top of page

1863: The ceremony of laying the St Wilfrid Church foundation stone

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

Brighton Gazette - Thursday 15 October 1863



The want of Church accommodation has long been felt at Hayward’s Heath. The Parish Church of Cuckfield is distant nearly two miles, and in course of time, as-thanks the modern giant of civilization, the railway—houses and villa residences sprung up and population rapidly increased, this want became more and more felt. The Rev. R. E. Wyatt, one of the Curates of Cuckfield, endeavoured to the utmost of his power to supply this want, and by his exertions, combined with the assistance of a few personal friends, a small school-church was a few years back raised the Heath.

The very slight accommodation thus afforded has long been outgrown, and the friends of Church extension have bestirred themselves to meet the requirement. A subscription was set on foot, and amongst those who subscribed most largely wore the Misses Dealtry (who gave £1,000), the Lord Bishop of the Diocese, the Lord Lieutenant of the County, W. W. Burrell, Esq., and others. A site for the proposed Church was also liberally given by W. Sergison, Esq., the Lord of the Manor, and the land thus presented was appropriated under the Land Enclosures’ Act.

At the present time the whole of the funds necessary for the building of the Church have been raised with the exception of about £1,800, which it is earnestly hoped will be realised by a little exertion. The site for the Church is a piece of rising ground on the Heath, to the east of the Railway, not far from the School Chapel, upon high ground, in the midst of open country. The building will, when completed, consist of nave, about 78ft. by 25ft., with two aisles, each 10ft wide, a central tower forming the chancel, and a sanctuary further eastward. The length from east to west will be about 115 ft. The nave will have five arches on either side with octagonal piers and moulded capitals. The building will be of the local sandstone, with Scames Hill dressings.

St Wilfrid Church

Internally, the Church will be lined with red brick from St. John’s Common, and this will harmonise well with the colour of the sandstone, while forming a pleasing contrast with it. The style of the building will be that prevalent in England at the early part of the 14th century, and will be effective rather by good proportion and truthfulness of construction than by much ornamentation. There will be accommodation for about 700 worshippers, open benches being placed in the nave and aisles. All the seats will entirely free and unappropriated.

Internal view of St Wilfrid Church

The architect is Mr George Frederick Bodley, of Upper Harley Street, London, and the builder Mr John Fabian, of Brighton.

The Church is to be dedicated to St. Wilfrid, and we have much pleasure in being able to supply our readers with a very interesting sketch, from the pen of the Lev. J. H. Appleton, Curate of Cuckfield, as to who this St. Wilfrid was:-

Wilfred (or, in Anglo-Saxon, Wilferder) was the son of a Northumbrian thane, and was born about A.D. 633. We will pass over the tales of his infancy, and come at once to his first appearance before the world. The Queen, Eanfled, was so much struck by the beauty and talents of the youth, that she took him under her patronage; and, finding that his inclination was towards holy orders, placed him under the care of a monk the abbey of Lindisfarne.

After a few years the young student was seized with an earnest longing to visit Rome, the great metropolis of Western Christianity. For a candidate for the ministry, or, indeed for any earnest mind of those days, this was most natural. “To them, Rome was the centre and source of the faith: a pilgrimage to Rome to an aspirant after the dignity or the usefulness of the Church priesthood, became the great object and privilege of life. Every motive which could stir the devout heart or the expanding mind sent them forth on this holy journey: piety, which would actually tread a city honoured by the residence and hallowed by the reliques of Apostles; awful curiosity, which would behold the successor of that Pope who had brought them within the pale of salvation; perhaps the desire of knowledge and the wish to themselves for the duties of their sacred station etc with the consent of Queen Eanfled, and accompanied by Benedict Biscop (another great name in the history of the Church), Wilfrid set out upon what was then a long, difficult, and even dangerous journey

After a short stay at Lyons, where he was hospitably received by Delphinus, the Bishop (afterwards a martyr), the traveller passed on to Rome. “And if his mind, accustomed to nothing more imposing than the rude dwelling of a Northumbrian thane, or the church of wood and wattels, expanded at the sight of cities, which probably, like Lyons, still maintained something of the old provincial magnificence, with what feelings must the stranger have trod the streets of Rome, with all its historical and religious marvels.

