St Leonards-on-Sea - St Thomas of Canterbury & English Martyrs

The Presbytery, 31 Magdalen Road, St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex TN37 6ET

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Other churches by  C A Buckler are listed and St Thomas of Canterbury is a good urban church, austere on the outside and richly decorated on the inside.  Whilst such decorative painted schemes were once fairly common, survival is rare.  

The original church of St Michael & All Angels, begun by A W N Pugin in 1848, stands within the Holy Child Jesus Convent site further down on the other side of Magdalen Road.  A dispute between the convent and the parish over ownership led the parish to move up the hill to a less desirable site as it is over the railway tunnel.  On this site a church was built in 1866, burned down in 1887, and was replaced by the present church of 1889 by C A Buckler.  The builder was Edmund Boniface.  Charles Alban Buckler (1824-1905) was the son of the antiquarian writer and church restorer John Chessell Buckler (1793-1894).  Like his father he was a keen student of medieval art and architecture, building many churches in the Gothic manner.  His obituary in Building News states “His first and last love in architecture was for the Early English style, as his numerous works testify, notably at Arundel Castle and the Dominican church at Haverstock Hill.”  He converted to the Catholic faith in 1844, and became one of the most distinguished of the early to mid Victorian Roman Catholic architects.  He is buried in the churchyard at Sutton Park.  In the Arundel & Brighton Diocese he also designed St Thomas of Assissi, Midhurst (1869), St Peter’s Shoreham (1875), St Edward Sutton Park (1876) and St Thomas of Canterbury at St Leonards on Sea (1889).  Those at Midhurst and Shoreham are no longer in use by the Diocese.  Buckler worked on the substantial rebuilding of Arundel Castle for the Duke of Norfolk, between 1890 and 1903.     The foundation stone is dated July 21st 1888 and the church was opened on July 6th 1889.  Consecration did not take place until 1907.   A somewhat austere exterior, four-square, rock faced ironstone with Bath stone dressings and tall lancet windows, but an unexpected, richly painted and decorated interior.  Broad nave with timber quadripartite rib vault on shafts and short tunnel vaulted side chapels giving the effect of a nave arcade.  Short polygonal chancel.  The walls are painted throughout, with biblical scenes and decorative schemes.  The work was executed between 1908 and 1911 by Nathaniel Westlake.  Externally on the wall above the sanctuary arch is a blocked trefoil window, confirming that the painting here was done later.  The work may mostly be stencilled, but such a complete scheme is quite rare.  Due to the persistent problem with water penetration there have been repainting schemes in the 1950s and 1980s.  I have not looked into the degree to which this work was a matter of touching up or complete repainting.  Stained glass in most windows, some looks the work of Clayton & Bell and some that of C E Kempe.  

Diocese: Arundel and Brighton

Architect: C A Buckler

Original Date: 1889

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed