St George's - Polegate


First Thursday of the Month. 9.30 – 9.50am, or by arrangement with clergy. The week-day Mass times are subject to alteration in certain circumstances e.g. a funeral. Please check the weekly notices outside the church or telephone the Priest’s house Tel: 01323 841504.


Tea and Coffee are served after all the masses during the week and on Sundays.


The concept of a Catholic church for Polegate was instigated by Canon John Henry James Corballis who was parish priest in Eastbourne at that time. The name of the church, St. George, was chosen by the Canon after St. George’s Cathedral in Southwark where he had been Administrator prior to coming to Eastbourne. The land cost £1318.10s including the legal costs of dealing with some objections to the building of a church.

The church of St. George’s is a simple gabled building, built in 1938, in flint with Portland stone dressings. The nave and sanctuary are under a single roof and in a rectangular plan. The gabled south porch projects westward beyond the nave. The windows are simple and stylized with some Gothic tracery. The interior has a canted ceiling over the single space.

The foundation stone was laid on 7th June 1938. Beneath the stone and sealed in for posterity is a brass cylinder containing a copy of “The Times”, some catholic newspapers and some coins of the realm. The church was open on Wednesday, December 7th 1938, having been blessed the previous day by Cannon Corballis, the Rector of Eastbourne. The Bishop of Southwark, Archbishop Peter Emmanuel Amigo, presided and in his homily said that the church of St. George had been erected largely through the generosity of the people and that this was a fine example of the co-operation of the laity which the Pope at the time was actively encouraging. Fr. Corballis said ‘the design of the building was not exotic but in harmony with the surrounding downland, for the Catholic Church should be at home in whatever county it should be.’ St. George’s was served by priests from Our Lady of Ransom in Eastbourne until 1958.

The ‘English Heritage Review of Diocesan Churches 2005’ mentions St. George’s and wonders if the architect concerned and referred to as ‘Mr Hughes’ could in fact be J.O’Hanlon Hughes, the architect of St. Thomas More, Seaford built in 1935. The style is consistent with J.O’Hanlon Huges style as shown in St. Edmund’s Church, Beckenham built circa 1937. The Review continues by adding a ‘Statement of Importance’ which comments that the building has a simple and unexceptional style but laments that the design is ‘quite so plain’ – one cannot help but wonder if the writer of the Review mistook the ‘elegant simplicity’ which St. George’s clearly possesses, for plainness.

The cost was in the region of £8,000, funded largely by dances and whist drives and, no doubt, numerous other activities. The grounds of the Church include a garden of Remembrance for those whose ashes are buried there. Their names are all kept in the Book of Remembrance which is in a cabinet in the church.

There was a crisis in the early 1950’s due to a subterranean river causing severe problems to the structure. The course of the river was diverted and the cost of this was over £3000. The original church had chairs and in the 1960s these were replaced by oak benches. The infra red heating was installed at this time – the connection points for these heaters were still visible until recently when , the church was completely rewired. These heaters had been replaced later by the modern boiler circulating water system and that boiler was also replaced in 2007 by an ultra efficient modern boiler.

The Reredos, which was originally plain panels, was altered by Fr. Gardiner who commissioned the Jevington artist, Angela Bedingfield, to incorporate symbols of the four evangelists with Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, in the centre.

The Church Hall was built in 1962 at a cost of £6500 and in 1965 the priest’s house was built at a cost of £7750, both at the instigation of Father John Flanagan who came to Eastbourne in 1958 to take over the parishes of Polegate and Hampden Park. In 1960 Polegate with Hampden Park as made a parish in its own right, distinct from Our Lady of Ransom. Father Flanagan did a tremendous amount of work in establishing and renovating the two churches and associated buildings.

The Hall has also had to be rewired and has had new doors fitted. The Hall is quit6e well used by the congregation for coffee/tea after Mass and by outside organizations such as the Stroke Club, Line Dancers, Indoor bowls and Weight Watchers, to name just a few.

St. George’s has been served by several priests, including: Canon John Corballis, Mgr. J.J. Curtin, Fr. John Flanagan, Fr. James Kenny, Canon Bernard Thom, Fr. Dermot Keaveney, Fr. Kieran Gardiner, Fr. Anthony Shelley and currently Fr. Rory Kelly.

Personal Reflections

A History Leading To:

The Building of St. George’s Catholic Church

David Robertson

The building of a church does not just happen as many factors are thrown into the equation and this article is written to give insight into the broader picture leading to the building of St. George’s.

Our story starts not when the first brick was laid in the spring of 1938, but much further back in history, when in 1534, King Henry VIII by the Act of Supremacy made himself under God, Supreme Head of the Church of England. The Act was to herald Catholic subversion that would last in this country for over two centuries.