We are dwelling on this early visit to Rome, because in it ls contained the key to much of Wilfrid's after life, especially his famous appeals. In our days we have a fully organised National Church, a well-tried code of law, both civil and ecclesiastical. But England in the seventh, was a very different place from England in the nineteenth century. When Wilfrid looked away from his native land to the court of Rome, it argued very different spirit from what it would be in our days. It was in him an appeal from ignorance to the great seat of learning, from semi-barbarism to civilisation, from insular narrowness to impartial justice. But we are anticipating.

At Rome, Boniface the Archdeacon undertook the charge of the young Saxon; and, after a stay of some length, Wilfrid returned to England full of all the wisdom of the great city. He was received by Alchfrid, King of Northumbria, with wondering respect, and proceeded to found a religious house at Ripon, of which he subsequently became Abbot. Soon afterwards he was appointed by universal consent to the Northumbrian Bishopric, and feeling some doubt about the canonical consecration of the Scottish Bishops, crossed over to France, where he could find those who undoubtedly maintained the Catholic discipline. He was consecrated with great pomp at Compiegne, and, after a protracted stay amongst his French brethren, prepared to enter upon his duties in England.

And now the event occurs which connects Wilfrid with Sussex. Dean Milman shall tell the tale in his own words. “On his return to England, a wild adventure on the shores of his native land showed how strangely the fiercest barbarism still encountered the progress of civilisation, paganism that of Christianity, The kingdom of Sussex was yet entirely heathen. Wilfrid was driven by a storm upon its coast.

The Saxon pirates had become merciless wreckers; they thought everything cast by the winds and the sea upon their coast their undoubted property, the crew and passengers of vessels driven on shore their lawful slaves. They attacked the stranded bark with the utmost ferocity: the crew of Wilfrid made a gallant resistance. It was a strange scene. On one side the Christian prelate and his clergy were kneeling aloof in prayer: on the other a pagan priest was encouraging the attack, by what both parties supposed powerful enchantments.

A fortunate stone from a sling struck the priest on the forehead, and put an end to his life and his magic. But his fall only exasperated the barbarians. Thrice they renewed the attack, and thrice were beaten off. The prayers of Wilfrid became more urgent, more needed, more successful. The tide came in, the wind shifted, the vessel got to sea. and reached Sandwich”.

And for this outrage the good Bishop took a Christian’s revenge, overcoming evil with good. Amid all the varied duties of his high station, his thoughts kept kept wandering back to those poor men of Sussex who in their blindness had done him this great wrong. How could he benefit them, how could he rescue them from the power of Satan? At last the opportunity came. It will be unprofitable to try and unravel the causes which after some time reduced the popular Bishop to a state of disgrace, nay, even of personal danger. Perhaps his uncompromising holiness thwarted the king; perhaps Theodore the new Archbishop of Canterbury, a Greek by birth, despised and desired to humble this Saxon.Whatever was the cause, an attempt was made to divide the bishopric of York into three sees, and, by the appointment of the Bishops, to supersede Wilfrid altogether in his spiritual functions. Wilfrid appealed to Rome, and, indeed, made again the journey himself, preaching and converting the heathen as he went.

The case was given in his favour; but little did either King or Archbishop care for Rome’s authority, that Wilfrid was still in danger, and fled for refuge to pagan Sussex, and proceeded to carry out his long cherished scheme of evangelisation. Let us again here Dean Milman: “a few poor Irish monks at Boshem (near Chichester) had alone penetrated the wild forest and jungles which cut off this barbarous tribe from the rest of England. But their rude hearts opened at once to the eloquence of Wilfrid. He taught them the arts of Life as well as the doctrines of the gospel.

For three years this part of the island had suffered by drought, followed by famine so severe, that an epidemic desperation seized the people. They linked themselves by 40s or 50s hand in hand, left from the rocks, were dashed in pieces or drowned. Though the Maritime people, on a long line of Sea Coast, they were ignorant of the art of fishing. Wilfrid collected a number of nets, led them out to sea, and so provided them up with a regular supply of food. The wise and pious benefactor of the nation was rewarded by a grant of the peninsular of Selsey (the isle of seals). There he built a monastery, and for five years exercised undisturbed his episcopal functions,______ our first Diocesan.

