First Base: 1851 – 1939

St Stephen’s Church

Town Commissioners bought the building in 1851 for £53,000 to prevent its demolition, which prompted the Bishop of Chichester to claim that as the chapel had been consecrated it belonged to the church. This claim was accepted.

At this stage the vicar of Brighton’s sister, Mary Anne Wagner, offered the diocese part of a piece of land, on which she had intended to build a house for herself, as a site for the re-erection of the Royal Chapel and a contribution towards the costs. This generous offer was accepted and the building was re-erected here in 1851 to serve as the place of worship for the Montpelier-Clifton Hill estate. A new street façade was added in the form of a classical temple-front with giant pilasters that matched those of the interior.

It is thought the building was moved brick by brick but others believe this is unlikely and suggest that a more likely scenario would have been that a new shell was constructed to the exact dimensions of the old building, thus allowing the interior decorations to be removed and carefully reinstated.

The cornice and pillars were retained. The former Royal pew was not kept, but galleries were erected at the north and south ends. The alter was positioned in the east recess and flanked by a pair of pulpits standing on turned columns with gas brackets lighting them and curved staircases for access.

1851

The organ stood in the similar recess in the west wall.

The church held 716 sittings, of which 172 were free.

It was opened by licence on 25 July 1851, but owing to illness of the Bishop of Chichester, it was not consecrated until 11 June 1852.

Henry Wagner appointed his nephew, the Rev. George Wagner as perpetual curate. Sadly, George Wagner’s health was never good and he died of TB in Malta on 10 February 1857, aged 39. The congregation of St Stephen’s erected a tablet to his memory in the north-west corner of the building which is still in position.

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This later photo shows that at some point the layout of the church changed and a new altar was placed on the shorter north wall.

For a brief period in the 1930s it was associated with spiritual healing.

In 1939 St Stephen’s Church was discontinued as a place of worship due to a dwindling congregation.