NOSTALGIA: Look back at history of St Elisabeth’s Church

A group pictured at St Elisabeth's Church, Eastbourne SUS-180602-112459001
A group pictured at St Elisabeth's Church, Eastbourne SUS-180602-112459001

As the debate over whether Eastbourne’s imposing St Elisabeth’s Church should be demolished to make way for a redevelopment of the site Looking Back has been through the photographic archives with the help of reader George Turner.

Mr Turner kindly sent in these pictures including cuttings from newspapers depicting the long history of the church.

A service at St Elisabeth's Church SUS-180602-112532001

A service at St Elisabeth's Church SUS-180602-112532001

He has also helpfully provided a booklet detailing the time line of the church building and hall, which was published in January 2014.

The history dates back to 1928 when a Mrs Elisa Watson died and left £80,000 to the Diocese of Chichester for a church to be built in or near Eastbourne.

At the time that part of Old Town had a population of about 5,000 with only a few house in Victoria Drive beyond Downs Avenue.

The Bishop of Chichester then, Dr George Bell, felt a church was needed in the area because it would soon be developed and after the Duke of Devonshire donated the land, building started on the hall in 1933.

A service at St Elisabeth's Church SUS-180602-112447001

A service at St Elisabeth's Church SUS-180602-112447001

The architect for the whole complex was Peter Stoneham, who also designed the Curzon Cinema and the NatWest Bank.

The hall cost £16,000 to build and furnish and there was a projection room in the main hall, a caretaker’s flat, a stage and the lower hall was fully equipped as a gym.

The Reverend H Wallace Bird was appointed the vicar designate and the area was known as the Conventional District of St Elisabeth’s becoming a parish in 1936.

He faced the task of starting a church which at the time had no staff, no service books and no organ but with enthusiasm he soon enlisted the help of the local people.

St Elisabeth's ENGSNL00120110607170825

St Elisabeth's ENGSNL00120110607170825

One thousand handbills were distributed, 250 letters posted to Church of England members who were attending nearby churches and many personal visits were made inviting people to help start the new church.

The first service was held on February 18 1934, the first Sunday in Lent.

It was a service of Holy Communion which was attended by 26 people.

There was Sunday School in the afternoon, which attracted 156 children. This rapidly grew in the following weeks to more than 400.

From the Herald Magazine of October 1935 when Princess Alice laid the foundation stone of the new St Elisabeth's Church SUS-180602-112521001

From the Herald Magazine of October 1935 when Princess Alice laid the foundation stone of the new St Elisabeth's Church SUS-180602-112521001

There were also Bible classes, evening prayer with a congregation of 130.

For this service the organist pushed his own small organ on a broken down pram after dark over to the church on Saturday evening.

Work started on the church building and the foundation stone was laid by HRH Princess Alice, the Countess of Athlone on October 2 1935 and it was consecrated on February 19 1938 by the Bishop of Chichester.

l Part two will continue next week.