Building » Sheppey – St Henry and St Elizabeth

Sheppey – St Henry and St Elizabeth

Broadway, Sheerness, Sheppey, Kent ME12

A large Gothic Revival church of 1863-4 by E. W. Pugin. The benefactors were Major Henry Mostyn and his wife Elizabeth. The church has many furnishings of note, including several by E. W. Pugin, and a large memorial pulpit by F. A. Walters. The church is picturesquely sited against the sea wall and is a local landmark. The former school (now parish hall) of 1868-69 is also by Pugin.

From about 1800 one of the priests at Old Brompton (Chatham) said Mass at the Victory Tavern in Sheerness. Due to an influx of Irish shipwrights the tavern was too small for the congregation by about 1810. Land was bought just outside Blue Town, the oldest and poorest part of Sheerness, where a wooden chapel dedicated to St Patrick was built in Rose Street. It opened in about 1813 and it has been suggested that it was built using timber illegally ‘acquired’ from Sheerness dockyard.

In about 1860 the Tipperary Militia was quartered in Sheerness; however, the chapel could only seat about 150, far too small for the 800 mostly Catholic soldiers. Passing St Patrick’s chapel, Major Henry Mostyn saw how most of them were kneeling outside in the rain and decided to build a larger church. A plot of marshy land by the sea was rented from the Admiralty for a nominal rent of 1 shilling a year, which was charged as an encroachment fee for a small gate from the presbytery on to the sea front. (The gate was bricked up after the flood of 1895.) Mostyn and his wife Elizabeth both died before the building was finished (in 1861 and 1864 respectively); however, the church was completed and dedicated to their patron saints. It was opened on 14 September 1864 by Bishop Grant with Dr (later Cardinal) Manning giving the sermon. The architect was Edward Welby Pugin, whose work at St Augustine’s, Ramsgate (qv) may have been known to Mostyn. The overall cost was £3,700. The builders were Messrs Smith & Son of Ramsgate, and the internal metalwork was by Hardman of Birmingham.

Major Mostyn’s gift included the high altar and reredos (both by E. W. Pugin and carved by T. Earp), benches, gas fittings, sanctuary fittings and the bell. The funds for other furnishings were raised by public appeal, including the organ, font, and the vestments. The organ by Bishop & Starr was installed in December 1864. It is not clear when, and if, the church was consecrated. The Tablet of 23 September 1864 gives the date of 22 September 1864; however, the Universe of 24 September 1864 states it was consecrated on 29 August 1864, which would have been before the opening ceremony. No sign of consecration crosses has been found.

A school was in existence in 1866 and moved three years later into a purpose-built structure by E. W. Pugin (built 1868-69, now the parish hall).

In 1872 Fr Michael Conway, the first resident priest (from 1849), died and was buried in the church. E. W. Pugin designed his marble memorial, which was made by M. Geere, a local mason of Mile Town. The Stations were erected in 1875, around the time when two large statues of the Virgin and St Joseph were erected in the sanctuary. They were the work of Mr Guilly and were placed on wooden pedestals made by four Irish shipwrights. In 1877 the eleventh Brigade of Artillery presented a silver thurible and asperges set, later adding the six-foot-high silver candlesticks.

The presbytery was built in 1880, between the school and the church, and the obituary for E. W. Pugin in The Builder attributes the design to him (although Pugin died in 1875). The Architect of 5 May 1876 reports that the tender for a presbytery by C. W. and E. W. Pugin was won by Messrs Geere & Guly [sic]. However, the building does not look Puginesque and the design has been attributed by Rowan Carstairs to Mr Guilly of Sheerness, probably the same who made the large statues in the sanctuary. (See E. W. Pugin Gazetteer)

In 1885 Fr Bourne, later Cardinal and Archbishop of Westminster, was briefly in charge of the mission. In 1886 the large pulpit was erected by subscriptions collected throughout the Royal Navy and Marines as a memorial to those who died in the Egypt (1882-4) and Sudan (1884-5) campaigns. The pulpit and the accompanying brass tablet were designed by F. A. Walters. Earp, Hobbs & Co built the pulpit and Hardman made the tablet. The pulpit cost £200.

In 1888 the Lady altar was converted to the Sacred Heart altar, as a gift from relatives of Fr Thomas Moynihan, the mission priest at the time. At the same time, the rose window above the altar was inserted, replacing two lancets, as a gift from Maurice Walsh  in  memory  of  his  wife  and  relatives.  In 1890 the brass  missal stand  was donated by the Royal Navy Catholic Association. The same year, Fr Moynihan died. His coffin was transferred from the local cemetery in 1897 and buried in the church, where two windows with his patron saints and a plaque were installed.

The church escaped major damage during the flood of 1898 as it is situated on a slightly elevated site. That summer the exterior was restored, including stone repairs, cleaning and painting, and a suspended ceiling of matchboard was inserted (since removed). At some point before 1900, the passage between the house and the sacristy was constructed. In 1904 two side altars were installed, one to the Virgin near the present Lady Chapel, and another to the Holy Souls in front of the pulpit (removed in 1912). Between 1902 and 1906, a timber screen was installed under the organ gallery (since removed). Between 1911 and 1915 the exterior was again restored, and new holy water stoups and confessionals provided. In 1918 a statue of St Anthony and the Christ Child was erected in memory of John Sidney Hill. In 1929 the school moved into a new building in New Road and Pugin’s old school was converted to a parish hall.

