Building » St Leonards-on-Sea – St Thomas of Canterbury and English Martyrs

St Leonards-on-Sea – St Thomas of Canterbury and English Martyrs

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

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 and 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. The foundation stone is dated 21 July 1888 and the church was opened on 6 July 1889. Consecration did not take place until 1907.

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 Catholic architects. He is buried in the churchyard at Sutton Park. In the Arundel and Brighton Diocese he also designed St Thomas of Assisi, Midhurst (1869), St Peter’s Shoreham (1875) and 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. Buckler worked on the substantial rebuilding of Arundel Castle for the Duke of Norfolk, between 1890 and 1903.


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.

Heritage Details

Architect: C. A. Buckler

Original Date: 1889

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed