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St Leonards Church

East Sussex, United Kingdom
1 of 4

St Leonard's Church is an Anglican church in the St Leonards-on-Sea area of Hastings, a town and borough in the English county of East Sussex. The main church was designed by James Burton and it survived for more than a century despite being damaged by the cliff into which it was built. English Heritage has listed the building at Grade II for its architectural and historical importance.

Destruction in 1944[h/]

When World War II broke out, Hastings and St Leonards-on-Sea were considered vulnerable to attacks and invasion from abroad. They became a "restricted area" in 1940, and substantial defences were built on the seafront and elsewhere. Bombing raids and V-1 flying bombs ("doodlebugs") were experienced frequently. On the night of 29 July 1944, a Saturday, a doodlebug was hit over the English Channel. Damaged, it nevertheless continued to fly towards the coastline of St Leonards-on-Sea. It was approaching Marine Court-a recently built Art Deco block of flats which was hosting a servicemen's party-but it veered and crashed in front of the doors of St Leonard's Church, making a deep crater. The tower fell into this, and the rest of the church was brought down as well. Although there were no casualties, the church was completely destroyed. Although the problem of rock falls and subsidence associated with the cliffs had continued throughout the life of the church, the War Damage Commission would only pay for it to be rebuilt on the same site. The architectural partnership of brothers Giles and Adrian Gilbert Scott were commissioned to design the new building.


The Gilbert Scotts worked in a "simplified modernistic Gothic Revival" style, which was their chosen motif for St Leonard's Church. Giles Gilbert Scott's proposal for the rebuilding of war-damaged Coventry Cathedral (1946-47) and his brother's work on the St Mary and St Joseph's Church on the Lansbury Estate in east London (1950-54), both based on a series of parabolic arches, informed their work at St Leonards-on-Sea: the design theme was used both inside and out. Adrian was principally responsible for the design, and construction began in October 1953. The building was ready to be opened for worship in April 1955, although it lacked the intended south tower: this was added in 1960-61 and the church was reopened. Adrian Gilbert Scott was apparently inspired by the unusual sea-facing site (the church is the only one on England's south coast to have a direct, uninterrupted sea view from its entrance).

The church is built of pale buff-coloured brick and cream-coloured stone. The roof over the nave and chancel is shallow with deep eaves and is laid with pantiles. A "fine blocky Gothic tower", elevated above the road and with a staircase in front, dominates the facade; it has a series of parabolic arches forming recesses. These have Perpendicular Gothic mouldings. The church has a simple north-south plan like its predecessor (the Gilbert Scotts changed to this layout after an earlier, more complex plan was considered too expensive). Recessed into the tower are three straight-headed wooden double doors with triple windows above them and a tall, pointed-arched three-light lancet window above. Inside, the nave has narrow aisles with vaults and internal buttresses, but the dominant feature is another set of parabolic arches which form "a giant arcade" as they lead the eye to the chancel and sanctuary and to the side walls. The walls have greenish-blue stonework set in a wave-like pattern; this motif was also found at the contemporary Lansbury Estate church.

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bostjan, July 5th, 2019
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