History of Robertson Street Congregational Church

The origins of the Christian congregation that built the two churches on this site: 1805 Nonconformists were able to meet in public and as a result the piece of land at ‘The Croft’ was given as a meeting house for the        independents. No local tradesmen dared to build it, so it was built in London and sent to Hastings. (Wooden building)

The creation of ‘Robertson Street Independent Church’ Robertson Street Congregational Church: The leadership team Deacon Mr William Diplock and Mr James Notcutt felt led to find a more central position and suitable building. They tried to buy the London and County Bank (near the Memorial in town) but failed so they bought the Robertson Street site and built the first church for £2,700 with the foundation stone being laid in 1856.

1858 -1873 Rev James Griffin (the oil painting which is displayed on open days is of the Rev James Griffin, we do not know what year it was painted or by whom) arrives at the first church, he believed himself unfit to be the pastor. There were only 8 rows of pews at the time in the church. Rev Griffin became the minister at the first church and his desire was to exercise whatever gifts he, and his church congregation, had to work for good. He was a weak man, it is reported, and he tried to leave due to his frailty. He was though a great preacher. He stayed for 13 years as a result of other help becoming available. Regular church goers from London and elsewhere attended due to the lack of free churches there. Also, strangers were reported as attending regularly.

1869 – Rev New (Assistant minister)  Joined Robertson Street Congregational Church and began preaching. Rev New started weekly evening Bible classes for young men and young women and children, then creating the Robertson Street Church Young Men’s Union.

1878 – Church Institute and Sunday School built, Priory street. (On the site of SAGA) for the men to be taught skills and to learn about the Bible and become missionaries. There were mothers meetings, working men's week day class, a Dorcas society and a society for tract distribution. The church held Wednesday services and prayer meetings on Mondays. (Priory Street stands on what was once an inlet from the sea). The building cost £7,000 to build. 1884 meeting to decide on the erection of a new church in Robertson Street .                                    

(The current Church/OPUS) The first church had been enlarged and improved four times and it was still too small for the congregation.  The entrances had been encroached upon and were unsafe. The committee then engaged Mr Henry Ward A.R.I.B.A as architect. The last service at the first church was held on 22nd June 1884. In the 15 months that followed the congregation met during the summer in the Pier Pavilion and during the winter in the theatre. The memorial stone for the new church was laid on 1th of September 1885 by James Spicer Esquire, J.P of Woodford and offering for £1,028 were laid on it. The opening service of dedication was held 7th October 1885. The church was built in stages.   First part required prior to the opening cost £12,000. In 1904 – Rev New became ill with what is reported to be a stroke, he stayed in Wroxham, Norfolk (broad land area) for three years until he was recovered enough to return to Robertson Street. In his time away the Church continued to send missionaries out, and new churches were open in the area.

Listed building information - Listed as Grade 2 in January 2010. United Reformed Church formerly Congregational Church (also known as: United Reformed Church formerly Congregational Church, ROBERSTON STREET) Congregational church, opened in 1885. Designed by Henry Ward, in a classical Mannerist manner. Replacing an earlier smaller church of 1857 which had been enlarged in 1864 with new towers and extra space to the side and incorporating basement meeting rooms as the congregation was so large. 

MATERIALS: Coursed ragstone with ashlar and probably terracotta dressings.

PLAN: The church is set into the slope with a long elevation with entrances at church level on Cambridge Road, and a narrow elevation with an entrance at lower hall level from Robertson Street. It comprises a church aligned east-west with the pulpit and organ at the western end and at lower level a hall, which is part of the café. The office has been a book shop but prior to that was the Sunday school room and the Ministers lounge is now the quite room. At half level is a vestry leading via narrow stairs to the pulpit. The pulpit is not used currently, the gallery is not in use on Sundays as the congregation fit on the main level. Monumental stairs lead from the Robertson Street entrance to the eastern end of the church. A rear stair and stairs from the Cambridge Road entrances lead to the gallery.   

Above corner of gallery: These stairs are not in use due to the safety risk due the water ingress damage as yet to be restored when funds have been raised. Not for lack of trying. 

EXTERIOR: Cambridge Road. In six bays, of which five bays are of two storeys and an attic storey of full, pedimented dormers, while the pedimented eastern bay is wider and taller. Bays are articulated by loosely composed composite pilasters. Entrances in the outer bays have segmental pediments enriched with foliate carving, supported on triple pilasters with foliate capitals and a deep entablature. Over each entrance is a plain, segmental headed fanlight flanked by enriched foliate spandrels. Oak doors have two-over-five raised panels, some glazed in green coloured glass in small rectangular leaded panes. Ground floor mullion and transom windows are of three round-headed lights, ineared architraves.