St Wilfrid

We must pass over very briefly the rest of Wilfrid’s eventful Life; how Theodore, growing old, repented of his harshness to the great Saxon Bishop, and publicly proclaimed in London that he had been unjustly deprived of his sec; how Wilfrid was restored to his bishopric of York; how his enemies again made head against him, going even to the length of excommunication; how at 70 years of age the undaunted Bishop again undertook the dangerous journey to Rome; how Pope John V pronounced in his favour; how on his return the tide of public feeling began to turn in his favour; how the bishops interchanged the kiss of peace; and how the old man at last entered into a rest. A.D. 706, in the seventy sixth year of his age.

The ceremony of laying the cornerstone of the church took place on Monday, under the most favourable circumstances. The weather being delightfully fine, a large number of the inhabitants of the district and neighbourhood assembled. The clergy and the choir, attired in their white surplices, Assembled in the school chapel shortly before noon, and at 12 o'clock they marched in procession to the site, the choir, ably led by Mr Alfred White of Brighton, organist of Cuckfield Church, chanting the 84th psalm. Here the clergy and the choir Took up their position.

Appropriate prayers were read by the Rev. R. Wyatt, the future incumbent of the church, followed by the Lesson (Ezra iii, 8-12), read by the Rev. H. Hawkins, chaplain of the county asylum,, after which the Archdeacon offered up prayer and Miss Dealtry one of the principal promoters of the good work, proceeded to perform the important ceremony. The stone selected for the purpose at the North East angle of the building was suspended by a rope from poll overhead. In the bottom of the stone was a cavity for the reception of a small, clear glass bottle, in which had been placed a parchment tied with a piece of red thread. The parchment contained the following inscription:-

In the name of the ever Blessed Trinity in unity, this cornerstone of the church of St Wilfrid was placed by Dame Frances Deatry, for herself and the other donors, Anno Domini 1863





The cornerstone being lowered into its restingplace, the architect handed a trowel to Miss Dealtry, who, on behalf of her sister and the donors generally, placed the stone. Having given it three taps with a mallet, she pronounced most clearly and with expression -“In the faith of Jesus Christ, our Lord, I place this Comer-Stone of the church of St. Wilfrid, in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.”

The Te Deum was then sung by the choir.

The Archdeacon then addressed the assembled company as follows

"Good Christian people, neighbours, friends, and brethren in Christ. No words could add to the solemn interest of the occasion which brings us together; but if, when, secular buildings are raised for secular purposes, it is usual for men to speak to each other words of hope and encouragement, so when a Church ls about to be raised to the glory of God and the benefit of His people, it surely becomes us not to allow the occasion to pass away without some words being spoken, however weak and inadequate to the occasion, although the utmost which the speaker can hope for will be to give a weak echo of the thoughts which arise in the hearts of those present. This spot which we are now standing affords an instance amongst many others of the changes, the wonderful changes which have taken place amongst us during the last 20 years.

This spot, still in a great measure a desert heath, has yet been taken in hand for the purpose of erecting houses, —residences, probably, chiefly for those engaged in crowded cities, but who now, owing to the blessings of improved communication, which have almost done away with space, are desirous of enjoying the same blessings with ourselves of God's pure air, a desire, I trust, healthful when accomplished, to both soul and body. But, although men change their residences, their minds do not change; and the same things are needful, spiritually at least, for those dwelling in the country as for those dwelling in towns.

Those who come us in this neighbourhood from towns will still bring with them the same corrupt hearts, the same necessity for reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ, and the same desire for prayer to Him in His Church. It is to supply this want that this Church has now been commenced by the charitable bands of those in the neighbourhood. This Church, then, hope, will rise shortly, a beautiful structure, commodious for all. It is to be dedicated to St. Wilfrid, the first missionary among the Pagan South Saxons, and the first Bishop of this diocese. Since he first preached in the Isle of Selsey, 90 Bishops have succeeded him—our own honoured Bishop being the 91st in succession.

Twelve hundred years nearly have passed since that time, and in those twelve centuries many of the most important changes to which countries or places can subjected have taken place. Our races have been mixed since that day, new importations of other nations have been introduced, new dynasties have from time to time arisen, revolutions have taken place even in the Church herself, and yet, amidst all these trials and difficulties, the Church herself has remained as a rock, yea, and will remain to all eternity, until Christ has delivered up the kingdom to the Father, and God shall be all in all. Well, then, we dedicate this Church to St. Wilfrid, as the first Apostle and the first Bishop of this diocese.

We dedicate it to his name, first, as desiring to revive and to preserve the memory of great benefactor to this neighbourhood; and, secondly, dedicate it to his name in the hope that those who enter this Church, to pray in peace and safety, will find cause for thanking God for the pleasant days in which their lot has fallen, and will remember how, in St. Wilfrid’s time, the whole of this district was covered with woods and marshes, and was inhabited by wild beasts, and still more, wild men.

They will remember with gratitude that the poorest man at the present time has more security for his liberty, his property, and life, than the highest and the most influential of the men of those days. And when he enters this Church he will thank God, who has permitted him quietly, without obstruction, without persecution, without fear of man, to enter his holy sanctuary, and there pray to Him, and praise His name.

The name of St. Wilfrid will also call up in our minds a sense of great responsibility. It will call up in our minds a sense of how much we have to pay back to God for the blessings and the mercies which we have received. It will give courage to the hearts of the Ministers, when obstructed in their course by the ignorance or bad passions of men, when they consider that St. Wilfrid found the same when he first came and preached in this district.

Let no one suppose, however, that in dedicating this Church Saint Wilfrid, we are doing a superstitious act, or suppose that we think any holy man gathered to the Lord has power to take an active part in the affairs of men, whether spiritual or temporal. They, as will be the case with ourselves, are waiting,—that is to say, their disembodied spirits are waiting, the great day of the resurrection; and until that great day shall come we have no certain warrant from Scripture to justify us in supposing that they are permitted take part in the affairs of earth. But observe, that, although this Church is named after St. Wilfrid, in memory of a good man, in gratitude to him, and setting his example forth as an encouragement to others, this stone was laid, not in the name of St. Wilfrid, but in the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, in that name to which alone we can look for strength, for stability, for blessing on ourselves and those who shall come here as fellow-workmen, in that name to which alone we can look for help at any time, at any period, under any circumstances, in that name to which alone we give the glory.

We have laid this stone in Faith, in Hope, and in Charity. We lay it in Faith, sure Faith, that all God’s promises in Christ are “Yea, and amen.” We lay it in Faith, that His especial promises to His Church will surely be fulfilled, that He will be with His ministers to the end of time, and that, where two or three are gathered together, He will be in the midst of them; will be with them in their prayers, and in His Sacraments to to all who duly receive them; that He will be with the preaching of His Word here.

We also lay this stone in Hope; in Hope that His promises will be abundantly fulfilled towards this particular Church and congregation; that from time to time God’s blessing will be with them, that they will never want a Minister who shall rightly divide the word of truth and rightly and duly administer His Holy Sacraments, that we shall never want people with good and faithful hearts to receive the word, spoken into fruitful soil,—that God’s blessing will be both with congregation and with Minister.

And, lastly, we have laid this stone in Charity; in that Charity, that love to God which deserves above all things man’s spiritual welfare, and with that love to man which can look behind and before, which can look backwards and forwards, can feel that the Church, the body of Jesus Christ, unites all in one holy bond of brotherhood, and especially us of this age, who, in asking a blessing on this stone, feel that is the corner-stone of a sacred building uniting each of us more especially together, and thus, we shall be led most earnestly to remember this occasion, and so to pray that whatever may hinder godly union and concord may be done away from us, and that as there is ‘but one body and one spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all,” so we may become, more and more, all of us of one heart and mind, united in one holy bond of Faith and Charity, and with one heart and with one mouth we may glorify God."

Prayer was then offered by the Rev. J. H. Appleton, the hymn, “Christ is made the sure foundation,” was very beautifully sung, the Archdeacon pronounced his blessing, and the company dispersed.

