Building » Brighton (Preston Park) – St Mary

Brighton (Preston Park) – St Mary

5 Surrenden Road, Preston Park, Brighton, East Sussex Bn1 6PA

The church is built of Kentish ragstone with Bath stone dressings and a roof covered in Cornish slate. The first Mass was celebrated on Easter Sunday 1912.  The church has nave, south aisle and a substantial north west tower.  The style is late Gothic or ‘Arts & Crafts gothic’.  The short polygonal sanctuary (in brick) was added in c1978.  The interior is lofty and light, with big three-light windows and cylindrical columns to the south arcade. There is little stained glass but a recent window by Cox & Barnard of Hove at the east end of the south aisle.

The Catholic church at Preston Park grew out of a community of French nuns, the Sisters of Charity & Christian Instruction of Nevers, escaping persecution in France, who settled in the parish of St Joseph’s in 1903 and moved to Withdean soon after.  A growing Catholic community in the area highlighted the need for a new church separate from St Joseph’s. Land was acquired in 1907 and Percy Lamb(1871-1947) drew up plans.  Lamb trained with Edward Goldie and started his own practice in 1907. He was a great admirer of J. F. Bentley and worked with him for some years.  Lamb was clerk of works at Westminster Cathedral from 1895-1907 (Bentley died in 1902). Catherine Broderick, a Catholic benefactor, provided funds for the building of the church and the foundation stone was laid on 9 August 1910.

Percy Lamb is a low-key figure in architecture probably partly because he spent the first twelve years of his professional career as clerk of works on Westminster Cathedral. He was 36 when he set up his own practice and he always worked on his own. Who’s Who in Architecture 1914 gives no detail other than his address, 13 John Street, Adelphi, London.  He designed a number of catholic churches and convents. St Mary’s is a well-crafted design. The body of the church is in a fairly conventional early fourteenth century gothic, of lofty proportions but the tower and west front are Perpendicular gothic with ‘arts & crafts’ idiosyncrasies.  Despite the falling ground the church has good townscape presence in Surrenden Road.

List description (the church was listed Grade II in 2015, following Taking Stock)

Roman Catholic church of 1907-12 by Percy Aiden Lamb. The late C20 presbytery and parish room are not included in the listing.

Reasons for designation: The Roman Catholic church of St Mary, Preston Park, Brighton, 1907-12 by Percy Aiden Lamb, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: St Mary’s is a handsome and well-detailed building of lofty proportions and high architectural quality both inside and out. The church makes a strong contribution to the townscape and its tall west tower is a landmark in the area; * Architect: the architect was Percy Aiden Lamb, who was closely associated with John Francis Bentley one of the most distinguished Catholic architects at the end of the C19; Lamb had worked for Bentley as Clerk of Works at Westminster Cathedral between 1895-1907; * Historic interest: the site for the church was given and the building paid for by Mrs Catherine Broderick, a significant figure in the history of Catholic buildings in Brighton, who funded several other churches in the district.

History: In 1904, the Bishop of Southwark allowed the Sisters of Charity from Nevers in France to establish a convent school in Withdean, with the proviso that they admitted the public to their chapel. Initially about 20 people attended Mass. Two years later in 1906, the Rev. Frederick Hopper was appointed chaplain. Almost at once, overcrowding in the convent chapel led Fr Hopper to contemplate the building of a new church. A site on the Stanford estate near Preston Park was donated and most of the funds for the building were provided by Mrs Catherine Broderick, who funded several other Catholic churches in the Brighton area. The architect chosen was Percy Lamb, who had worked for J F Bentley as Clerk of the Works at Westminster Cathedral from 1895 to 1907. The foundation stone was laid in August 1910.

It seems there may have been a disagreement between Fr Hopper and Mrs Broderick about the progress of the work; for whatever reason, building came to a halt in 1912 with the east end of the church and much of its carved decoration unfinished. There have been few alterations to the building since that date. Some of the more ornamental fittings, including the reredos to the high altar, were apparently removed in the early 1950s when the interior was also re-floored. A short polygonal sanctuary was added in 1978 to the designs of Patrick Foley, who also designed the presbytery attached to the (liturgical) north side of the church which was built at the same time. In 2007 the Cassidy Centre was added to the east end of the church undercroft. It was designed by Stephen Wright of the Morgan Carn partnership. The presbytery and parish centre are not part of the listing.


