Building » Hastings – St Mary Star of the Sea

Hastings – St Mary Star of the Sea

High Street, Hastings, East Sussex TN34 3EY

A distinguished work by an architect of national renown. Basil Champneys had a large and varied practice and is best known for his collegiate work and for the John Rylands Library in Manchester. He was a friend of Coventry Patmore, who funded the construction in memory of his wife; this is Champneys’ only Catholic church commission.  

The foundation stone was laid in 1882 and the formal opening of the church was on 2 July 1883. The cost, excluding fittings, was £15,000. The church was built at the instigation of Coventry Patmore, the Victorian poet, who gave a donation of £5,000 in memory of his wife.


See also list description, below, which was greatly expanded in 2011, following Taking Stock.

Owing to the sloping site the church is built over a full crypt. Nave and chancel are in one and impressive owing to the combination of the 140ft length and the 37ft height to the top of the quadripartite stone rib vaulting.  The sense of height is also increased by the lack of an intermediate layer between nave arcade and the tall clerestory windows. The sanctuary is dominated by the richly carved reredos of Derbyshire alabaster, with a multitude of saints in tracery and under canopied niches. The reredos and altar cost £1,500 and was dedicated in 1891. Original canopied choir stalls and the former organ loft on the north side. The aisles are lined with side chapels, variously with carved stone and marble altars and Flemish style carved door surrounds.

List description 


Roman Catholic parish church, built 1882-3 for the Pallottine Order, at the instigation of the poet, writer and thinker, Coventry Patmore and designed by Basil Champneys (1842-1935). MATERIALS: faced in flint cobbles and pebbles, with freestone dressings. A shallow-pitched tiled roof is barely visible. PLAN: the church lies east-west; the west front opens directly onto the High Street while, because of the topography, the east end and south elevation rise sheer from the Bourne, the chancel set over a full lower storey or crypt. The church comprises a continuous nave and chancel, with north and south aisles, a north transept, presbytery and choir rooms and a polygonal east end. There is no tower, but a small fleche over the west end and a tall, narrow, circular stair turret, surmounted by a domed stone bell stage, set into the angle between the chancel and north transept. A vestry and sacristy project beyond the south aisle but are masked by neighbouring buildings. The crypt is laid out with a central hall with rooms leading off it.

EXTERIOR: the symmetrical west front is dominated by a large west window over a western entrance, which is framed by stepped, set-back, buttresses. The main front is flanked by low aisles and, to each side, a single arched entrance. The west window has a strong central mullion containing canopied niches for figures, with four narrow lights with cusped intersecting tracery to each side, and is set over a moulded and embattled band. The entrance has continuous and complex moulded arches and is flanked by narrow rectangular lights. Each buttress contains a canopied niche. Above the west end is a stone fleche surmounted by a cross. The nave and chancel are marked by stepped buttresses which have gabled caps which appear to rise very slightly above the eaves line. There are no aisle windows and the height of the building is emphasised by the blank wall and lack of articulation in the fabric between the clerestorey windows and lower, crypt windows. C15 Gothic in inspiration, large three-light clerestorey windows have cusped intersecting tracery. Crypt and choir room windows, which are domestic in manner, are mullion and transom windows with cusped lights and at lower level, have almost triangular heads.

INTERIOR: The nave and chancel, which are in nine bays, with no chancel arch, have a lofty rib-vaulted stone roof which carries the eye to the east end. Arcades have moulded arches and engaged shafts; a shaft on the internal face rises as a wall post from which the vaults spring. Attached to the westernmost piers are stone water stoups with porcelain bowls. Clerestorey windows in both the nave and chancel are set behind pierced balustrades; those in the nave of sinuous design and in the chancel of scrolled and encricled quatrefoils. The westernmost bay of the nave has been sub-divided by an inserted, late C20 screen to create a lobby beneath the organ loft; this screen is not of special interest. Nave floors are of wood block. The sanctuary steps are of buff, mottled polished marble but the chancel floor has been raised and extended and is carpeted. The original floor is thought to be of wood parquet. Vaulted aisles are quadrant in profile, and recessed outer bays of the aisles, beneath shallow arches, house side altars. Flamboyant carved timber doorcases in Flemish manner, leading to the vestry and sacristy and reconciliation room, have ornate finials, flanked by cusped niches housing carved figures representing Christ the Good Shepherd and the Return of the Prodigal Son; according to the guide book these reuse components from confessionals formerly at the west end of the church.

