Near us there is this impressive church, All Souls, in Athlestan Road. It is now redundant and empty. It was deconsecrated in 2008 and has been deserted ever since. This morning we were lucky enough to be shown round the building. I’m not going to dwell too much on the history here, but just share the poignacy of such a beautiful abandoned building.
Well, I say abandoned, but we were shown round by the current caretaker, John Barker, who has lived opposite the church all his life, visits it every day and keeps a very close eye on it – he is also a mine of information about its history. We understand that the church is in the process of being sold. A good time to visit before it goes into private hands. The building is Grade 2* listed, so will be preserved whatever happens. Our other companion this morning was local historian Brian Lawes, who is planning to pull together a history of the church.
Another reason I wanted to visit was that the church, built in 1891, was designed by Victorian architect Sir Arthur Blomfield, who also designed the ornate Christ Church in St Leonard’s, described by Battleaxe in this earlier post. Philosopher wanted to see a particular stained glass window in All Souls, ‘The Light of the World’ – which in fact turned out not to be the same as Holman Hunt’s painting….
The main body of the church is in in remarkably good condition, but covered in massive quantities of dust and pigeon dirt. It has a beautiful mosaic reredos above the altar, very reminiscent of the mosaics in Christ Church, and an ornate wrought iron screen and railings around the chancel. Of course, there was no electricity in the church, so many of these photos were a bit dark. It was also not a good light for photographing the beautiful stained glass windows – sun shining through. The hammer beam roof of the nave is very lovely. The building felt sad and neglected, but not at all spooky, as one might romantically imagine an abandoned church.
Parts of the church looked as if the congregation had just left – the children’s corner, decaying hassocks and cushions on the pews. But other fittings have been removed by the diocese – the high altar has gone to Worthing, the large crucifix, the stations of the cross and other statues to other churches. It was high Anglican, like Christ Church, with daily masses and provision for confessions. On the face of it it looked much plainer than Christ Church, and it is red brick rather than stone, but if all the fittings were in place, it was clean, and the sanctuary lamps were all hanging from the ceiling, it would have looked very impressive.
The WW1 War Memorial is impressive, designed by local artist Philip Cole. It is sad to think that this neglected memorial was passed over during the 2018 centenary.
The Lady Chapel is sadly more weather-damaged. The organ console is still there – it was probably the first pneumatic pipe organ to be operated by electricity. The wiring looks alarming – I don’t somehow think that would ever be restored.
After, we went to John’s house for coffee – he showed us loads of old photographs of the church. I liked this church parade, probably from the 1920s, making its way down Athelstan Road.
Just a final word about history – the building of the church was financed by a wealthy widow, Elizabeth Mason, in memory of her husband, Thomas Mason, who made his fortune via the Dent’s glove making company.
It will be interesting to see what happens to the church in the future….
Here are a final few photos. I know there a a lot, but this is a special opportunity to capture something that may soon disappear…