What followed was arguably the biggest upheaval in English history. The Dissolution of Monastries followed – and the execution of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More. Rather than suppressing the Catholic Faith, the examples set by people such as these, kept the faith alive.

Catholic numbers inevitably declined, although showed a slight increase when Mary Tudor came to the throne in 1553, dropping dramatically after Elizabeth’s succession in 1558. The following year (1559), the Church of England was established as the accepted faith of England.

The Prayer Book of Edward VI, abolished by Mary Tudor, was restored and Mass forbidden. Attendance at the new services was compulsory as the reign continued, recusants (Catholics who would not conform), being heavily fined or imprisoned. It was treason to be a priest in England and harsh penalties, even death, were imposed on those who harboured a priest. Little wonder then, that the majority of people conformed. Those were dark and very austere days for our Catholic predecessors.

As Catholic numbers fell, a few clung to their faith. A census of the Diocese of Chichester in 1676 gives 353 Catholics over the age of 16, and of those only 48 lived in East Sussex. A census of 1724 shows only 10 Catholic families in the deanery of Pevensey, which included Eastbourne, although none lived in our town. A census taken in 1780 for the Pevensey deanery revealed one Catholic in Alfriston and 6 at Westham.

In the second half of the 18th century there was nowhere for any Catholics in or around Eastbourne to hear Mass on a regular basis. However, in 1778, during the reign of George III, the plight of all Catholics in England was given a huge lift. The Catholic Relief Act of that year, saw Mass legalized, Catholic chapels and schools could be reopened, rewards for informing on Catholic priests were abolished and priests and bishops no longer faced imprisonment. Numbers of Catholics began to increase, and by the time Father King arrived in Eastbourne in 1867, he said he found six Catholics in the town.

It has to be said that Father Foy of the St. Leonards Mission was quoted as saying that Eastbourne probably had at that time, some coastguards stationed along the coast who were Catholic, as were a number of Irish labourers working on railway construction. In addition there were other groups of people such as the soldiers billeted at the Redoubt.

The 54 year old Father King set about establishing a Mission in Eastbourne. He lived at 42 Ceylon Place and utilised the basement as a small chapel. Within a year the industrious Father King had built a small Church and dedicated it to Our Lady under the title of Stella Maris. This was solemnly blessed and opened on April 1st 1869.

The small chapel was situated on a plot of ground now roughly occupied by Barclay’s Bank in Terminus Road. It is worthy of note that it was also the first Catholic Church build in Eastbourne since the Reformation! The building was 70ft by 20 ft, and cost about £300 to build. By now Father King estimated the Catholic ;population at approximately 250 (although I think this figure was slightly optimistic on Father King’s part), but nevertheless it was a large increase on the six that were in the town when he arrived only a year previously.

By the time Father King left Eastbourne in 1893, a priest had been sent by the Bishop to set up another church. The number of Catholics in the town now numbered around 600 and Father Stapley (aged 37 when he arrived in Eastbourne in 1890) was young, energetic and had some knowledge of the area. His church was in Grove Road (where the police garage now stands). The Church was named Our Lady of Ransom and the first Mass was celebrated there on August 15, 1890. Father Stapley left Eastbourne in 1894, when he was replaced by Father Lynch whose task it was to build a new church that would adequately serve the fashionable town that Eastbourne now was. After much searching and fund raising the present church of Our Lady of Ranson was built and the first Mass was celebrated on December 15th 1901.

To return to 1895, Father Lynch wrote to his superiors asking if he could say Mass in the district outside Eastbourne. One area that came under review was Polegate, another was Hailsham. A small satellite town five miles from Eastbourne, Polegate at that time contained nine Catholics.

Permission to say Mass outside the town was granted, and Father Lynch managed to say Mass in Hailsham a few times a year. However, it took a long time to establish a mission there and it wasn’t until 1917 that a small premises was rented and Mass celebrated on a more regular basis. Five years later in 1922, the first St. Wilfrids was erected and Mass was to be said there by the Eastbourne priests on a Sunday and one weekday. Hailsham was on it’s way to establishing a permanent church which was finally built and opened on Ascension Day 1955.

Meanwhile in the Polegate area, Mass was said on occasions in a house in Park Avenue, Hampden Park as far back as 1913, although it has been recorded that Mass was said at Polegate in Osbourne House (now demolished) at an earlier date. However, Mass was celebrated at various venues at intervals over the years until 1936, when Father Corballis came to Eastbourne.

Father Corballis first task was to ‘bring Mass to Polegate’. In February of that year (1936) he announced that a piece of land in the Main Road by the Polegate crossroads had been purchased, including legal fees, for £1318. This debt had to be discharged before building could commence and to this end fund raising began. Fetes and dances were organized and by the summer of 1937, sufficient funds were collected to pay off the debt.

