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St. Mary In The Castle

From Historical Hastings

The centrepiece of Pelham Crescent, St. Mary in the Castle was constructed circa 1828. The church features a white Ionic Portico in Pelham Crescent with crypts underneath and access also available from Pelham Place. The church is not to be confused with St Mary's Chapel at Bulverhythe with which it shares the name.

The church was subject of an Act Parliament which received royal assent on 2 May 1825, and was consecrated on 28 January 1828. The roof was substantially rebuilt in 1829 following the discovery of a defect during August of that year[1]; the church reworked in the later C19, probably after 1884 when the parishioners took responsibility for the fabric.[2]


Designed by Joseph Kaye, the church sits in a commanding position overlooking the sea, forming the centrepiece of Pelham Crescent, which is raised above Pelham Arcade and reached by a ramp at the western end. Being constructed of Stone and brick, cement-rendered, and lined as ashlar, stone dressings, it is set on a shallow plinth of three stone steps and over a crypt which extends southwards to the rear of Pelham Arcade. The façade is laid out as a double-depth tetrastyle Ionic portico, flanked by single entrance bays.[2][3]

The church is semi-circular in shape with the upper level projecting over the rock face at the rear so that it is constructed of two concentric stone walls, an inner one at lower level, and an outer wall at gallery level, built into the rock. The interior of the church is laid out with a horseshoe gallery to the north overlooking a shallow rectangular three-bay sanctuary which is flanked by single bays which break forward to enclose lobbies which give access to the portico and gallery.[3] Stairs, either side of the church, descend to a crypt, T-shaped on plan, which protrudes into the rear of the Arcade.[2]

Foundation Stone & First Incumbent

The foundation stone was laid by Henrietta, Countess of Chichester in 1825[4] and the first incumbent was the Rev. William Wallinger[5], the first service in the new church taking place on the 27th of January 1828[6].


Most of the original interior wood work was stripped out during the 1990s refurbishment, leaving the rear wall of the gallery as exposed stone. In the 1920s, a room to the east of the main church was adapted as a baptistery, complete with a stone-lined immersion font, while the spring was converted to a grotto to commemorate the centenary of the building.[2]


The organ was installed in 1846, being built by Mr. Allen and formally 'opened' by George Lindridge, the cost being met by subscription[7]


c1829-1844: Joseph Hart

Stained Glass

Centre east (actually south) window) Heaton, Butler and Bayne, 1921[8]. A large composition with the Angel announcing the Resurrection[9] .
Baptistery Glass panel, P. W. Cole, 1934 [8]

WW1 Memorial

At the same time as the Heaton, Butler and Bayne window was dedicated, two marble tablets inscribed with the names of the WW1 fallen was dedicated.[9]

Mission Hall

The church opened a mission hall in what was originally the Railway Mission Hall in Portland Place in 1938. This was intended to house the church school.[10]


Rev. F. Whitfield Memorial.
Photographer: L. Whitfield

1828: Rev. William Wallinger[1]
1834: Rev. W. T. Marychurch[1]
1835: Rev. J. S. Jenkinson[1]
1841-1846: Rev. Thomas Vores[1]

1875-1899: Rev. Frederick Whitfield[11]
1910: Rev. Canon Richard Talbot.[12]
1949: Rev. C. C. Dobson[13]

Repairs to Facade

In 1938, the timbers supporting the facade above the Corinthian columns was found to be rotten, necessitating the front of the church to be braced with scaffolding props and costing some £1,300 to repair.[14]


A tunnel was found in 1949 by the then vicar the Rev. C. C. Dobson. The tunnel was explored for some length and believed to be the ancient source of water for Hastings Castle.[13]

Listed building status

In 1951, the building was listed at Grade II* Listed (Historic England listing 1353209)which was unfortunately followed by a period of decline. The church merged with Emmanuel Church in 1953[15] before being declared as redundant by the Church of England in 1970,and leased to The Assembly of God until 1978 before being sold by the Church Commissioners in 1982. The church then came close to being declared as a dangerous structure in 1986[16]

Council buy-out

Following a campaign by locals (Friends of St Mary in the Castle - FOSMIC) to save the building, Hastings Borough Council acquired the freehold to St Mary in the Castle and number 7 Pelham Crescent and in 1988 with support from English Heritage began restoration of the building.[16] This was to cost circa £1.1 million.

Arts Centre

The building re-opened in 1998 as an arts centre, featuring exhibitions by predominantly local artists and a performance/conference centre in the main body of the church.[16]

Buckswood School Ownership

In 2012 the lease was put out to tender by the council, due in part to the costs of running the building proving unsustainable, and a proposal from Buckswood School in Guestling was approved by the council in December of that year. A charitable trust - The St Mary in the Castle Charitable Trust - was established in 2013 and in June 2015 a ten year lease was signed to safeguard the future of the building as a centre for the arts.[16]. In 2022, the Trust announced that its lease was expiring and this leaves the future of the building uncertain.

Current Status

There are reportedly issues with damp penetration, possibly related to the requirements due to it's change of use to a performing arts space for fire-seals on doors and many of the internal doors having to be closed for the same reason.


References & Notes

  1. a b c d e Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. 2 Chap. 20
  2. a b c d Historic England
  3. a b An Interpretative Survey of Pelham Arcade and its Setting, Hastings, Sussex (1998) Morrice, R
  4. Osborne's Stranger's Guide to Hastings and St Leonards c1854 Pg. 14 Google Books On this wiki
  5. Historic Hastings (J. Manwaring Baines)
  6. Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. 1 Chap. 2 Pg. 12
  7. Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. 3 Chap 36
  8. a b Stained Glass Records website
  9. a b Hastings and St Leonards Observer - Saturday 26 March 1921 p1
  10. Hastings & St Leonards Observer - 23 July 1938 p6
  11. Email from L Whitfield
  12. Hastings & St Leonards Observer 03 September 1910 pg. 3
  13. a b Hastings & St Leonards Observer - 6 August 1949 p2
  14. Hastings & St Leonards Observer - 3 December 1938 p18
  15. Sussex Parish Churches
  16. a b c d St Mary in the Castle website