St. Leonards Church

From Historical Hastings

This church was originally designed by Decimus Burton and, in fact, the only church he designed. Construction was by Peter Jenkins, with the building being finished in 1834. The construction required a large section to be cut out of the cliff to the rear, and the building was subject to continual rock-falls from the exposed face. Unfortunately, the Gothic Chapel was hit by a V1 flying bomb during 1944 and completely demolished.

1864 Scandal

In the early 1860s, the church came under the tenure of a Mr. J. M. R. Workman. This clergyman was, unbeknown to the congregation, using an alias - his real name being Rawlins - this not being discovered until 1864[1]. After some allegations of missapropriation of church funds, Rawlins/Workman was found to have been a recently discharged bankrupt under his true name[2] and, as was later discovered an ex-convict (having been imprisoned for forgery)[3], leaving the church without a clergyman. Rawlins claimed at his bankruptcy hearing that his circumstances arose as a result of a poorly advised investment. Many local tradesmen were left out of pocket having carried out works on the church and not having been remunerated. Upon the discovery of these and many other failings, the church ceased offering Sunday services. A temporary relief was offered by means of St. Mary Magdalen Church offering four Sunday services starting on the 5th of September 1864[4], and the St. Leonards Assembly Rooms being utilised for services under the Rev. Dr. Willis later on[5]. The dispute was finally resolved in December of 1864 and services in the church resumed.

Post war rebuilding

With the foundation stone being laid by the Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone on the 7th of October 1953[6], the rebuilding of the church commenced to a design by Giles and Adrian Gilbert Scott, a large part of the cost being defrayed with a bequest of £40,000 from the late Mr. William Edwin Halladay[7], with the tower being built some years later due to lack of funds. The stone used was taken from a disused quarry on the Crowhurst Park Estate in 1947 with twelve German prisoners of war who were housed at The Grove being utilised to assist[8] in the work, they having volunteered their assistance. The church was finally complete by the addition of the tower in 1961.

The church closed after fears of the cliff safety behind in 2018.


1837 : Rev. Sydney Henry Widdrington[9]
1839 : Rev. J. C. Leslie[10]
1849-1852 : Rev. T. P. Sproule[11]
1853-1856 : Rev. John Alton Hatchard[12]
: Rev. J.M.R. Workman/Rawlins * see above
1947 : Canon Griffiths

2020 Plans

A bid was put in by the Hastings Urban Design Group to convert the church, together with the area adjacent in Undercliff that has stood derelict other than some concrete retaining structures into an outpost of the Science Museum in London. The diocese of Chichester was reportedly amenable to the plan[13]. This plan, would appear however not to have come to fruition, and the building was placed on the market in April 2024.


References & Notes