Church of St Thomas of Canterbury and the English Martyrs


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Church of St Thomas of Canterbury and the English Martyrs, Magdalen Road


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Statutory Address:
Church of St Thomas of Canterbury and the English Martyrs, Magdalen Road

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

East Sussex
Hastings (District Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
TQ 80609 09467



MAGDALEN ROAD (West side) Church of St Thomas of Canterbury and the English Martyrs


II Roman Catholic parish church.

DATE: Built in 1889 by Charles Alban Buckler (1824-1905), builder Edmund Boniface. The mortuary chapel in the narthex was added later and the interior decorative scheme was carried out between 1908 and 1911 by Nathaniel Westlake (1833-1921). Gothic style.

MATERIALS: Rock-faced ironstone with Bath stone dressings and slate roof.

PLAN: Sanctuary faces west. Six bay nave with six side chapels to north and south, narthex to east, mortuary chapel to south east and apsidal chancel flanked by apsidal chapels.

EXTERIOR: Nave has lancet windows and the east (ritual west) end has a tall three-light lancet flanked by single lancets and divided by buttresses. Lean-to narthex and gabled south east porch with trefoil-headed niche, kneelers and arched doorcases with dripmoulding. Further to the west is the gabled end of the former mortuary chapel. The west (ritual east) end has a blocked teefoil window in the gable and a lower apsidal chancel flanked by small apsidal chapels. The attached presbytery is not of special interest

INTERIOR: Broad nave with timber quadripartite rib vaults on shafts and short tunnel vaulted side chapels giving the effect of a nave arcade. The east end windows were replaced after World War II damage and there is an elaborate carved wooden organ loft with trefoil decoration, supported on columns with arched heads with quatrefoil decoration. The original pews remain to the nave. The side chapels have arched heads, painted ceilings and elaborate stencilled walls, mainly renewed. The original wooden pews remain to the nave. St Leonard's Chapel has a fine alabaster altar with central tabernacle flanked by statues of saints. St George's Chapel has a stained glass windows in the style of Hardman and Co. and a painted figure of St Michael by Westlake. In front of the chancel arch and to the left is the original octagonal marble font with colonnettes and carved scenes of the seven sacraments, resited from the east end. On the right side in front of the chancel arch is the original stone and pink marble octagonal pulpit with carvings of saints within trefoil-headed niches without its columnar base. The chancel arch is covered in wall paintings by Westlake depicting the Company of English Martyrs with the Hand of God obscuring the earlier trefoil window. The Lady Chapel to the south of the chancel arch has stencilled walls and an elaborate Bath stone altar with angels crowning the Virgin and Child. St Joseph's Chapel to the north of the chancel arch has stencilled decoration and an elaborate Bath stone altar with statues of the Holy Family under a baldachino over the altar and panel depicting the Entombment to the altar. The chancel ceiling is covered with Westlake paintings of Evangelists and Prophets and there is an elaboarate reredos of angels painted on copper plates under cinquefoil-headed pointed canopies. The south wall has a painted Nativity scene and the north side a painted Last Supper, a memorial to the 14th Duke of Norfolk.

HISTORY: A significant Roman Catholic community in St Leonard's began in 1834 with the purchase of land by a Catholic priest, John Jones, using a legacy from Barbara, Lady Stanley of Puddington. In 1848 a recently founded teaching order of nuns, the Society of the Holy Child Jesus under Mother Connelly, was installed and a church begun. A dispute between the convent and parish over ownership of the church led to the parish moving to a site further up Magdalen Road sited over a railway tunnel.

The foundation stone of the first church of St Thomas of Canterbury was laid on 21 August 1865 and opened on 24 May 1866, designed by Charles Alban Buckler. Unfortunately this building was destroyed by fire on 3rd January 1887 with only the charred walls remaining. The present building was commenced on 30 March 1888, the architect also Charles Alban Buckler, and unusually the chancel faced west. The church was opened in July 1889 but not consecrated until 1907. The mortuary chapel was not part of the original build.

The interior decorative scheme was carried out between 1908 and 1911 by Nathaniel Westlake (1833-1921) blocking an original trefoil window above the chancel arch. By 1945 some of the murals had deteriorated because of water penetration and the wall paintings were restored in the 1950s by the local firm of Pettit Bros. by Gerald and Douglas Padgham who also made their own stencils.

In the 1980s the interior was virtually completely re-done, the major work of restoration being to the mural on canvas to the chancel arch. This work was carried out by Charles Camm. Much of the stencilling was also redone at this time.

SUMMARY OF IMPORTANCE: An 1889 Gothic style Roman Catholic church in ironstone with Bath stone dressings by the distinguished Victorian architect Charles Alban Buckler with a complete interior decorative scheme including murals by Nathaniel Westlake of 1908-11 and original stained glass.

SOURCES: Church guide "The Church of St Thomas of Canterbury St Leonard's on Sea. A short History and Description" 1996.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Pevsner, N, Nairn, I, The Buildings of England: Surrey, (1962), 522


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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