Memories of a grand old lady

St Mary's Church, St James's Street, Brighton | From a private collection
St Mary's Church, St James's Street, Brighton
From a private collection

I would just like to tell you about a grand old lady of Brighton who died recently on 22nd May [2003], just 3 months from her 100th birthday.

She wrote an article in a booklet about her life in George Street, Brighton. She was Mabel Beatrice Franchi, a well loved member of St. Mary’s Church in St. James’s Street, Brighton.

I attended her wonderful funeral on 3rd June [2003] and was horrified to hear that there may be plans to close down St. Mary’s Church and sell it to developers. I sincerely hope the rumour is not true.

My old home opposite the church is a disgrace now, dirty and unkempt. The shop front has been bricked up and two small windows inserted and the front door looks like it could do with a coat of paint. I remember how my Gran always had the outside painted every three years or so and the windows sparkled. The wrought iron balconies were bright with red geraniums. I was ashamed of the place now, but it is a sorry sign of the times some 40 years on after my family left.

Comments about this page

  • I used to be a choir boy at St. Mary’s with Rev. Bacon. If memory serves, it would have been the early 60s.

    By Rick Smalman (10/05/2004)
  • I and my brother were also choirboys at St Mary’s around about 1937/38.

    By Terry Shorter (04/08/2007)
  • Eileen Franchi has just told me about this website and the short article she wrote in 2003 on Mabel Franchi (mother to myself and John Franchi). Eileen (Pat) and I were married in St Mary’s in 1953 and she must have been one of only a few brides who could claim that she walked all the way to the church: willingly, as you will have noted that she lived just opposite! My mother had been going to St Mary’s for many years and, as she once wrote in a short article in the church magazine in 2001, she had seen five vicars ‘come and go’. Father Nigel Mason would have been the sixth had she herself survived until now. I was also pleased to see that Terry Shorter remembers the choir which I too joined in 1938. Were we there at the same time, Terry? Living in the West Midlands since 1958, I have on the whole lost touch with people from my schools and the choir in Brighton, although I frequently visited St Mary’s and stayed with my mother, especially in the latter years of her wonderful life.

    By Leslie Franchi (05/11/2007)
  • I used to go to St. Mary’s school in the 1960s and was a friend of Katherine Bacon who was the daughter of Rev Bacon, and I used to go to their house for tea. The thing I remember most about going to tea was sitting round a large table and drinking tea that was very different from the tea we had at our home (which was standard Brooke Bond). Perhaps it was Earl Grey or something like that but I know I didn’t like it that much but never said so!

    By Lynda Goulborn (07/07/2008)
  • I too went to St. Mary’s School and was in the church choir in the late 40s. One of my daughters, Dawn got married there and as far as I know still runs the Brownies in the church hall.

    By Harry Atkins (11/05/2009)
  • My mother was married at Saint Mary’s Church. Her maiden name was Jane Newman. She married my father whose name was Watkins. Both have now sadly passed away. Also my younger brother Gary was christened at the same church. It would be a great shame to see it pulled down, possibly to house the large amount of scroungers that now live in Brighton. Leave the church to people that have been loyal to Brighton and let things rest. I love my home town.

    By George / Duffy Watkins (08/11/2009)
  • Hi Leslie, did your brother John play the alto sax? If so, we used to play together in the early 1950s.

    By Barrie Searle (16/05/2011)
  • Hi Barry – John is my brother and indeed a professional sax (among other woodwind instruments). He lives in my mother’s old house in Brighton, though he and his wife are currently taking a rest abroad.

    By Leslie Franchi (22/06/2011)
  • Hi Leslie – nice to hear from you. John and I played together when we were both around 17 years old. John went into the Army (the Lancers?) and, I believe, became musician of the year at Kneller Hall. About the same time I joined the RAF. Your father owned a floor tile laying business. I believe I met your mother once or twice but my memory is very hazy. Please remember me to John, and see if he can recall those heady days. Best wishes Barrie.

    By Barrie Searle (28/06/2011)
  • There was a documentary some years ago about the church on TV. I seem to recall it was about the good done for the less fortunate. Incidentaly, in the early 60s there was a beer bottling factory near or behind the church. I lasted one morning. The smell for a 16 year old was too potent!

    By Jennifer Tonks (29/06/2011)
  • My brothers and I Peter Roy were all members of St Mary’s choir from, I think, the early ’40s until I, being the youngest, left in 1954. If I remember correctly Rev Kingston was vicar and Stanley Baker that great organist and choir master. I can remember Lesley Franchi who was in the men’s choir. We recorded Stainers Crucifixion early in the ’50s and I have been trying to get a recording if there is one. I think also there should be some photos of us mischievious choirboys entering into a church in London during the festival of Britain in 1951. We were an excellent choir. Also selected to sing in the opera Carmen at the Hippodrome in, I think, 1952, however unfortunately most of us boys being under 14 didn’t have the necessary health so we never made the big time. Regards to all past and present choir members

    By Colin Hillman (09/10/2011)
  • I tried the web link referred to in the text but got an AOL ‘website shut down’ type of message.
    [Editor: Thanks for this update, Rick. We have removed the reference.]

    By Rick Smallman (10/10/2011)
  • I used to live in Brighton and before we moved to Wiston Road, Whitehawk we lived in St Mary’s Place, I attended St Mary’s C of E school and my teacher was Mrs Bird. When, as a school we would come to the church (I loved Harvest) I used to swing on the bell. I came to Brighton a few weeks back to look up my old houses and was so upset and disappointed to see how St Mary’s Place has changed. I tried to get in to the church but that was locked. I will treasure my memories from when I was younger.

    By Debbie Joseph (03/05/2012)
  • I remember going to a hall at the very top of St Mary’s Place to have ballet and tap lessons. We all had to wear green skirts and yellow tops. I loved it but had to drop out when I outgrew my ballet shoes and couldn’t afford new ones.

    By Jan (03/05/2012)
  • I have a picture of my Nan and her 5 sisters, births 1909-1921. Picture taken outside the family home 8, Lavender Street. All the girls are wearing short sleeved dresses (looks like velvet type of material) with the youngest only in a lighter coloured one. Each dress is plain except for a design on the chest, could be a bare branched tree, with five branches. Looks like approx 1926. Anyone recognise the design? Maybe a Sunday school?

    By Kim Bryant (25/08/2013)
  • I loved St Mary’s Church, as did my Grandpa, Bill Williams who lived in the area (top of Lavender Street where it meets Hereford Street) from the 60s but was brought up in the St James’s Street area since his birth in 1921. At the end of his life he would play the organ in the Church for recreation only, and I remember the coolness of the Church when it was always open during the daytime in my childhood in the 70s. Such a peaceful environment from the business outside. I miss such simple, happy times (I live on Bali in Indonesia now).

    By Sarah-Jane Scrase (27/07/2014)
  • I lived in Hereford Street from about 1947 to 1953 and went to St Mary’s School. My memory of the Church is of Ascension Day when, after the service, we had the rest of the day off. I recall reading a lesson probably because I had a reasonably loud voice. Our Headteacher Mr Cooper made me practice in the Church.  My Mother could not believe it was me. I still read in Church to this day and I am pleased to see that this Church is still going with a much improved website. Very sad that the school has gone and also the church I attended regularly which was All Souls in Eastern Road.

    By Dennis Parrett (27/07/2014)

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