Building » East Grinstead – Our Lady and St Peter

East Grinstead – Our Lady and St Peter

17 St James Road, East Grinstead, West Sussex RH19 1DL

An individual, if a little austere, neo-Romanesque church by Frederick Walters, composed to give a sense of mass and scale beyond its relatively modest dimensions.  

Frederick Arthur Walters (1850-1932) was a pupil of George Goldie and, like Goldie, developed an extensive practice designing Catholic churches. There are eight designed by Walters in the Arundel & Brighton Diocese alone, and others were he made enlargements. Walters’ best known work is the rebuilding of the abbey at Buckfast in Devon. He was equally at home in the gothic style as the Romanesque. At East Grinstead the Romanesque or Norman style was chosen, perhaps a client choice. The church was founded by Sir Edward C. Blunt of Crabbet Park, Worth. The foundation stone was laid in 1897 and the church opened in October 1898 and consecrated in 1899.


The exterior is of painted roughcast with thin stone dressings. It is sited hard up to the road with a gabled west bay and then a massive tower the full width of the church. Single envelope beyond with an apsed east end.  Inside the church is more Early Christian or Byzantine in feel. Barrel vaulted (in timber), plastered and with shallow lean-to aisles opening into short transepts with eastern chapels. Western gallery on a three-bay arcade. The interior is dominated by a baldacchino that fills the sanctuary.   Decoration is otherwise restrained, apart from the transept chapels. The open-back pine pews and the corona light fittings look original.

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


Roman Catholic church of 1897-8 by F A Walters, a strong and original design in a neo-Norman style with a good and little-altered interior.

Reasons for designation: The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady and St Peter, East Grinstead, of 1897-8 by F A Waters, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: the church is a strong and original design, boldly massed externally in a neo-Norman style. The interior is also well handled and has been little altered, and the principal fittings, all original designs by Walters, are of high quality; * Architect: the church was designed by F A Walters (1850-1932), a nationally significant architect particularly known for the large number of Roman Catholic churches to his name, many of them listed. He was also a successful and prolific designer of church furnishings (as was the case here); * Historic interest: a Catholic mission was established in East Grinstead in 1879, largely at the instigation of Sir Edward and Lady Blount of Imberhorne Manor, and the Blounts were the principal benefactors of the new church.

History: The East Grinstead Catholic mission was established in 1879 under the title of SS Edward and Louis and was served at first from nearby Crawley. The primary instigators were Sir Edward and Lady Blount and Mass was said in a chapel attached to their private residence, Imberhorne Manor. Sir Edward Blount (1809-1905) came from a Shropshire Catholic family and was the son of the MP for Steyning in Sussex. In 1831 he founded the bank of Blount Père et Fils in Paris (merged with the Société Générale de Paris in 1870) and went on to finance the development of much of the northern French railway system. He was on the board of several railway companies (both French and English) and several banks. Blount lived in Paris for most of his life and was knighted for his services to the promotion of Anglo-French commerce, but spent his retirement years in Sussex. In the late 1890s, Sir Edward and his wife Gertrude financed the building of a new church in East Grinstead, designed by the established Catholic architect F A Walters. The foundation stone was laid on 15 June 1897 and the church was opened on 2 October 1898. Lady Blount died in 1897 while the church was under construction. The sanctuary has been reordered and the font moved from its original position but otherwise there have been few alterations to the church since it was built.


Roman Catholic church of 1897-8, a French Romanesque design by F A Walters. The church is orientated north-east/south west, but in this report conventional liturgical orientation will be assumed, i.e. as if the altar was to the east. MATERIALS: the church is built of brick but the exterior is faced entirely with painted roughcast, with dressings and window surrounds of Bath stone. The roofs are covered in Westmoreland slate with red ridge tiles. PLAN: the plan comprises a nave under a steeply pitched roof, with a massive tower astride the roof and set back one bay from the gabled west front, a narrow north aisle and north and south transept chapels with eastern apses containing altars. The nave roof is continued over a chancel with an apsidal-ended sanctuary. On the north side of the sanctuary is a lower range containing the sacristies.