After the Second World War, the military use of the Isle of Sheppey, which had been continuous since Charles II established a garrison at Sheerness, came to an end. The garrison, the Royal Navy and the Air Force all left. In the 1960s the interior was restored by J. J. Frame, when the timber screen at the west was removed. At the same time, the exterior was repointed by Bennett & Smith, who also treated the stonework with silicon damp proofing. Another major campaign of restoration was started in 1989, a first phase of which, including internal works and the strengthening of the roof, was completed by 1992.


The list description (see below) is very brief.

The church was built in 1863-4 from designs by E. W. Pugin. The materials are stock brick with dark brick bands (laid in Flemish bond) and stone dressings (Bath stone on the exterior, Caen stone on the interior). The plan is longitudinal, consisting of an aisled nave with apsidal east end and a southeast side chapel. The style is Transitional Gothic, i.e. between Early English and Decorated.

The west facade has a gable-end bellcote above two thin lancets, a rose window, a row of five lancets, and the doorway with a pointed arch of polychrome stone. On either side of the doorway are quatrefoils with hoodmoulds. This central section is flanked by buttresses, of which the southern one incorporates the stair to the organ gallery. The west fronts of the side aisles have a cinquefoil window above two lancet windows. The three central apse windows have gables above their windows which project above the eaves. The east ends of the aisles have cross roofs with small cinquefoil rose windows in the gable.

There is a modern inner porch inside the entrance, whose structure also encompasses a small toilet which is accessed from the narthex. A modern glazed timber screen forms a narthex below the organ gallery, filling a large segmental arch, apparently of a single piece of stone. The organ is by Bishop & Starr (1864). The five-bay nave has a scissor-beam roof with a tall arcade on columns and lean-to roofs over the aisles. In the northwest corner is the repository, near the octagonal font beside a statue of the seated St Peter. The Stations of the Cross are rectangular casts. The north aisle has memorial plaques to William Shipley and John Balls (died 1897). The second bay from the east has a modern timber altar and reredos with a statue of the Virgin, together constituting the Lady Chapel.

The easternmost bay of the north aisle has a stone memorial plaque to Fr Thomas Moynihan, who is buried nearby. The two lancets of the window above depict his patron saints St Thomas the Apostle and St Thomas of Canterbury. At the east end of the north aisle is the door to the presbytery, below a window and a statue of Our Lady.

An octagonal stone pulpit is set against the northeast pillar (F. A. Walters, 1886, made by Earp, Hobbs & Co). It is supported by a central column surrounded by an arcade of marble columns. At the east is a curved stair with metal handrail. The niches have carvings of St Athanasius (patron saint of Egypt) as well as the four Evangelists’ symbols. They are divided by marble columns whose capitals support angels with shields. The latter carry the arms of Pope Leo XIII, the Bishop of Southwark, Lieutenant de Lisle, the Admiralty and the names and dates of the Egypt (1882-4) and Sudan (1884-5) campaigns. The brass tablet by Hardman now leans against the supporting pillar, listing the names of those fallen during the campaigns. A large crucifix hangs against the pillar behind the pulpit.

On either side of the sanctuary are large statues of the Virgin and Child with the Sacred Heart on the north, and St Joseph on the south side (1875, Mr Guilly). In front of the former stands the bell which used to hang in the bellcote, suspended in a small bell frame. The chancel has a three-sided polygonal apse. The high altar and reredos of Caen stone and marble are both by E. W. Pugin, made by T. Earp. The reredos has three gabled niches on either side of the monstrance throne above the marble tabernacle. They were never filled with the intended angels and now have paintings of the four Evangelists, flanked by more modern paintings of St Henry and St Elizabeth. (A photo of c.1905 shows paintings of six saints in the niches.) The altar frontal has two roundels carved with Ecclesia and Synagogue between three black marble columns. The modern pulpit and font are both of timber. On each side of the high altar is a piscina.

The southeast chapel used to be the Lady Chapel, converted to the Sacred Heart Chapel in 1888. The central niche of the reredos has a statue of the Sacred Heart, with three niches of diaper work on either side. The stone altar has a carving of the stigmata. The circular east window has four quatrefoils with stained glass of the Sacred Heart, St George and two female saints. At the entrance to the chapel is a modern cast of St Patrick (in memory of Aileen Porter, died 1978). At the east end of the south aisle is the stone plaque to Fr Conway (designed by E. W. Pugin, made by M. Geere, 1872), who is buried nearby. Beside it stands a statue of St Anthony (La Statue Religieuse, Paris, presented to the church in 1918). Further west are several memorial plaques, including a brass plaque to the founders of the church, Henry and Elizabeth Mostyn. A marble memorial records the deaths during the First World War of the three McCudden brothers, all of them flying aces, and their brother-in-law Arthur Spears. Further west is a large pietà. At the west end of the south aisle is a modern timber confessional.

List description


Dated 1863-4 by Edward Welby Pugin. Built of stock brick with black brick bands. Slate roof. The west end has a bellcote. North and south aisles. 5 bay nave. Listing NGR: TQ9249074940

Heritage Details

Architect: E. W. Pugin

Original Date: 1863

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II