Tall first floor windows also in eared architraves, are of two lights, with a plain transom and have enriched pediments. The eastern bay has a round-headed tripartite window at first floor. It is richer than the adjacent windows, having a hood mould and has two central lights below a circular light flanked by single lights below foliate panels. The elevation has a continuous frieze. Above it, the eastern bay has a tall pedimented attic storey, the pediment of which is in coursed ragstone, has stone or terracotta dressings and is enriched with foliate panels and is set over a Lombardic frieze. The five adjacent bays have tall pedimented dormers supported by scrolled brackets and each has a blind oculus. Between each is an open balustrade. Above the tripartite window and at the western end of the balustrade is a spiked sphere.

Robertson Street: a narrow east-facing elevation on four storeys, in similar manner. The ground floor is in two bays with a pair of enriched arched entrances, one to the brewery yard, the area behind the gate accessing Doltons carpets back yard and one to the church, all beneath a deep modillion cornice.  The previous church was not as wide and this yard housed small wooden shacks which were stalls/shops. Church doors are of oak and part glazed. Upper floors are treated as a single bay. The first and second floors have a monumental three-light mullion and transom window rising through two storeys, flanked by paired composite pilasters. The window has enriched mullions and transoms, a bolection moulded frieze and an open segmental pediment framing a spiked sphere. The upper floor has a four-light round-headed tripartite window. The pediment, above a modillion cornice, is similar to that on Cambridge Road. Set back to the left is a tall stack.

INTERIOR: The church has a horseshoe-shaped gallery with a curved profile decorated in a low relief foliate pattern and supported on cast iron shafts and pierced brackets. Similarly, low relief decoration is applied to round-arched blind panels lining the upper church walls. The western end is defined by three, large, round-arched bays, with moulded arches and prominent keystones. At both levels are single pedimented doorcases, offset within the outer bays of the west wall. The church roof is coved with central, ribbed and moulded, diagonally boarded panels. The soffit of the gallery balcony is also boarded. Set forward from the central bay of the west wall is a substantial raised pulpit, with a projecting lectern, reached from gallery level and set above minister's seating and the table below, all in pine. Behind it is the organ which has painted pipes. Walls have a panelled dado with red flock panels. Seating is in curved pews with diagonally boarded backs. The church is reached from Robertson Street by a monumental stone stair with robust rectangular carved stone newels, an open arcaded balustrade and a polished moulded rail in a darker grey stone. At the head of the stairs, a pair of doors have upper panels glazed with rectangular leaded panes of green glass, and original brass door furniture. From Cambridge Road sets of double doors, some similarly glazed, lead to entrance lobbies, also with glazed screens, from which stone stairs give access to the gallery. Stairs have ornate cast metal newels and balusters and moulded timber rails. A timber stair with similar balustrades rises from the basement to the gallery at the rear of the building. The vestry has pine fittings which include a dado with upper panels lined in red velvet, a fireplace and over mantel, fitted cupboards, and short flights of steps to the stairwell and to the pulpit. The lower hall, which is of lesser significance, is supported on cast iron columns. The space is now subdivided and has suspended ceilings and is of reduced interest. The former Sunday school room has fitted cupboards. The 'lounge' has a moulded ceiling and fireplace, and may be the room illustrated as the Minister's room in Charles New's commemorative book.

Below: Part of the original church roof and tower/chimney from the first church incorporated into this building and attached to the creative media centre; The top side of part of the church wooden ceiling; Robertson Street end.


HISTORY: The Robertson Street Congregational Church was built in 1855 to replace a smaller church which had been built in 1857 and enlarged in 1964. Henry Ward ARIBA (1854-1927) 

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: The former Robertson Street Congregational Church, built in 1885 by Henry Ward (1854-1927), is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architecture: Large urban congregational church with richly detailed exteriors and interiors by locally based architect Henry Ward;

* Plan: Complex plan responding to its relationship to the existing street plan and topography which gives emphasis to its elevations;

* Intactness: Unaltered exterior and dramatic church interior complete with fittings;

* Architect: One of a group of listed buildings by local architect Henry Ward whose work contributed to the character of late C19 and early C20 Hastings. This text is from the original listing, and may not necessarily reflect the current setting of the building.  These rules are historical and His Place Community Church display them for interest and history only. We love this building, we are grateful to be custodians of it and wish to share the history, search for the stories of those who have been here and keep it as part of the rich history of Hastings - alive and relevant today as this building was when it was first created.  





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