A History of St Richard’s Church

(Taken from ‘The Continuing Chain’ - Reflections on the History of St Richard’s Haywards Heath
By Dudley Lerpinier)

There had always been the intention that a permanent building would replace the ‘Tin Church’.  The cost, in the early twenties, was estimated about £16,000.  Though, the parish population, then few more than 2,000, had not yet reached 4,000, which was required before a separate parish might be formed.  There was also an issue over the site for the building.  Sydney Road, on the far side of Church Avenue had been rejected due to the cost of the land.  In December 1930, the Archdeacon was in favour of a site much further from St Wilfrid’s and suggested the Summerhill Estate which was under development at the time.  In the new year initial enquiries were pursued with possible sites near the junction of Summerhill Lane and Gander Hill on the adjoining Sunte Estate and another in the fields north of College Road near the railway.  However, financial stringency was an issue which continued to 1935 when the church finances showed some improvement.  

Fr Wylie arrived in October 1935 and during the following summer was informed by the Diocesan Secretary, Canon Godfrey Bell that an offer had been made by an anonymous donor that if the people of St Richard’s could raise £500 by Easter 1937, the sum would be doubled.  Given this stimulus, names of subscribers to an appeal fund were published and the total raised would be printed in the Mid Sussex Times.  A gift day was set for St Richard’s Day, 3rd April 1937 which raised the sum of £1,000.  The Vicar gave his Easter Offering and a parishioner doubled this.  By Whit Sunday, 16th May, £5,000 had been subscribed.  An amazing effort and sufficient for work to begin.

In June, a site was agreed to the rear of the Vicarage, let out as four allotments and fronting Queens Road.  However, Mr Keir Hett of Ardingly, the architect, on visiting the site, felt that it was not adequate for the church he envisaged.  The only site large enough to accommodate a church of the required length was a section of the Vicarage garden extending along Sydney Road.  This land contained the Vicarage croquet lawn and a hut, meeting place of the Lads Club.  The Diocesan Board requested that the building should be of reinforced concrete construction in order to keep costs limited.

Work commenced on Sunday 18th July 1937, when a ceremony of ‘cutting the turves’ was held and performed by about one hundred children and two hundred adults.  The foundation stone, blessed by the Bishop of Lewes, was laid on Sunday 5th September by the Revd Thomas Wyatt, by whose inspiration and forethought the origin of St Richard’s had been conceived forty years earlier.  The building work was undertaken by Messrs Norman & Burt of Burgess Hill using local bricks from Freshfield Brick works, Danehill.  The consecration of the church, on 9th April 1938, was held by the Bishop of Chichester, following a procession from the old church along Sydney Road.  On the pillar on the south side of the Sanctuary, the Bishop made his mark of consecration within a circle, a symbol of eternity, cut into the pillar.

A tower was rejected on the grounds of expense, in its place the south Porch, surmounted by the one tall window and the bell turret, broke up the long line of the building.  The dormer windows fulfil the same aesthetic function for the large expanse of roof, and are certainly effective in giving light to the church.  Inside, the ribs, while being largely functional, give the same effect as may be achieved in a more traditional church by pillars and vaulting - while they do not obstruct the view of the Sanctuary from any part of the church.

There is a double main entrance porch on the south side and the baptistry positioned nearby at the side of the church.  The two galleries were interesting features, the west gallery giving an excellent view of the nave and Sanctuary, while the north gallery and adjoining choir vestry were certainly conveniently placed.  The wood block flooring and acoustic board roof coverings are pleasing and functional.

Some features of the old church were transferred to the new, the altar (though reduced in length) was installed in the Lady Chapel, together with two carved angels from the adjacent riddel posts in the old church.  Some of the benches were transferred to the galleries, and the beautifully carved eagle lantern brought over also.  The old pipe organ, bought from Lancing College, was not deemed appropriate and replaced in December 1938 by a Hammond electric organ, an innovation at the time.  This, itself replaced by an electric organ, made by Miller’s of Norwich, which was installed in 1983.  The font which was specially carved by a local stonemason, Mr Cobb, to fit the font cover bought from the old church.  The pulpit was given by the architect and the Churchwardens staves by Mr Allen, a former Churchwarden.  

The design of the altar, provided in memory of George, Esther and Charlotte Moberley and Alice Povis, was supervised by Mr Geoffrey Webb, an authority in this field.  Bought from the old church was the bronze processional cross, which was made in Malta,  as a plain cross, the figure being added later.  The stations of the cross, given in 1967, were beautifully carved by two former members, Miss Nollar and Miss Hardy.  They also carved the figure of St Richard, in his days before he became Bishop, which was placed in the baptistry.

Most striking is the tall crucifix on the wall above the altar, the figure carved in black wood on a copper cross, the work of Mr Jack Trowbridge, was provided later in the century.  There are a number of stained glass windows, representations of the Gospel scenes in bright colours by Mr Farrier Bell.  The window of Our Lady of Walsingham and another of St Richard are by Mr John Howard.