27 July 2021

St Thomas the Apostle, Davigdor Road, Hove.

 Judy Middleton 2003 (revised 2021)

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The church was photographed from St Ann’s Well Gardens in June 2001. The roof is covered with solar panels.

Background
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Church Jubilee Booklet 1965

The Sussex Daily News (21 December 1899) announced that a most eligible piece of land valued at £3,000 had been presented to the Diocese of Chichester by Mr O. d’Avigdor Goldsmid in order that a church might be built there. This is reminiscent of a similar very generous gift by another prominent Jewish gentleman with Hove connections, namely Isaac Lyon Goldsmid, who donated the site of which the church of St John the Baptist was built in Church Road. Alderman Howlett donated £100 towards the new church in Davigdor Road as well.

The Revd R. Daniel-Tyson was the inspiration behind the building of the new church. He was vicar of St Patrick’s Church, and felt a new church was needed because of all the building work going on in the north side of the parish. In November 1899 he wrote to Hove Council asking for permission to erect a temporary iron building on the site, and his request was granted. It is not recorded how many people attended services in this temporary building.

copyright © Church Jubilee Booklet 1965
St Thomas the Apostle in 1909 was used for services as early as 1901 in its partly finished state.


Meanwhile, there was slow progress on the new church. Alderman Howlett came to lay the foundation stone in 1901, and afterwards in his address he made the interesting observation that when he arrived at Hove some 45 years previously, there had been only two churches in the town. As regards the new church, £2,000 had already been subscribed but £6,000 more was needed. The first service was held in the crypt on 9 November 1901, while the first part of the church, consisting of two bays and a temporary roof, opened for worship in 1907, but it was not until 1915 that the church was dedicated, and 1923 when it was finally consecrated. Presumably, the delay was because the church building was not free of debt until 1923 – a prerequisite before the building could be consecrated.

copyright © Church Jubilee Booklet 1965

The well-known firm of Clayton & Black designed the church, and it was modelled on the church of St Mary in Eton, Hackney Wick. It was somewhat ambitious because the original design was for a vast unbroken hall of eight bays measuring 150-ft. In the event, only five bays were built stretching for a length of 110-ft, and Hove Council approved the amended plans in June 1906. The three bays were added to the two bays already built in 1913, together with a permanent roof, at a cost of £10,000. The roof rose to a height of 60-ft, making it a lofty church, with wonderful acoustics for music but decidedly unhelpful for the spoken word. The church has one bell cast by Gillett & Johnson, Croydon, 1931.

copyright © Church Jubilee Booklet 1965
The Bishop of Chichester, Right Revd Roland Wilberforce, dedicated the church in 1915.

In 1915 the Bishop of Chichester, Right Revd Roland Wilberforce, dedicated the church. It is rather amusing to note that the attendant clergy were obliged to robe at Hanningtons Depository opposite, and then proceeded to take a stately walk across the road on a red carpet laid especially for them.

copyright © Church Jubilee Booklet 1965
St Thomas the Apostle in 1916

First World War Memorial

The War Memorial is located on the east outside wall of St Thomas the Apostle adjacent to the footpath to St Ann's Well Gardens and names those of the Parish and the Old Boys of the local Belmont School who lost their lives in the First World War 1914-1918.

 copyright © J.Middleton 
The War Memorial on the east wall of the Church of St Thomas the Apostle, Davigdor Road
(now the Coptic Orthodox Church of  St Mary and St Abraam)

The Pulpit

The pulpit was a heptagonal affair ornamented with coats-of-arms, and was a memorial for the first incumbent Revd R. H. Markham (Domenichetti). Technically, he was the priest-in-charge because at the time St Patrick’s was still the mother church, and he was officially on their staff. St Thomas did not acquire its own parish status until 1924, carved out of the parishes of St Patrick’s and All Saints. In 1929 the vicarage was built in Nizell’s Avenue.

copyright © Church Jubilee Booklet 1965

Windows and Art-work

In 1943 it was stated that the only stained-glass in the church were two temporary lancets in the south aisle depicting St Richard of Chichester and St George. Therefore the stained-glass window above the altar of the Last Supper must have been installed at a later date. The man responsible for the latter was local artist Harry Mileham (1873-1957) who lived in Mallory Road and has been dubbed Hove’s lost Pre-Raphaelite. He also produced the beautiful paintings for the Stations of the Cross that were such a magnificent feature of the church. Mileham was a parishioner of St Thomas and designed programmes for various events. Other windows in local churches that Mileham produced were for St Anne’s, Kemp Town, and St Andrew’s Old Church, Hove.

