Franciscan Friary, Watchbell Street, Rye, East Sussex TN31 7HB
An unusual church and very much a self-conscious essay in early Lombardic Romanesque. Complete and little altered.
A church, St Walburga, built in 1900, stood on the site. This was replaced with the present church, designed by J. B. Mendham, opened on 30 June 1929.
St Anthony of Padua’s church is unusual in having the appearance (perhaps because of the dedication) of a small Italian or Lombardic Romanesque or proto-Romanesque church. Viewed from the Marsh east of Rye, St Anthony’s adds to the effect of an Italian hill town. In the town the gabled front of the church is set back slightly, amidst the huggermugger of brick and timber-framing, several hundred years of Sussex vernacular, that comprise Watchbell Street, one of the principal streets of the town. The frontage has a three-bay loggia on columns with elementary capitals. The east view has a half-dome, rising to a square and then an octagon with pyramid roof.
The interior has a five-bay nave (again with columns rather than piers) with aisles and clerestory and an apsed sanctuary. The capitals have Tau crosses in circles and Greek crosses in lozenges. The yellow glass of the octagon fuses the sanctuary with golden light. The sanctuary is richly fitted out with marble steps, altar and altar rail. The tabernacle rises to a small baldacchino. Stained glass in the sanctuary, north and south, is signed Jones & Willis and may be from the earlier church. The rood cross was the gift of the author Radclyffe Hall.
John Bernard Mendham (1888-1951) designed a number of churches in East Sussex including the Catholic church at Burgess Hill (1939). He was born at St Leonards-on-Sea but spent much of his early life in Argentina, where his father, an engineer, was working. He was surveyor and architect to The Bournville Village Trust before World War 1 and from 1922 to 1939 he was in private practice in London.
Update: The church was listed Grade II in 2010, following Taking Stock. List description at: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1393687
Architect: J. B. Mendham
Original Date: 1929
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed