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, was a natural choice as architect. The church was illustrated in The Builder in Augu
st 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 building.
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 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.
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.