In 1993 when St Thomas the Apostle Church was made redundant, Harry Mileham's paintings of the  Stations of the Cross were donated to St Mary's Church, Kemptown, Brighton, where they can be viewed today in a superb setting.

Below are twelve of the fourteen Stations of the Cross , the inscriptions below the paintings were all incorporated into the original picture frames when the paintings were installed into St Thomas the Apostle Church, Hove.

 copyright © D. Sharp
Number 1 – For the Gift of Healing & Many Mercies We thank Thee, O Lord. W.L. MCMXXIII.
Number 2 – In Memory of Marian Ashley. B, April 14th 1862 – D. Dec 5th 1930. Joy cometh in the Morning.
Number 3 – In gratitude for the 12 years faithfull ministry of Cecil Herbert Clarke, Vicar 1922 – 1934. this Picture is dedicated by members of the Congregation. SURSUM CORDA.

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Number 4 – Faith Mileham. 1906 – 1916. In Remembrance. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, Blessed be the Name of the Lord. (Faith was the daughter of the artist of these paintings)
Number 5 – In Loving and Grateful Memory of Annie Dallimore – Feb 13th 1932. and her son John C. L. Dallimore – Oct 11th 1931. “The Memory of the Just is Blessed.”
Number 6 – In Loving Memory of a Dear Brother. Edmund Irton Westrope, Born July 29th 1877 – Died in Canada August 19th 1910. “Blessed are the Merciful.”
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Number 7 – In loving memory of George Wiley, Died May 27th 1932, aged 69 year; for many years a Sidesman of this Church and his Son, Donald William Wiley, Killed in action, October 12th 1918, aged 20 years.
Number 8 – Emily Lucy Christopherson, In Remembrance – 1 October – 1931. “This is the Victory that overcometh the world – even our faith.”
Number 9 – In Loving Memory of Emily Downing Cobb, B. September 26th 1849 – D. February 19th 1934. “The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God.”

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Number 10 – In Loving Memory of Ann Fletcher. Died, July 17th 1930 – Aged 83 years. “Her children rise up and call her blessed.”
Number 11 – In Grateful Memory of Ann Sydenham Clarke, December 8th 1913, And of twelve years’ happy service in this place. 1922 – 1934. A.H.A – D.M.C. “Thanks be to God.”
Number 12 – Blanche Mary Read Aug 21st 1903 – Nov 18th 1917. In remembrance “Lord I have loved the habitation of thine house and the place where thine honour dwelleth.”

See the website of St Mary's Church, Kemp Town, Brighton for the church's opening times to view the former St Thomas the Apostle's Stations of the Cross paintings.

The Altars

At St Thomas, there was a high altar, and three others – the one on the east side of the south aisle became the Lady Chapel. Sir Walter Tapper designed the reredos for two of them.

copyright © Church Jubilee Booklet 1965

The Choir

copyright © Church Jubilee Booklet 1965
The Lady Chapel

The choir occupied the gallery at the back of the church and so there was no need to be robed. It was a mixed choir of adults and youngsters and there could be as many as twelve in the late 1950s. Mr Foster was the organist and choirmaster, and besides the usual hymns the choir sang ‘proper’ masses, and a memorable unaccompanied piece of music was the Russian Kontakion for the Dead sung on Remembrance Sunday. At Christmas time Mr Foster invited choir members back to his home for sandwiches and a drink, and they all squashed into the front room; his son was a server at the church too. Younger choir members also enjoyed a spot of square dancing in the crypt now and then.

A Veteran Organist

Thomas Church Saxby was another organist at St Thomas, and he was a founder member of the Brighton Organists’ Association formed in 1914. His first paid job was at the age of eight when he played the harmonium on Sundays for the old folk in Lewes Workhouse for one shilling a session. When he was aged twelve he became organist at Brighton Workhouse. Saxby was a venerable musician of eighty years when he became organist at St Thomas, and he just kept on going until he was 98, and then thought that perhaps it was time for him to retire. In 1980 he celebrated his 100th birthday. The vicar at that time, Father Rankin, arranged for him to meet Prince Philip when the Prince visited Hove in February 1980 but Mr Saxby remarked that he was not looking forward to it.

copyright © Church Jubilee Booklet 1965
St Thomas the Apostle in 1949 with the First World Memorial on the east wall

Theft and Fire

On a Sunday morning in 1972 between 9 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. thieves stole two paintings of the Madonna from the church; one of the paintings dated back to the 17th century and was valued at £800.

On 3 October 1982 an arsonist broke into the crypt and set fire to scenery belonging to the Brighton Operatic Society. Fortunately, a vigilant neighbour noticed the smoke and the fire was soon extinguished without too much damage. Oddly enough, there ad been a previous fire in the crypt in March 1982, but that was thought to have started accidentally.

Priests-in-Charge and Vicars

Revd W. L. Bretton
1901 – Revd W. L. Bretton was on the staff of St Patrick’s Church, but from 9 November 1901 until November 1907 he served at St Thomas’s – or the crypt, to be more accurate. He helped to develop the district.

Revd R. H. Markham
(Domenichetti)

1909 – 1922 Revd Richard Hippisley Domenichetti was given sole charge of the newly-created conventional district of St Thomas. While studying at Oxford, Domenichetti he was awarded the 1885 Newdigate Prize for his poem The Thames. In 1890 his book The Quest of Sir Bertrand and Other Poems was published. He became a Roman Catholic for a short while before he was ordained in the Church of England. In 1916 the Revd Domenichetti changed his surname to ‘Markham’ although it was not until June 1919 that the London Gazette reported that the Revd Richard Domenichetti and his brother Lieutenant Colonel Francis Domenichetti, late of the Indian Army, had adopted a new surname. (the reason for the surname change is not known)

In 1911 the Revd D. R. Pelly arrived to assist him, and in 1913 Revd M. H. O’Beirne joined the staff.

Revd C. R. Clarke
1922 – Revd C. R. Clarke was the first incumbent to occupy the vicarage at 18 Nizell’s Avenue, built and paid for in 1928. It was also during his tenure that the last of the debt for building the church was cleared, and thus St Thomas’s could be consecrated at last.

Revd D. C. Dunlop
1934 – Revd D. C. Dunlop had enjoyed a varied career before he arrived at St Thomas’s where he only stayed for two years. Before moving to Hove he had been private chaplain to the Bishop of London and the Bishop of Chichester, besides working in Stockholm, and being chaplain to the British Embassy in Baghdad. After leaving Hove, he became vicar of Henfield; by 1949 he had become Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh; in 1944 he became he became Archdeacon of Auckland as well as Suffragan Bishop of Jarrow. From 1949 to 1964 he was Dean of Lincoln.

Revd Jerome Victor
1936 – Revd Jerome Victor was at St Thomas’s for six years, his previous parish being Chiddingly. When he left Hove he became vicar of Ringmer, and in 1956 moved to Flimwell where he stayed until his retirement.

Revd Reginald Hodges
1942 – Revd Reginald Hodges was another vicar who only stayed at St Thomas’s for two years. Previously, he had been vicar of South Lancing, and after Hove he became vicar of Fordingbridge, and afterwards moved to the diocese of Truro, retiring in 1964.

Revd C. W. Squire
1945 – Revd Charles William Squire was educated at Merton College, Cambridge, where he represented the college at cricket and football. He also played hockey, and specialised in fencing and boxing. He was ordained deacon in 1917 and priested in 1918. He became curate at St Augustine’s Church, Stepney, before going on to St Alban’s Church, Holborn. In 1928 he became a lecturer and tutor at Chichester Theological College, and he was also tutor to the Marquis of Tavistock until 1931. At Hove, St Thomas’s followed the Anglo-Catholic tradition, popularly known as bells and smells; Father Squire played his part by wearing the full Catholic regalia of a many-buttoned black cassock complete with biretta when he was out and about. He wore spectacles through which he looked at you with a quizzical expression because of a slight squint, and he cut a memorable figure sailing along Church Road; he often popped into Combridges Second-hand Bookshop to swap anecdotes with the manager Ken Lane. When it came to Parish Gift Day, he would spend the day thus garbed, seated at a table outside St Thomas’s hoping to receive generous contributions. When he retired in 1963 he became chaplain to Lionel Sackville-West at his stately home of Knole.

Revd William Favell
1964 – Revd William Favell had been vicar of St Paul’s Church, Brighton, before before being inducted to St Thomas’s in 1964. He had also been vicar of another St Paul’s – this one being at Oxford. When he was at Hove he was assisted by Revd Canon C. W. Hutchinson who lived at 3 Melville Road, and the Bishop of Lewes, who lived nearby, was an honorary member.

1980s - Revd Dennis Rankin

1983 – Revd Brian Whatmore

The Future?

