Park Lane, West Grinstead, West Sussex RH13 8LT
Antiquary - Wikimedia Commons
A late Victorian church executed to a high standard from designs by John A. Crawley and mostly completed by F. A. Walters (the tower was completed in the 1960s as a memorial to the Catholic writer Hilaire Belloc, who is buried here). The interior impresses with its complete stone vaulting. The priest’s house is of great historical interest, having seen continuity of Catholic worship throughout penal times.
Catholic worship continued at West Grinstead after the Reformation, kept alive by the Caryll family of West Grinstead Park. The priests’ house contains a chapel in an upper room believed to have been used throughout the period when Catholicism was outlawed. The priest’s house was endowed as a presbytery in 1671. As a shrine in honour of Our Lady, West Grinstead was established before the Reformation. This explains why the present church is of such size and quality in a rural location.
A Frenchman, Fr Jean-Marie Denis, was appointed in 1863 (he died in 1900) and the Bishop of Southwark asked him to erect ‘a miniature French cathedral’. What was built is not quite that but is nonetheless ambitious for a small rural parish and shrine. Tall nave, with aisles, and sanctuary, and southwest tower. A south transept was never built. All in flint with ashlar dressings and in the Gothic style of around 1300. Only the tower looks more ‘free’ with its three-light bell-openings and the outline of its top and the small fleche.
Inside the entire church is stone rib-vaulted and of unexpected quality. Oversized heraldic shields, carved in stone and painted, are at the springing point of the nave arcades, bearing the arms of the benefactors of the parish and shrine. The foundation stone was laid on 29 May 1875 and the church was opened on 27 June 1876. This comprised the nave and aisles only and was designed by John Crawley (cf Sacred Heart Hove). The aisles were to be raised later.
The building was in the Early Decorated style, and the nave was stone vaulted. Of the original plan transepts, nuns’ choir, tower and spire had not been realised. The aisles were raised and the sanctuary, chapels to either side of the sanctuary and a bell turret were added in 1896 by F. A, Walters. The church was reopened on 14 July 1896. It is not clear when the tower was begun but the upper parts were built in 1964, to designs by Messrs Riley & Glanfield. It looks rather 1914 than 1964. Riley & Glanfield (now John Glanfield & Partners) specialise in church work and their alterations are often very discreet. They also added the short spire. The completion of the tower was in memory of Hilaire Belloc, who died in 1953 and is buried here.
Update: the church was listed Grade II in 2007, following Taking Stock. List description at: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1391890
The presbytery is listed Grade II*. Description at: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1026840
Amended by AHP 14.02.2021
Architect: J. A. Crawley; F. A. Walters
Original Date: 1876
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II