We continue our look this week at the history of the imposing and now derelict St Elisabeth’s Church in Victoria Drive with the help of reader George Turner and a special booklet dating back to January 2014.
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.
It was at the centre of the community running many clubs and organisations for all ages at a time of great poverty for many residents of the parish.
In 1944 the church and vicarage were badly damaged by a flying bomb and the church was unusable so services were held in the crypt until Easter Day 1945.
A year earlier in 1944 Hans Feibusch painted the murals in the crypt which were scenes from the Pilgrim’s Progress.
Each of the ten incumbents of St Elisabeth’s have contributed in their own way to building up and maintaining the church and serving the people of the parish and each has placed worship, prayer and reading of the Bible at the heart of church life.
It is impossible to write of all that has happened at St Elisabeth’s but mention should be lade of the Dramatic Society which was formed in 1938.
It staged 18 productions which included The Acts of St Peter performed in church with a cast of nearly 50 and Caesar’s Friend, which was staged at the Hippodrome in Seaside Road.
Many have commented on the ugliness of the building but the inside was light and had unusual lights, oak pews and beautiful marble flooring of the Chauncel.
Many musical recitals were held and at Christmas and Easter it looked at its best.
At Easter there were flowers on the ends of the pews and the empty tomb was portrayed under the altar.
At Christmas, worshippers were invited to place lighted candles before a crib scene under the altar.
Right from the start there were major problems with the church building.
A trust fund was set up with the money left over from the Watson legacy – which funded the original build – and this was used over the years to try to preserve the building.
Many windows were replaced and other remedial work was undertaken but by the 1980s it was rapidly becoming too costly to repair and to keep to keep the rain out and was also impossible to heat.
Various options were pursued but finally in the 1990s the process of moving from the church building into the hall next door began.
The last service in the old church and the first in the new church were held in 2004 and the hall became St Elisabeth’s Church and Centre for the Community.
The old church has been declared redundant and is now the responsibility of the Diocese.
A great deal of hard work has been carried out on the present church by many members of the congregation to get it fit for purpose.
As a result of the generosity of the congregation and various grants, much has been done to improve the building including the installation of a lift, conference suite and a new entrance.
The work is ongoing and many different groups use the facilities.