holy Spirit Church, Southsea where the Vicar was Fr David Dunn, formerly at St Martin’s, Lewes Road, Brighton. After that I spent 5 years in the choir at Wells Cathedral, Somerset and in May 2006 retired after 18 years as Master of the Music at St. Paul’s Church, Honiton, Devon. I still play the organ regularly, at home, at local churches that need a deputy and at the Crematorium in Exeter. I also do the occasional recital in London and in the South West. In spite of all my varied experiences I wish I had never left Brighton in general and St Bart’s in particular. The musical opportunities were great and I had hardly begun to get to grips with the potential the place offered. That’s life however, and I’m only too honoured to have been a small cog in the history of such a wonderful place – long may it last.

    By John Mingay (23/11/2007)
  • I was John Mingay’s assistant organist and pupil from 1976-78 and came back periodically when I was a student to play the organ for Andrew Teague, John’s successor. I have played all over the country since: but nothing can touch those two very special years in such an incredible place. I visited a few years ago, and little had changed except for the fact that the west door, always closed in my time, had been replaced by a glass one, offering a wonderful view from outside. The verger kindly allowed me five minutes on the organ – what memories it brought back. I think it’ll always be my spiritual home.

    By Lyndon Hills (02/02/2008)
  • I went to school at St Barts in the mid 60s. We had to go to the church every Friday. There was a passage from the school playground into the church. I used to spend hours dreaming up ways to avoid going to church as I hated the passage. Now I realise what a special school and church this was, especially around harvest festival and Christmas.

    By Elaine Davies (06/11/2008)
  • In 1983 I made a tour of Western Canada as double bass player with Wells Cathedral Choir and Music School Chamber Ensemble, and spent much of my time with John Mingay on that trip. This evening, 26 years later, I have finally met the man who loaned us a double bass for the concerts in Vancouver, and I recently spent time in Vancouver tracking down various hosts from that trip. Perhaps Mr Mingay remembers our sessions listening to Berwald symphonies during our time at Wells, England.

    By Allardyce Mallon (02/08/2009)
  • How amazing that you, Allardyce, should have found this site! Did you ‘google’ Wells? I still have the old cassette of Berwald and well remember that wonderful tour in Canada – walking on the frozen Lake Louise and much, much more. The time at Wells was very special. If you have never been to St. Barts in Brighton you must make the effort. I haven’t been back for some while but it always creates that frison of awe and wonder. I’m told that on one of the first TV outside broadcasts of a church service none other that the great John Betjeman said something along the lines of …”the mosaics around the High Altar are spectacularly Oriental in flavour, you expect the Celebrant and his assistants to arrive on camels to begin the action”! Go and see for yourself.

    By John Mingay (17/09/2009)
  • I would love to see St. Barts – at some point I will get to Brighton. Right now, I spend much of my time in Germany and Switzerland in the opera house system. Can’t post email addresses here, but there must be a way for you to find mine! Editor’s note: Due to the restrictions of the UK Data Protection Act e-mail addresses are hidden from public view – the exception is if an e-mail address appears within the body of the message, in which case it is seen as ‘permission to be made public’ and will be published. If you wish to be replied to off this page either your e-mail address, or your correspondents, needs to appear in the text.

    By Allardyce Mallon (14/04/2010)
  • Growing up in Brighton, I also was told by my Grandmother that St Bartholomew’s was built to the measurements of Noah’s Ark. Certainly that belief was common currency in the 40s and 50s, and I remember it being confirmed by one of the priests there. Any hope of someone getting out a (large!) tape measure and finding out if it’s true?

    By Sally Gardner (09/12/2010)
  • I used to go to St Bart’s school in the mid 60’s. I have so many good memories of this school even though I was only about 7yrs old at the time. It was church every Friday morning, I would love to hear from any one who was at this school. We used to do our school plays across the road in a hall. I remember doing the 12 princesses, and we also done the snow queen at the dome and I was a snowflake.

    By Sonia Godfrey (18/06/2011)
  • I too went to this school from 1961 – 1966 it was a great place. I remember the winding stairs & of course church every Friday. The school is still there but now in Ann Street not Providence Place & is still a very good school as my friend’s three children also attended the school.

    By Angie Darkin (nee Cole) (09/10/2011)
  • I also went to St Barts School and went to church on a Friday. Even after I left to go to Margaret Hardy School, I still went back in school time for lessons at St Barts. I loved the place.

    By Rosemarie Alsing (05/05/2012)
  • My brother Stephen and myself went to St Barts in the 60s, we loved the community. I remember the hall for plays, Monday club, Thursday club, Brownies, Miss Box who volunteered and put up with us all, and every Friday church. We both got married there. It was a great Victorian school with tiny staircases, no health and safety problems, no fields just high brick walls – but a happy school.

    By Theresa Puddephatt-Jones (26/09/2012)
  • I was at St Bart’s School in the ’60s too and I remember you and Stephen (I was Helen Friend then). My memory of the church service is that there would often be someone who fainted and had to be taken out! I don’t know if it was the incense, general stuffiness or an excuse to get outside. My niece and nephew went to the new school.

    By Helen Holmes (11/01/2013)
  • I went to St Barts in Providence Place. Mrs Charwood was my Teacher, a strict woman who was tall and wore glasses. I remember so well when the School was rebuilt in Ann Street, attending there and I watched as the old School was knocked down. I watched this happening from the new playground in Ann Street, sad to watch really. At the time, it must have been about 1973 onwards, St Bart’s was very good in gymnastics, music shows, swimming you name it. In my opinion one of the best schools of its time. I also remember the passage from the old school to the Church. I also remember Father James who used to be the Vicar and also Mr Lees who was one of the very best teachers, and also The Church was called Noah’s Ark.

    By Ann Dowsett (28/08/2013)
  • OI only found this site a couple of weeks ago when I was trying to find pictures of the street I grew up in in the 50s, I lived as a young lad of around 4/5 years old and found Boston Street -we lived at number 7, and also went to St Barts school before it was moved to Ann St. It’s now owned by the mobile tyre garage in Providence Place. Where the old school stood the mobile tyre garage owned the ground which is their compound and looking at St Barts wall if I am right you can still see the outline of the apex of the old school building. I have fond memories of my time at the school and try as much as I can I can’t remember any of the names of the other children who were in my class. If any one remembers me please add a message – it would be great to hear from you and also any one who lived in Boston Street.

    By Dave Guildford (24/03/2014)
  • I went to school here 1975 to 1983. I hated every moment there. I was only 4 years old at the time and I can still recall how the teacher in reception class made me drink the milk I hated and berated me for crying. It really did have a terrible effect on my childhood. Thankfully the following year a very kind Mrs Phelan took me under her wing, she was a kind and caring teacher and I began to settle there. I dreaded going to church on a Friday, it was cold and boring; not a good introduction to church. Sadly I cannot say anything positive, I’m 43 now and still have horrible memories of my time there.

    By Michelle Day (Hilton) (04/11/2014)
  • I went to St Barts in the early 1960s and loved it. Yes we went to church every Friday morning through the secret passage which I though was magic. Father Chamberlain and Father Scott took the church services. Miss Porter was headmistress at the time I was there and I also loved the small enclosed playground and the winding staircases up to the classrooms. It is such a shame the building is no longer there as I would love to go back and see if it really was as small as I remember. Mr Brown was my teacher in the last year and got me through my eleven plus in 1965 when I went on to attend Westlain Grammer School. I was the only girl to pass the eleven plus in my year and Jeffrey Tranmar was the only boy. I was friends with Denise Ridpath, Shadub Kouchekzada, Lynne (can’t remember her second name). I also remember Shadub was hit in the eye by a cricket ball when we were doing sports in the playground one day. Her eye closed right up and she had to go to hospital – a lot of excitement for us that day. Bless her – she recovered ok. Great memories. Just wish I had some photos of the inside of the school to look at.

    By Ann Noble (28/04/2015)
  • Sonia, I too remember the Twelve Princesses we did in the rooms across the road and also the Snow Queen at the Dome. My brother was one of the main parts in that and I was one of the villagers. 

    By Amanda Brewerton (29/01/2016)
  • I remember John Mingay in the late 1970s, both at Lancing College and at a memorable opening recital on the rebuilt organ of St Bartholemew’s given by the great Francis Jackson on 26th May 1977. John was assisting Francis at the console in a superb and taxing programme. Francis, one of the truly great organists of my experience, caused the audience considerable alarm on two occasions. The first in Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue and the second in Cesar Franck’s Choral no.2 in B minor. On both occasions Francis reached a cadence with a dramatic pause, which became worryingly extended. I remember gripping the edge of my seat, wondering if he was having a heart attack. I spoke to John afterwards and he told me that Francis was shaking violently and asking “What the ………. is going on?” However, Francis not only carried on impressively in both pieces but gave the finest performance I have yet heard of Marccel Dupre’s fiendish Esquisses No.s 1 and 2, followed by an encore of Edward Bairstow’s Sonata (First movement). It’s wonderful to know that John is still playing.

    By Grant Vicat (02/08/2017)
  • I was baptised in this church in 1946, we lived with my Nan at the time in New England street opposite the Goods entrance where the bananas came in. Can remember my uncle saying about the big spiders that came with them. Have been back a few times but couldn’t get into the church, and the street were we lived has been flattened. It was a great community never locked your door, Nan would sit on a chair in the doorway. Good and sad memories.

    By Christine Godfrey. Nans name Measor. (02/08/2021)
  • On the 5th August 2021, Thursday I finally made the visit back to Saint Barts, joined in the service and took communion. So pleased to have achieved this finally after so long, made me very emotional. We also went to the cemetery cleaned the grave of my grandparents. Friend John Measor and Charlotte Susan Measor. A very successful and productive two days.

    By Christine Godfrey (06/08/2021)
  • Such a shame that the wonderful choral tradition of St. Bart’s Liturgy has been discontinued. It seems the new Parish Priest may have destroyed a 150 year old tradition of excellence. so sad as a lot of people gather a lot of Spirituality from Sung Mass.

    By peter harley (27/11/2021)

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