By January 1982 the church’s future was in doubt. The parochial church council wanted to demolish the building, and develop the site with an office block that would incorporate a new church. However, the Council for the Care of Churches put a stop to that idea by stating that the church had some architectural merit and should be preserved.

In February 1982 it was suggested that the congregation might migrate to the recently vacated church of St Cuthbert’s on the corner of Holland Road. Revd Dennis Rankin said that it cost £12,000 a year to run St Thomas’s, and probably St Cuthbert’s would be an easier building to maintain. It is interesting to note that the congregation at St Thomas had not melted away and Father Rankin said there was an average attendance of one hundred people on a Sunday, whereas twelve years previously the average had been forty or fifty.

In 1983 the architect carried out his regular five-year inspection of the fabric and came up with an alarming report. He stated that the church needed a great deal of maintenance, including re-pointing work, and attention to the roof, which together with the cost of erecting scaffolding would produce a bill of at least £32,000. This meant that effectively more than £200 from each member on the electoral roll might be required. Not surprisingly, the prospect of demolition raised its head once again. The parochial church council tried to persuade the Council for the Care of Churches to reverse its previous decision. The parochial church council also asked the architect David Grey to make a preliminary study on what might be possible to build on the site. It was generally put about that the church was not worth saving, but this turned out not to be the case because the Coptic Christian Church were happy to purchase the building.

The last Church of England service at St Thomas’s took place on 17 January 1993. Mileham’s Stations of the Cross were removed and set up at St Mary’s, Kemp Town. On 23 September 1994 Pope Shenouda III, leader of the Coptic Church, dedicated the church to St Mary and St Abraam.

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St Mary and St Abraam Coptic Church

St Mary and St Abraam Coptic Orthodox Church

On 23 September 1994 the leader of the Coptic Church, Pope Shenouda III (the 117th Pope of Alexandria) arrived to consecrate the church, previously known as St Thomas the Apostle. It became the first Coptic church in the south. The priest in charge of the church was Father Zakaria Botros Henein who came from Egypt. On 19 July 1995 the church was registered for solemnizing marriages.

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In February 1998 the council deferred a decision concerning a two-storey extension at the church for further investigation, but planning permission was then granted in April of that year.

Also in April 1998 members of the congregation upset the authorities and local residents at Abbot’s Wood near Hailsham. This was because every year to celebrate Easter Monday, which is observed a week later than in the Western church, the people go there to enjoy a mass picnic together. Unfortunately, they left behind piles of litter. The forest ranger said he had filled 30 bin-liners, and expected to fill 30 more before it was all cleared away. The Forestry Commission said they expected the church to foot the bill, but Father Henein said many of his congregation were refugees from the Middle East and could not afford a large bill.

In 2000 it was stated that the congregation numbered 4,000 Sudanese people. On Sunday 13 August 2000 His Holiness Pope Shenouda III dedicated the new iconostasis at the church; it measured 7.5 metres high, and it was believed to be the tallest in the world. The iconostasis was carved in Cairo using American oak and French mahogany, and when finished, it was shipped to this country in small pieces. It was remarkable that is was assembled in time for the Orthodox Easter by a team of 40 volunteers in six hours, although such an intricate task usually takes two weeks. Architect Nadar Solomon master-minded the project, and said that the iconostasis was based on a tradition going back to the First Century. The work contained 24 icons depicting the Last Supper, Christ, the Apostles, and Angels. Plans were in hand to mount a further 24 icons on the walls of the church. Father Henein has painted a huge icon of Christ the King behind the altar. He has never had any formal artistic training but he said that he knew in his mind’s eye just how it ought to look.

In January 2003 tensions within the congregation erupted into a huge row with demonstrations, hunger strikes, and protesters occupying the hall downstairs. The catalyst was the arrival on 11 January of Bishop Daniel from Sydney, Australia who had come to oversee Father Henien’s departure. The Bishop said that Father Henein, aged 69, had offered to retire, but his supporters claimed he was being kicked out. A measure of calm was restored when the Pope spoke by mobile phone to around 600 members of the congregation on 29 January 2003. The Pope told them the names of the new church council – the first to be elected, rather than appointed – and that a new priest, Father Manasa, would arrive from the Sudan soon.

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St Mary and St Abraam Coptic Church in June 2001

Sources

Argus

Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade

St Mary's Church, Kemptown, Brighton

St Thomas the Apostle, Hove. Jubilee Book (1965)

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page layout by D.Sharp