The Victorian Restoration and the 20th Century

The outlook for West Blatchington improved significantly after the parish was annexed to that of St. Nicholas Church in Brighton which is the oldest surviving building in Brighton. This 

affiliation explains the presence of a number of graves with headstones in the churchyard close to the south side of the church which mark the burials of various one-time Vicars of Brighton 

during the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Four generations of the extremely wealthy Wagner family were clerics and between them built some 20 churches in Brighton of which St. Bartholomew’s, St. Paul’s in West St. and St. Peter’s in the centre of the town are just three examples.  Their aim was to provide free seating for poor people as opposed to accommodation reserved for the rich and to revive a more Anglo Catholic form of worship.

The Reverend H.M. Wagner was Vicar of Brighton and thus also Rector of West Blatchington from 1824 to 1870.  Not only were services held in one of the manor cottages during his incumbency, but he also planned to provide the villagers with a new church with a churchyard and a school.  The request for a suitable plot of land from the Marquess of Abergavenny failed as brothers M.H and G.W Hodson, who were his tenants at the time, were not willing to give up the two acres sought from their farm land as they were not in favour of a churchyard and as the 80 villagers apparently did not mind the walk to St. Helen’s Church in Hangleton.

No progress was made for 35 years until a later tenant, Harriot Hodson, died in 1888 leaving a legacy to the Diocese for the benefit of the parish which was subsequently applied to the restoration of the Norman church rather than to the execution of the previous and more ambitious plans.


On clearing debris from within the ruins in 1889, the architect discovered a grave within the chancel area, which had been filled in with fragments of carved stone from a round-headed Norman arch, which had probably marked the division between the nave and the chancel.  The unmarked coffin could not be identified and is still under the floor of the present chancel but may have contained the remains of a member of the Wayvill family who owned the manor around the 14th Century.  The stone fragments were incorporated in the rebuilding of the north wall of the nave. 

All the outer walls of the Norman church were restored to full height and the north and south walls were strengthened by the addition of stout buttresses.  A small bell turret was built at the west end of the church and a porch with outer wrought iron gates was added to keep the weather and sheep from the southwest door.  A vestry built on the south side of the chancel housed a solid fuel fired boiler in a small cellar beneath the floor.

A plain wooden screen was erected at the entrance to the chancel but this was removed in the 20th Century.  An oil lamp lit the nave and the hook from which it hung can still be seen in the wooden cross beam towards the back of the old church.

 

The chancel was rebuilt with a barrel vaulted boarded ceiling whereas that of the nave was pitched and noticeably higher.  A single sedilia for the priest and a small aumbry were recessed into the dividing wall between the chancel and the vestry.  By 1916 when an organ survey was undertaken a single manual pipe organ had been installed on the south side of the chancel where the present oak panel with a door into the vestry was later erected.


The lancet in the south wall was enlarged to accommodate a stained glass window designed by Charles Kempe who was a distinguished local artist and whose remains are buried in the churchyard of St Wulfran’s Church in Ovingdean. 


The subject of the window in the south wall is seen wearing a royal crown and is believed to represent the Duke of Bohemia who was martyred circa AD 930 for his mission against paganism.  He was later canonised and adopted as the Patron Saint of the Czech Republic.  The window was possibly the gift of the Reverend H.M. Wagner. 

The Norman square headed east window of the chancel was too badly decayed to be retained and was therefore replaced by a 3-light stained glass window designed by Burlison & Grylls of London.  The central panel depicts Christ as the Good Shepherd and the side panels illustrate the themes of ‘Launch out into the deep’ and ‘Feed my lambs’.

A small 3-light square headed plain window was incorporated in the restored gable of the west wall and the difference in appearance between the Norman and the Victorian flint work is clearly visible.


Stone plaques on the walls in the southwest corner of the nave record the death of Harriot Hodson on 21st June 1888 and her generous legacy for the restoration of the church.  Another is dedicated to John Hannah who was the Rector of West Blatchington from 1870 to 1888.  The third plaque, placed by John Julias Hannah who succeeded his father as Rector from 1888 to 1902, records the re-opening of the restored church by the Bishop of Chichester on St. Peter’s Day, 29th June 1891.

Although the light and spacious ambience of the new building contrasts with that of the “Old Church”, there is a link with Norman architecture in the use of the pointed arch style of the ceiling, window reveals and doorways, etc.  Another link is in the inclusion of knapped flints in the exterior facing of the walls.


The sanctuary floor was laid with Travertine, a naturally occurring limestone, which has been used as a building material since the 1st Century and of which the Colosseum in Rome was built. 

Far less solid, however, is the false ceiling of the church which is merely a thin shell of fibrous plaster formed in situ and suspended from the roof structure on countless steel wires.

Several artifacts were saved from the “Old Church” such as a plain triple window, which was transferred to the southwest corner of the new nave, and the stained glass window from the old chancel which was relocated in the choir gallery.  It depicts St. Patrick and St. Elizabeth and was given by the 13 children of the Henfry family in memory of their parents.  The old Victorian pipe organ was also transferred to the choir gallery but a new instrument built by Messrs Browne & Son of Canterbury in 1966 replaced it.

The small south vestry of the Victorian church was extremely cramped from the outset since almost half of it was taken up by part of the pipe organ and also steps leading down to the cellar which housed a solid fuel boiler.  Two further vestries of apsidal form were therefore built at the west end of the new nave.


The dual purpose Parish Hall had been used for worship since its completion in 1952 using an altar behind a folding partition at the back of the stage. When the new church was completed, this altar was enlarged and transferred to its present location in the new sanctuary.

Site work for the church extension commenced in the Spring of 1960.  The old chimney stack at the west end of the south vestry was eventually demolished; the solid fuel boiler not having been used since electric heating was installed during the 1940s.

The Bishop of Chichester, The Right Reverend Dr. Roger Wilson, laid the foundation stone on Sunday 8th May 1960 and he also consecrated the completed building on Wednesday 24th May 1961. In 1966 the old one manual organ which had been moved to the gallery of the new church when it was built was replaced by the present two manual organ.

In the history of St Peter’s West Blatchington there have been many named and unnamed people whose generosity, vision, faith, and hard work have contributed to making the church we know today. In 2008 St Peter’s became part of the Portslade and Western Hove Group Ministry comprising, Bishop Hannington, St Helen’s, St Nicolas Portslade, St Philip’s, St Leonard’s, Holy Cross and the Church of the Good Shepherd, Mile Oak, thus beginning a new phase in its history.

 

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