Building » Crawley – St Francis and St Anthony

Crawley – St Francis and St Anthony

The Presbytery, 2 St Nicholas Avenue, Crawley, West Sussex RH10 1HR

A substantial work by Goodhart Rendel in his inimitable brick style.

Built in 1955-9, the church of St Francis is a substantial brick building, low and spreading and instantly recognisable as being by Goodhart Rendel. Brick of course, beautifully laid and with contrasting bands and distinctive detailing around window heads and tracery. Nave and aisles roofed as one both externally and internally. A low tower at the east end and then originally a short sanctuary. A major reordering was undertaken in 1988 by Goodman Kaye Partnership which radically altered the interior. The tower area was opened up and the east wall was removed and left open into an extended eastern section of the church.  This caused the destruction of the decorative ceiling painting east of the nave.

“In 1859 Italian Capuchin Franciscan friars were invited to the parish by the Hon. Mrs. Montgomery of the Elms, Horsham Road. At first mass was celebrated in the coach house there, converted as St. Philip’s chapel, Mrs. Montgomery standing near the altar to translate the sermons into English. In the following year a friary was founded by her cousin F. S. Blunt of Crabbet Park in Worth, on a 3-a. site north-east of the then railway station. The buildings were finished in 1861, and were of brick and stone in plain Gothic style; they consisted of four ranges round a quadrangle with the tall church, dedicated to St. Francis, at the north end. In 1863 £100 a year was received from F. S. Blunt and less regular sums from Mrs. Montgomery. The mission district, which included Horsham, then stretched between Rudgwick and Copthorne (in Worth) in the north and Nuthurst and Lindfield in the south. A guild of St. Anthony of Padua was founded c. 1895, and in 1910 had over 200,000 members throughout the world. Its chapel, in coloured marble, onyx, and alabaster, incorporated the altar and altarpiece from Mrs. Montgomery’s private chapel in Naples, which had previously formed part of an oratory in the church. The friars carried out much missionary work, both in the neighbourhood and elsewhere, for instance in the hop-picking area of Kent in 1910.

“The Victorian church was demolished in 1958, and a new building, dedicated to St. Francis and St. Anthony, was consecrated in the following year.  Designed by H. S. Goodhart-Rendel,  and like the previous church of Franciscan austerity, it is of brick, with patterned decoration, and is not oriented. Included from the previous church were fittings from the chapel of St. Anthony and, behind the high altar, the tomb of the founder F. S. Blunt (d. 1872), whose effigy in Franciscan habit was sculpted by his brother the poet W. S. Blunt.  The original burial ground also remained in 1985; besides the large gabled vault of the Blount family of East Grinstead, it contains the grave of Lord Alfred Douglas (d. 1945).

“The Capuchin Franciscans left Crawley in 1980-1, the parish being handed over to secular clergy and the friary buildings demolished.”

From: ‘Ifield: Roman Catholicism’, A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 6 Part 3: Bramber Rape (North-Eastern Part) including Crawley New Town (1987), pp. 70-1.

List description (the friary church was listed Grade II in 2007, following Taking Stock)


Church, 1955-59, Harry Stuart Goodhart-Rendel for a Capuchin Friary and now a Roman Catholic parish church. Some later alteration, most notably to the sanctuary in 1995. Red and grey bricks with pantile roof. Roughly cruciform plan with nave aisles, central tower, and (liturgically) south-eastern rooms; but not orientated.

EXTERIOR: the church is substantial, low and spreading, and characterised by its contrasting bands of fine brickwork, detailed window heads and simple geometric tracery, all hallmarks of Goodhart-Rendel’s style. The majority of the decorative diapering is concentrated on the west front, with its splayed recessed central bay containing a large five light window and the main entrance, this flanked by four attractive sculptures of saints associated with the Capuchin order. The sanctuary was extended and the (liturgically) south-eastern section of the building altered in the 1990s, but the work was done to match the original and so externally the church retains its coherence.

INTERIOR: the impact is created by the long nave with its stylish hexagonal patterned ceiling of painted pre-cast concrete and plain washed aisle arches. Other features of note include the Goodhart-Rendel-designed leaded lights, north-western baptistery, and the surviving joinery such as the vestibule screen, gallery, and pews. Also of interest is a more than life-sized alabaster effigy of Francis Scawen Blunt (d. 1872) carved by his brother Wilfred, a ‘hedonist, poet and breeder of Arab horses’ (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). There is a C19 marble-lined chapel of St Anthony of Padua in the south aisle; originally located in Mrs Alfred Montgomery’s Naples villa, the chapel was installed in the Victorian friary church in the 1860s, and reinstated in the new church in 1959. There have been alterations to the interior, most notably the removal of the arch between the nave and the crossing which necessitated the insertion of a concealed steel support that support the tower and allowed a glazed screen with concrete cross beam to be placed between the sanctuary and the crossing. This resulted in the loss of part of Goodhart-Rendel’s ceiling and his designed sanctuary altar, altar rails and flooring.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: large mid-late C19 churchyard with original walls containing a myriad number of gravemarkers and tombs, some of particular note including the vault of the Blount family, the grave of the notorious Victorian courtesan Catherine Walters, or Skittles (d. 1920), and those of Alfred Lord Douglas (d.1945), intimate friend and lover of Oscar Wilde, and his mother the Marchioness of Queensbury (d. 1937).

HISTORY: The Church of St Francis and St Anthony, now a parish church in the RC Diocese of Arundel and Brighton, was designed and built 1955-59 as the friary church of the Capuchin order which had resided in Crawley since the late 1850s. Invited to Britain from Italy by the Hon. Mrs Alfred Montgomery, the Capuchins’ first church and buildings, completed in 1861, were on land donated by her cousin Francis Scawen Blunt. By the 1950s, spurred by the development of Crawley New Town after World War II, the friary community had outgrown the church and a new building was commissioned from the noted church architect Harry Stuart Goodhart-Rendel. The agreed scheme was for a building orientated at right angles to the old church with the sanctuary built over its nave, hence incorporating older tombs into the new foundations which are now marked by plaques. The builders were James Longley and Co of Crawly and the building opened in November 1959. The building was altered in 1995.

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION DECISION The Friary Church, Crawley is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * it is of special architectural interest as an impressive work by the eminent architect H. S. Goodhart-Rendel who designed a number of churches four of which are already listed for their monumental scale, decorative austerity and fine detailing – features they posses in common with this Friary Church, Crawley; * while the building has experience some alterations at the east end, these are more than compensated for by the rest of the interior, in particular the nave with its surviving ceiling, pews, gallery and C19 Italian marble chapel, the wood vestibule fittings, leaded lights throughout the church, solid wood doors flanked by carved figures of saints at the west end, and the overall architectural quality of the exterior; * built in the centre of Crawley New Town in 1959, the church is of special historic interest as an important component of the dramatic expansion of the town in the mid-C20; this a significant development of post-war planning.

Heritage Details

Architect: H. S. Goodhart-Rendel

Original Date: 1959

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II