A really elegant luncheon, kindly given by the Misses Dealtry and Mrs Wyatt, sen., and prepared, with his usual ability, by Mr Booth, confectioner. East Street, under canvass, on a spot of ground close by, was afterwards partaken of by about 150 invited guests, among whom we observed the following :—

The Misses Dealtry, Mr and Mrs Robinson (Balcombe), Mr and Miss Freshfield, Mr, Miss, and Mr J. Fearon, Mrs and Miss Burrell, Mr R. W. Blencowe, Lieut.-Colonel Moorsom, Mr and Mrs Campion, Mrs Oldham, Misses Neale, Mr Tyler (Franklands), Mrs and Misses Richmond, Captain Finch and family, Mr W. Sergison and family, Mrs Renshaw and family, Misses Dixon, the Ven. Archdeacon Otter and family, Dr. Lowe (S. John’s College), Rev. Field, Rev. W. H. and Mrs Stallard, Rev. H. and Mrs Hawkins, Rev. H. Campion, Rev. Haweis and Miss Haweis, Rev. C., Mrs, and Miss Borrer, Rev. J. H. Appleton, Rev. and Mrs Watson, Rev. And Mrs Shears, Rev. - Hampshire, Rev. G. C. and Mr White, Rev. - Swan, Rev. Gibson, Rev. Robinson, Rev. Wetherall, Rev. and Mrs Ley, Rev. Noyes, Mr and Mrs Bull, Mr W. H. Wyatt, Miss Elwin, Miss Wyatt, the Misses Busse, Rev. R. L. Wyatt, Mrs and the Misses Byass, Mr and Miss Willis, G. F. Bodley (Architect), Mr Thos. Maberley, Mrs and Miss Plunkett, Miss Wodehouse, Mr Geo. Chetwynd, Mr, Mrs, and the Misses Burnand, Major and Mrs McAdam, Miss Symms, Mrs Sarel, Mr and Mrs Waugh, Mr Barton, C. Kemp, and Mrs Henry Robinson, Mr, Mrs, and Miss Bent, Mrs J. Bent, Mr J. H. Bull, Mr and Mrs Hancock, Mrs Hennah, Mr and Mrs H. Treacher, Mr Fabian, etc etc.

At the luncheon the health of the donors and Miss Dealtry was given by Mr W. H. Wyatt, and acknowledged on their behalf by Mr Robinson, of Balcombe. The health of Mrs Wyatt, mother of the Incumbent, was given in feeling terms by the Rev. H. Hawkins, and acknowledged by H. Wyatt. Mr Robinson proposed the Bishop, Archdeacon, Clergy of the Diocese, regretting the absence from home, through illness, of the Vicar of Cuckfield.

The toast was acknowledged by Mr Maberley jun., for his father, and by the Archdeacon for the Clergy. The Rev. R. E. Wyatt, speaking to the toast, said he believed no one in the neighbourhood was more honoured and beloved than the Vicar of Cuckfield, who had promised to make this a separate district as soon as the Church was completed. The health of Mr Sergison, and thanks to him for the Church site, was given by Mr W. Wyatt, the Rev. R. E. Wyatt proposed the health of a gentleman, respected by all the county, Mr Blencowe.

Mr BLENCOWE responding, alluded to the satisfactory nature of the proceedings that had taken place. The Church was to be erected on a spot in the very centre of the county, for he supposed if a line were taken for the centre, it could not be more than a mile out of this spot. This appeared to be a happy circumstance; he trusted a handsome Church would arise there, forming a kind of coping Church to the whole county of Sussex.

Mr Maberley proposed the health of the Rev. R.E. Wyatt, which was warmly received, and acknowledged in feeling terms. The health of the architect, Mr Bodley, was given, and Mr BLENCOWE then gave, “Success to Haywards Heath.”

In one of his peculiarly facetious speeches, he observed that Hayward’s Heath, thanks to the Railway and the erection of the County Lunatic Asylum, now enjoyed almost a European reputation. He hoped the locality did not suffer much from the erection of that Asylum, or from the walks of the inmates in the neighbourhood. He recently met a party of these poor creatures out on one of their walks; he entered into conversation with them: “What brought you here?” said one. “Oh! sir, it was drink. And what brought you here?” to another, “Ill usage of my relations,” was the reply. “And what brought you?” “ A four-wheel carriage, sir.” This repartee elicited roars of laughter from the company.

“The ladies,” by Mr W. Wyatt, responded to by Mr Fearon was the last toast.

We are informed that the sum of £83 5s. was collected after laying the stone, but very much more is required, which we sincerely trust will speedily forthcoming.

bottom of page