Roman Catholic church of 1907-12, designed by Percy Lamb in a free Arts and Crafts version of English Gothic. The shallow sanctuary was added in 1978. MATERIALS: the church stands on an undercroft of brown brick; the walls of the church above are faced with Kentish ragstone with dressings of Bath stone. The sanctuary is faced with red brick. The roofs are covered in Cornish Delabole slates. PLAN: the site slopes steeply away from the road, and Lamb raised his church over a substantial undercroft. The plan of the church consists of a nave with north-west tower, south-west porch, south aisle and a shallow apsidal sanctuary.

EXTERIOR: the west wall of the nave fronting the road has a large five-light traceried window in Perpendicular style with blind arcading and a central image niche at the base. On the south side is a single-storey porch (not in use) with a crow-stepped gable and a four-centred arched entrance beneath a carving of the crucifixion by Earp & Hobbs of London. The tall and handsome north-west tower is set back slightly and has a west doorway with elaborate carved decoration under a shallow gallery. The tower has set-back buttresses rising to the bell stage, with a stair turret at the south-west angle and a crenellated parapet. The bell stage has large rectangular openings with two tiers of four cusped lights on the west, north and south faces, and a narrower opening on the east face between closely-set buttresses. The south side of the church is six bays long, with stepped triple lancet windows to the undercroft and broad three-light pointed traceried windows to the tall aisle above. The bays are divided by full-height buttresses. There is no clerestory and the pitched nave and lean-to aisle roofs are continuous. The north side is aisleless but the fenestration is similar. The east elevation is clearly unfinished. The east end of the south aisle is of brick, with a single wide pointed window and toothing for future extension. At the east end of the north-east angle is a brick buttress terminating in a bellcote. Between them is a full-height polygonal sanctuary faced with red brick, which was added only in 1978. The sanctuary is windowless, apart from a single narrow lancet on each side.

INTERIOR: the interior is tall and light. The floor is of wood blocks, the walls are plastered, the windows are mostly clear glazed. The tower opens into the body of the church under a pointed arch at first floor level, which was perhaps intended to give access to a western gallery. The nave has a six-bay south arcade of moulded and chamfered pointed arches carried on tall cylindrical stone columns, keeled on the nave side, with simple moulded capitals. The nave has a boarded and panelled six-sided timber ceiling with moulded collars to the principal rafters. The feet of these rafters are brought down onto stone wall shafts resting on uncarved corbel blocks. Along the wall plate of the roof the words of the Magnificat are picked out in fretwork. The south aisle roof has decorative carving to the timber braces. The east window of the aisle has a moulded stone surround with blocking to the arch. The arch to the sanctuary is moulded but the responds are plainly chamfered.

FURNISHINGS: the massive onyx font at the west end of the south aisle was designed by Percy Lamb and made by J Whitehead and Sons out of a pair of columns originally intended for the baldacchino at Westminster Cathedral. At the east end of the south aisle is the former high altar, apparently introduced in 1918 from the Xaverian College, Queen’s Park, Brighton, Sussex. The church seating was originally chairs. The present simple oak benches in the nave were made by parishioners and were modelled on the early pews at Harbledown, Kent. The stained glass behind the font is by Caroline Benyon, 2007; the glass in the east window of the south aisle is by Cox and Barnard, 1979.

Sources: Antram, N, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Sussex East with Brighton and Hove, (2013); Elleray, D R, Sussex Places of Worship: a Gazetteer of Buildings Erected Between c.1760 and c.1960, (2004); Antram, N and Sladen, S, Taking Stock: An Architectural and Historical Review of the Churches of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton 2005; The Story of a Parish: St Mary’s Preston Park, Brighton, 1912-2012, 2012; The Story of a Parish: St Mary’s Preston Park, Brighton, 1977.

Heritage Details

Architect: Percy Lamb

Original Date: 1912

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II