The scene was now set for the building of St. George’s beginning in early 1938. The architect was Mr. J. O’Hanlon Hughes, consulting architect r. Geoffrey Webb, supervising architect Mr. Manser and appointed contractors Messrs. Llewellyn and Sons.

The foundation stone laying ceremony for the new church was held on a gloriously sunny late afternoon on Tuesday June 7th, 1938. The stone was blessed and laid in position by the Right Reverend W. Brown, DD Bishop of Pella, in a ceremony lasting about one hour. A wooden cross, stained black, surmounted the temporary platform which had been erected for the occasion and upon which almost the entire service was conducted. Except for a few words spoken by the Bishop and Father J. Corballis at the conclusion of the stonelaying, the verbal part of the ceremony was spoken in Latin.

The Bishop’s two assistants were Father O’Donaghue (St. Leonards) and Father Webb (Seaford). They were preceded on to the platform by the choirboys and were followed by the priests: Father Corballis, Father O’Farrell of St. Georges Cathedral, Southwark (Master of Ceremonies), Father Tak, Father Gilliard and Father McHale (in charge of the choir).

Following the conclusion of the rites associated with the laying of the stone, the Bishop sprinkled Holy Water on the stone itself and blessed each surface. The stone was then lowered into position. Then followed the blessing of the walls of the new church, which the Bishop also sprinkled with Holy Water while reciting prayers. Remounting the platform, the Bishop addressed a few words to those assembled and concluded by saying he hoped everyone would help Father Corballis in developing the work.

Father Corballis then showed a brass cylinder to the congregation and stated that it contained documents of the stone laying, copies of Catholic papers and coins of the realm. He went on to say that the cylinder was to be buried in the foundation so that ‘excavators in 2000 years time would know the facts of the beginning of the new church’. With that, the ceremony drew to an end and within six months the church was completed.

Another chapter in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in our area began when on Tuesday, December 7th 1938, the new church of St. George at Polegate was opened by His Grace the Archbishop, Doctor Peter Amigo, Bishop of Southwark. The cost of the building was £4000, with the furniture and fittings costing a further £500. The exterior was of flint (which the contractors had in abundance), with stone facings and mullions. It was to accommodate 120 people.

The church was blessed by the Roman Catholic Rector of Eastbourne, the Reverend Father J.H.J. Corballis on the Tuesday, and on the Wednesday the first High Mass was celebrated. Father Corballis assisted the Archbishop who presided and gave an address. Mass was sung by the Reverend Father C. Scarborough, the Master of Ceremonies being the Reverend Father John O’Farrell of St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark. Two former rectors of Eastbourne attended: the Very Reverend Monsignor A. Cocks (Worthing) and the Reverend J.E. Walters (Folkstone); and other clergy present were the Reverend Father McManus (Boatall Park), the Reverend Father Walter Quinen (Bromley), the Reverend Father John Cuddon (St. Leonards), the Reverend Father J.O’Donoghue (St. Leonards) and two from Ore Place College, the Reverends Dodebier and Beckers. Local clergy attending were: Fathers’ Tak, P. Baker and P. Flynn.

The music was in the Gregorian plain chant. Father D. McHale was in charge of the boy’s choir of St. Anthony’s Prep School, Eastbourne, and the organist was Father Gilliard of Battersea who was also in charge of the priests’ choir.

The congregation included among others, Mr. J. O’Hanlon Hughes (architect), Mr. Geoffrey Webb (consulting architect), Messrs. Manser and Stevenson (supervising architects), Mr. E.G. Llewellyn (representing the builders), Mrs. Davies Gilbert, Mrs. Wetherall, Lady Maguire, Mr. & Mrs. Poels and Mrs. Ford.

After the service, there was a luncheon at the Grand Hotel, the chair being taken by Father Corballis. Grace was followed by a short prayer offered for the Pope, and at the end of the meal the Loyal Toast was offered and drunk. Then Mr. R. Winsloe Patton proposed the health of the Archbishop and expressed the gratitude and pleasure felt at his visit.

The speaker went on to say that when he came to Eastbourne in 1893, there was no local Catholic Church in the vicinity, and now there was the magnificent church of Our Lady of Ransom, St. Agnes’, St. Gregory’s, St. Wilfrid’s and now St. George’s. During the same period the number of Roman Catholics had increased from approximately 200 to 2000. Further speeches followed, with the final toast being to the health of Father Corballis which was proposed by Monsignor Cocks.

Fortunately, St. George’s had been completed just prior to the start of the 2nd World War. Had it been delayed for a twelve month, it is anybody’s guess when it might have been finished.

The Church we see to-day is a beautiful Sussex style building, erected to the glory of God, built by the people with grit and determination. We are deeply indebted to those who made St. George’s possible, as we so easily take for granted the beauty of the Church and how simple it is for us to attend Mass.

St. George’s is the memorial to all who worked to make it happen.

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