Holy Trinity

Holy Trinity Church is an Anglican church in the centre of Hastings,. It was built during the 1850s—a period when Hastings was growing rapidly as a seaside resort—by prolific and eccentric architect Samuel Sanders Teulon, who was “chief among the rogue architects of the mid-Victorian Gothic Revival” The Decorated/Early English-style church is distinguished by its opulently decorated interior and its layout on a difficult, “crazy” town-centre site, chosen after another location was found to be unsuitable. The church took eight years to build, and a planned tower was never added. English Heritage has listed the building at Grade II* for its architectural and historical importance.

The growth of the town encouraged church-building, particularly by the Church of England. The Old Town area of Hastings had seven churches in the 13th century, but medieval decline left only two—All Saints Church and St Clement’s Church—by the start of the 19th century. The subsequent development of Hastings outgrew the compact valley around the Bourne stream on which the Old Town was centred, and moved further and further west as more land was required.

Between 1801 and 1821, the population increased from 2,982 (90% of whom lived in the Old Town) to 6,051. Soon afterwards, James Burton’s high-class planned town of St Leonards-on-Sea, even further west, attracted more people to the area, and the gap between it and Hastings was soon filled. The town’s focus had shifted away from the Old Town and its churches, and new places of worship were soon planned.

The first in the new part of Hastings was St Mary-in-the-Castle, built as the centrepiece of a residential crescent in 1824 to replace an ancient collegiate church which was actually part of Hastings Castle.

In 1851, Hastings railway station was built, and nearby land was developed at the same time to form Cambridge Road, Robertson Street and Trinity Street. This had been an undeveloped wasteland with some squatters’ shacks. This area was chosen as the site of the second Anglican church in “new” Hastings. Local philanthropist and church benefactor Countess Waldegrave gave £1,000 to help pay for its founding, and Samuel Sanders Teulon was commissioned to design the building. He had recently submitted plans for a large house in Hastings, and had designed and executed churches at nearby Rye Harbour and Icklesham.

A piece of land on the north side of Cambridge Road, above Holmesdale Gardens was donated by the Earls Cornwallis; but soon after work started, a landslip revealed the site to be unsafe. About £500 had already been spent. The church authorities selected another site nearby, but had to pay £2,500 to The Crown for it. The site was extremely awkward because the junction of Robertson and Trinity Streets formed a very acute angle. The engineer was John Howell & Son. Work started on the new site in 1857: Countess Waldegrave laid the foundation stone on 22 July of that year. The nave was the first part of the church to be consecrated, in 1858, and the church opened for worship at this time. The chancel was finished the following year but was not consecrated until 1862. Local resident Lady St John had been another donor to the church building fund: she provided £200 She was so concerned about the displacement of poor people from the former wasteland area that she paid for a new church to be built in St Leonards-on-Sea, where many had been forced to move. Christ Church opened on the London Road there in 1860.

A major alteration came in 1892, when a polygonal vestry was built beyond the chancel. Next to it, on the south side, space above the porch was intended to hold a tower and spire, but because the church cost so much to build neither feature was ever added. Between 1889 and 1890, the chancel arch was given intricate carved decoration by sculptor Thomas Earp, and a craftsman from Ghent provided an ornate rood screen. W. H. Romaine-Walker designed an “exceptional” alabaster and marble pulpit with a double staircase around the same time. He had also been responsible for the vestry and other general refitting in the church. London architect Henry Ward, who moved to Hastings and carried out most of his work in the town, was responsible for an unusual miniature Lady chapel (formed out of the base of the organ chamber) and some work on the doors and windows at the start of the 20th century. Later in the century, master calligrapher Edward Johnston provided a high-quality illuminated vellum-covered missal
Samuel Sanders Teulon had to fit his design for Holy Trinity Church into the difficult, restricted town centre site (described by Nikolaus Pevsner as “crazy”) and the layout is consequently very unusual. The nave is of six bays and has a south aisle, a chancel with an apse, a vestry with a conical roof, and a porch formed from the base of the intended tower. The west end, facing Claremont, has two gables and a large lancet window with tracery and stone dressings. The north side, facing Trinity Street, is divided into six cross-gabled bays, each with a three-light window with similar tracery. There are similar windows in the apse, and a more intricate example in the north face of the chancel. The porch, set at an angle facing Robertson Street, leads into the south aisle. The tall structure is dominated by a large figure of the Trinity in its tympanum. A shallow hipped roof takes the place of the planned tower. The church combines the Decorated and Early English Gothic styles and is built entirely of stone, mostly rubble laid out in courses. Teulon’s typical style was “vigorous and idiosyncratic Gothic”, and he had a “highly individual command” of that architectural movement.

Inside, the roof of the chancel is intricately carved (especially on its corbels), and similar work above the organ chamber and chancel arch was added during the late 19th-century remodelling. All of the carvings were by Thomas Earp. The small Lady Chapel, fitted in below the organ chamber, is a unique feature. The font dates from the opening of the church, but the highly detailed foliage carving on the stem and base was executed in 1903.


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