EXTERIOR: the west end has a tall gabled front with clasping buttresses. The centre is set slightly forward, with a round-headed central entrance doorway with small roundels above and twin round-headed windows with a cross in relief between, all set under a semi-circular relieving arch. The square tower is the same width as the nave and of four stages. The lowest stage aligns with the north aisle, the second stage with the nave clerestory, the third and fourth stages rise above the eaves of the nave roof. The three lower stages have clasping buttresses and there is a small stair tower on the south face of the main tower which rises to the top of the third stage; the top stage has nook shafts at each corner. The second stage has three round-headed windows on the north and south sides which align with the clerestory; the third stage has small round-headed windows on each face; the fourth or top stage has a single large round-headed window on each face, flanked by narrow round-headed blind openings with blind roundels over. Plain parapet with simple corbel table and pyramidal slated roof. The narrow north aisle extends the full length of the nave and is carried across the base of the tower. East of the tower, the nave clerestory has two bays of plain round-headed windows before the transepts which have double transverse pitched slated roofs, with plain round-headed windows in the end gables. The sanctuary has narrow round headed windows in the plain side walls and also in the eastern apse.

INTERIOR: the entrance door leads to a vestibule the full width of the church, formed from several smaller spaces, including a small baptistery on the north side. The font has been moved from its original position in the baptistery to the north transept chapel. Over the vestibule is a deep western gallery with a triple-arched front to the nave, with semi-circular stone arches on columns with scalloped capitals. The nave has a north arcade of three wide round arches cut through the plain walling with inner arches brought down onto column responds with scalloped cushion capitals. The eastern arch opens into the north transept. On the south side there are only two arches of similar pattern. There are seven clerestory windows on each side, set in deep reveals; the windows openings to the transepts are blind. The nave has a parquet floor and a timber barrel-vaulted ceiling with carved hammerbeams. The ceiling is divided into two unequal sections by a stone transverse arch which marks the east wall of the tower above. The transept chapels also have timber ceilings and arched openings on the east side to small apsidal spaces containing the altars. A tall round-headed arch with wall shafts leads to the chancel which is raised three steps above the nave. A similar arch marks the transition to the sanctuary. The chancel also has a timber vaulted ceiling, which is now painted.

FURNISHINGS: all the principal furnishings were designed by F A Walters but some have been moved from their original location. The sanctuary is dominated by a tall stone baldacchino of Early Christian character, with clustered columns and a gabled front. Walters’s original high altar has been brought forward and its place under the baldacchino taken by an octagonal stone stand for the tabernacle. The carved and painted stone side altars in the chapels of Our Lady and St Peter are still in situ, but the font has been moved from the former north west baptistery to the north east chapel and the original font replaced by a simple stone drum. The north east chapel also contains stained glass windows presented by the donors, dedicated to St Gertrude and St Edward, made by Hardman and installed in 1899. The open-back pine pews and handsome iron corona light fittings were introduced early in the C20.

Books and journals: Elleray, D R, Sussex Places of Worship: a Gazetteer of Buildings Erected Between c.1760 and c.1960, (2004); Gray, A S, Edwardian Architecture A Biographical Dictionary, (1985): Pevsner, N, Nairn, I, The Buildings of England: Sussex, (1965); Other: Antram, N and Sladen, S, Taking Stock: An Architectural and Historical Review of the Churches of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton, 2005; Dolman, Charles P, The Catholic History of East Grinstead, n.d.; RIBA Drawings Collection F A Walters Drawings, ref. PA1154/2 (1-34); The Building News, 25 June 1897, p.942 & 14 October 1898 p.533; The Architect 30 April 1897, p.280; The Builder, 24 July 1897, p.27 (illustration).

Heritage Details

Architect: F. A. Walters

Original Date: 1898

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II