In his continuing series Ion Castro takes a look at how the disappearance of churches changed many street scenes.
Hastings 120 years ago had a population that was slowly rising from 60,264 in 1901 to 62,036 ten years later and around 90,000 today. Christianity played a very important part in the lives of a large proportion of that population.
This meant that churches featured heavily in everyday life and mainstream Christian churches tended to dominate the street scene in their area making one road easily distinguishable from the next.
As tastes changed religion and churches became less important to the extent that churches built to accommodate a congregation of possibly a thousand were hosting Sunday services where only a couple of dozen parishioners were attending and the considerable cost of running the building simply couldn’t be sustained by the dwindling congregations.
The churches were deconsecrated and sold off followed, unfortunately, by demolition and consequent loss of visual amenity to the street scene. Nowadays some former churches survive with their original purpose transformed and the structure becoming residential housing or commercial institutions such as auction rooms but the streetscape is maintained.
The ancient parish church of St. Helen, Ore had, after hundreds of years, become dark and damp and, in 1869, was decided to replace it with a new parish church on a fresh site adjoining the main road about a quarter of a mile distant, much of the old church was pulled down and the materials used on the new church.
There is evidence that the old church had existed since at least 1150 and the north wall of the nave appears to be early Norman date. The new St Helens Church, replacing the old Ore Church, held its first service in 1877 and, minus its spire is still there today. The ruins of the old church are open to the public.
A church had always formed part of Burton’s original designs for St Leonards and he had settled on a site at the top of West Hill. His friends however objected to the climb and so a spot was chosen midway between two blocks of houses on the Marina, but standing apart from them and off the immediate front line. The cliff had to be excavated to provide space.
The necessary Act of Parliament to build a private chapel was obtained early in 1831 and as there was a royal visitor staying in St.Leonards at the time, the Princess Sophia Matilda of Gloucester,daughter of the Duke of Gloucester and niece of George III, she
was prevailed upon to lay the foundation stone.
The building was completed in the following year and was formally consecrated and dedicated by the Bishop of Durham in 1834. The church’s end came 110 years later, on July 29th 1944 it when a flying bomb that landed on the steps demolishing the church and the houses at each end of the terrace. The nave and vestry of the replacement church were re-dedicated in 1956. The tower, with its an illuminated cross that can be seen for miles out at sea, was rededicated in 1961.
This isn’t a comprehensive list of local churches no longer enhancing the street scene, ecclesiastical buildings have disappeared from almost every district of the town.
All illustrations throughout this series are from Ion Castro’s own collection and he can make available copies of many of the historic images used in this series. There’s more local history on Ion’s website, www.historichastings.co.uk
This very busy postcard by local photographic firm Judges shows a view from the early 1920’s and provides an insight into an era now long gone. The scene is dominated by two landmarks, the late lamented ‘Memorial’ which had provided a town-centre focus since 1863 until it was needlessly destroyed in 1973 after a small fire and, to the left, a short distance up Cambridge Road on the corner of Cornwallis Gardens was the Central Wesleyan Church opened in 1876.
After just over a century it was demolished in 1980 and replaced by flats. Further left is the ‘Memorial Art Gallery, it still exists but the ornate turret has gone.
The Tram in the foreground will travel up Queens Road because the tramway didn’t run through to the Old Town. Trams running on fixed rails were a feature of Hastings from 1905 to 1929 when they were replaced with trolleybuses that were ‘trackless’ drawing their current from two overhead wires. The last trolleybus ran in 1959. Notice the umbrella in the centre, advertising the Hippodrome, now the De Luxe Leisure Centre.
St Helens Ore 1.
A lithograph from Rowe, “Drawing Master, No 6 Castle St.” and dating from the 1820’s.
St Helens Ore 2.
This new and old postcard, posted in 1910 is interesting because it is over a hundred years old making the ‘Ore Church, 100 years ago’ actually 200 years ago.
Mount Pleasant 1.
In this image from 1905 Tram no 2 descends Mount Pleasant Road and will turn right (our left) into Elphinstone Road to descend via Blacklands and avoid the steep Elphinstone road incline to the park gates, it must be a trial run because no-one is wearing a uniform. Mount Pleasant Congregational Church, on the corner of Mount Pleasant Road and Hughenden Place can be seen in the background, it lasted from 1879 to 1972 when it was demolished and a much smaller church incorporated in the block of flats that replaced it. On the left are the bay windows of The Langham Hotel.
Mount Pleasant 2.
A view down a much leafier Mount Pleasant Road about a century ago when all the houses still had their balconies and the magnificent steeple of Mount Pleasant Congregational Church still formed an important landmark
St Paul’s Church
The foundation stone of St Pauls Church, Church Road, was laid in 1866 and it opened two years later; it was to serve its congregation for a hundred years until demolished and replaced by an uninspiring block of flats. The imposing square ‘Paxton Tower’ dominated the scene being visible for miles around and the vicarage, a large detached building with its own separate coach house, occupied a huge site on the corner of Blomfield Road
St Paul’s Church Interior.
Shows the ornate interior, and there are rumours that much of the ornamental ironwork and marble pillars had originally been part of the Great Exhibition (Hyde Park) in 1851
Old St Leonards Church 1.
This postcard from 1905 show the church nestling in its cut in the cliff. Cliff-falls have always presented a problem to the church
Old St Leonards Church 2.
An albumen print from around 1880 shows that the church didn’t have the open aspect of today’s church and was courtesy of the flying bomb that also wrecked the church whilst removing the buildings flanking the entrance.
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