St Leonards Church was built by James Burton and consecrated on 22nd May 1834. It was built to service the growing population of St Leonards and proved popular with the residents. It was even visited by the future Queen Victoria during her stay in Hastings during the autumn of 1834.
An ancestor of mine, John Pelling, was married at the church to Polly Tree. Her father was the founder of the Silverhill Potteries, and his daughter was known as Polly of the Potteries. John Pelling specialised in making decorative pottery, particularly that resembled bark and wood. It’s said he did this in honour of his wife’s maiden name. The pottery works were substantial enough to warrant housing for several families, but the enterprise ceased in 1886. Silverhill School now stands on the site it once occupied.
Built into the sandstone cliffs, St Leonards Church survived a number of rock falls pretty much intact. Its demise came on 29th July 1944 when a V1 rocket was damaged in flight as it flew over the Channel, presumably by an aircraft or AA gun. The rocket’s flight took it on a collision course with the Marine Parade building, before veering off up Undercliffe Road and impacting near to the church. The explosion caused irreparable damage to the church. You can get an idea of the explosive damage caused by a V1 rocket by watching this video of another one hitting Hollington near Old Church Road.
Unfortunate though the damage to the church was, no one was injured. Had the rocket hit Marine Court, it’s likely that there would have been a large number of casualties as a party for servicemen was being held. Added to that, instead of the impressive Marine Court gracing the seafront we probably would have,Â given the record of the town council,Â had some ugly 70’s building there in it’s place.
Once the site was cleared, by German prisoners of warÂ no less, plans for a new church were drawn up. Funded by the War Damage commission, architects Charles and Adrian Gilbert Scott were appointed and building started in 1953. The new St Leonards Church opened for worship in 1955, with the south tower finally completed in 1961. Adrian Gilbert Scott was quoted as saying “”no architect could wish for a more romantic or inspiring site on which to build a church”.
The original photograph is from the East Sussex Libraries Flickr page and can be accessed by clicking on the image below. The photo I took at the same place is below it.