FITTINGS: The sanctuary is dominated by the richly carved reredos of Derbyshire alabaster which is surmounted by a figure of the Virgin and Child. Flanking figures set in canopied niches depict saints, the Prophets and scenes of the Israelites in the desert. The high altar has a buff alabaster frontal, carved in low relief, depicting the Resurrection. It was a gift of the congregation and dedicated in 1891. The tabernacle is of similar stone. The sedilia has an ornately carved stone canopy, with ogival headed niches supported on buff marble shafts, and a plain oak seat and back rest. The credence table is of veined marble. Choir stalls are of oak, with carved trefoil heads. The octagonal stone font is supported on green marble shafts on a red marble base and has been moved to the chancel. The Lady Chapel, dedicated to Our Lady Star of the Sea, at the east end of the south aisle, is divided from the chancel by a pierced stone screen. The altar has a carved stone reredos depicting scenes from the life of the Virgin. The floor is of buff and blue geometric glazed tiles. Side altars in the north and south aisles, to the Sacred Heart and St Joseph, have a carved stone reredos, picked out in coloured marble. In the north aisle is a memorial chapel to Patmore’s wife. A grey marble altar behind a pierced stone screen is dedicated to Coventry Patmore (1823-1896) ‘poet, writer, thinker’. Nave seating is of open-backed pine benches with trefoil headed bench ends and integral folding kneelers. Other fittings include late C19 stained glass in the sanctuary windows, a commemorative stained glass window in the nave depicting a fishing boat (1914). Stations of the Cross, carved and painted in low relief, and in richly carved and gilded frames, line the nave. Statuary includes a Pieta and St Theresa of Lisieux. The vestry is lined in panelled, carved and painted fitted cupboards. Other church fittings such as side altars, statuary, stained glass at the west end of the nave and the organ have been added more recently, and are mostly post-war; the freestanding inlaid, white marble altar table was given to the church by the Convent of Our Lady of the Mission, Old London Road, Hastings. The lectern was removed when the chancel was re-ordered.

HISTORY: The church of St Mary Star of the Sea was designed by Basil Champneys, in 1882-3. The church was built at the instigation of the Victorian poet, Coventry Patmore, in memory of his wife, who had died in 1880, and for the growing Catholic community in Hastings, where he and his wife had settled in 1875. Patmore donated £5,300 on condition that the Catholic church contributed to the total cost of £15,000. Patmore, a convert to Catholicism, had approached the Pallottine Priests in London, who bought the plot of a former farmhouse, which extended between the High Street and the Bourne. Champneys, who was a friend of Patmore, and after his death was nominated by his widow as his biographer, was a natural choice as architect. The church was illustrated in The Builder in August 1887. The crypt was used for worship while the church was being built, before housing a school, which remained there until the 1950s. The dedication to St Mary Star of the Sea, or Stella Maris, has a long history associated with the Virgin Mary as a symbol of hope and as a guiding light, appropriate to a church in close proximity to the sea. The church sits tightly on the High Street where the west entrance is flanked by flint and pebble-faced walls with freestone dressings and stone gatepiers similar to the church, which create a shallow forecourt in front of the buidling.

Basil Champneys (1842-1935), the son of an Anglican clergyman, was articled to John Pritchard of Landaff, who was a former partner of JP Seddon. He set up in practice in 1867 and built up a reputation for school, collegiate and church work, particularly in Oxford and Cambridge. Projects in Cambridge included Newnham College (from 1874; Pfeiffer Building, Grade II*), The Divinity and Literary Schools (1879) and the Museum of Classical Archaeology (1883). In Oxford his work included Mansfield theological college (1887-90, Grade II*), the Indian Institute (1883-96, Grade II) and the Rhodes Building at Oriel College (1908-11, Grade II*). Of his schools, King Edward VII High School, Kings Lynn, of 1906 is listed Grade II*. Champneys was surveyor to the cathedral church of St Mary, Manchester from the late C19, and produced his most notable building, the Rylands Library, Manchester, from 1890 to 1905 (Grade I) at the instigation of Mrs Rylands. In London, he designed premises for Bedford College in Regents Park (1910, Grade II) while domestic work included his own house in Frognal (1881, Grade II). Churches included St Luke, Oseney Crescent, Kentish Town (1867-70, Grade II*), designed early in his career for his father’s parish, and St Luke, Kidderpore Avenue, (1898, also II*). Like St Mary Star of the Sea, the latter is raised over a church hall, on falling land.
Examples of Champney’s church work, much of it in additions or alterations to existing buildings, can be seen across the country. New churches ranged from St John, Haslingdon, Lancs (1882 Grade II) which was contemporary with St Mary Star of the Sea, and also built for a benefactor, Martha Turner; to St Chad, Slindon, Staffs (1894, Grade II) and to the chapel at Mill Hill School, North London (1896, Grade II).

SOURCES: The Builder, 27 August 1887 Elleray, D Robert, Sussex Places of Worship (1904) Gray, A Stuart, Edwardian Architecture (1985) p139-141 Sladen T and Antram N, Architectural and historic review of churches in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arundel and Brighton (November 2005) Sladen T and Antram N, English Heritage Review of Diocesan Churches 2005 (extract), St Mary Star of the Sea Hastings,1 High Street, Hastings, East Sussex TN34 3EY, accessed 15 Oct 2010 St. Mary Star of the Sea, Hastings, short church guide Basil Champneys, biographical file, RIBA library

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION The Roman Catholic parish church of St Mary Star of the Sea, built by Basil Champneys, in 1882-3, is listed Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: large, imposing RC church where the design responds strongly to a tight, sloping, urban site; designed by an accomplished and prolific C19 architect whose work is more usually associated with Anglican churches; * Intactness: striking exterior and interior with ornate, good quality fittings, but where the grade reflects alterations to the interior; * Historic interest: patronage of the writer and Catholic convert, Coventry Patmore, who was a friend of the architect; an example of work by Champneys built in close association with a benefactor, the most notable of these being the Grade I listed Rylands Library, Manchester.


Amended by AHP 11.02.2021

Heritage Details

Architect: Basil Champneys

Original Date: 1882

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II