St Mary of the Angels 150 Years of History

Adapted with kind permission from Dennis Key whose publication is available at St
Mary’s or on eBay or at Worthing Museum.

A Gaisford Beginning

Without the tremendous support of the Gaisford family in the 1860’s, in particular Thomas who was a convert to Catholicism,the story of St Mary’s may well have been so different. Thomas Gaisford, and his second wife Lady Emily, gave considerable support in effort and money to provide the fledgling Catholic Community in Worthing the church they so needed and desired.

In 1858 Thomas heard that a Mr. James Basil Daubuz, the High Sheriff of Sussex, wanted to sell his home, Offington Hall, with the surrounding estate in Worthing, Sussex. The property was ideal for a man who was planning to marry again soon. The house and 121 acres cost Thomas £11,400. The purchase was completed and his extensive alterations and additions included a chapel which became the first place of Catholic worship in Worthing.

On November 8 1859 The Sussex Advertiser reported:

‘1859, 26 October, Marriage of Thomas Gaisford and Lady Emily St Lawrence. Celebrated in the village of Howth in Ireland. Thomas Gaisford has lately purchased the beautiful domain of Offington, near Worthing, for a permanent residence. Amongst those present were, Lord St. Lawrence, brother of the bride, Colonel Gaisford, brother of the bridegroom.’

It was reported that Thomas was ‘one of the earliest converts of the Tractarian movement, the trusted friend of Newman and Manning and a pillar of the Roman Catholic Church in the South of England’.
Just nine years after his marriage, Thomas was dealt a terrible blow when his dear wife unexpectedly died, possibly during childbirth, aged just 39 years on November 6 1868. Lady Emily was interred in the vault inside the church of St. Mary of the Angels by Bishop Grant on November 11 with an infant child.

Southwark and Worthing

In 1850 a Roman Catholic hierarchy was re-established with Cardinal Wiseman arriving in September as the first Archbishop of Westminster. Twelve bishops were given territorial dioceses under the Cardinal Archbishop. One of these Bishoprics was that of Southwark, south of the river Thames and including Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire, Berkshire, the Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands.

On June 27 1851 Dr. Thomas Grant was appointed Bishop of Southwark and was consecrated on July 6 in Rome by Cardinal Franzoni. He guided his newly formed diocese for nineteen years, agreeing to the formation of many “Missions”, including Worthing.

The Gaisfords had organised a Chaplain to celebrate Mass in their new chapel in Offington Hall and allowed the small local Catholic community to attend Mass at their home.

In 1859 Count de Torre Diaz and a few other Catholics petitioned the Bishop to open a Mission in Worthing ministered by the Rev. Wollett, chaplain to Offington Hall. A Mission Church was opened using the chapel in his home, Augusta House, in Augusta Place.
The Mission needed a formal home near the town centre and Bishop Grant was very keen to develop the Mission in Worthing. His aim was to provide a resident priest with a formal church building for worship.

To this end he looked to another Catholic institution for co-operation. He approached the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion with a proposition which they agreed. So the interaction of parish church and convent with school began and this has lasted for more than 150 years.

The Sisters of Our Lady of Sion

The Ratisbonne family were Jewish merchants in Strasbourg, France. Two sons, Maria Theodor and Marie – Alphonse, converted and became Catholic priests. The main aim of the brothers was the promotion of true understanding between Jews and Christians and to use education as a means to this end. The brothers founded an Order of Religious in Paris which they called ‘The Congregation of Religious (Sisters) of Our Lady of Sion’. The brother priests were very interested in expanding the Order into other countries but an attempt in 1858 to found a House at Greenwich, was unsuccessful. Bishop Grant contacted them on the possibility of their being interested in a joint venture of building both a convent and church on adjoining sites in Worthing. Fr. Theodore wrote in early 1862:

“Near this town, called “the English Nice” because of its mild climate, the highly respected Major Gaisford, one of the converts to Catholicism, was residing in Offington Hall. This gentleman had conceived the idea of building, in entirely protestant Worthing, a church corresponding to the needs of Catholics drawn there by the attraction of the beach. With the co-operation of a teaching Order, the Bishop was hoping to make this church the centre of a flourishing mission. The providential establishment of the Worthing Foundation is such that we can perceive many fruitful blessings in it”.

Thomas Gaisford found a suitable site and conferred with Bishop Grant about the purchase of land. The Order of Our Lady of Sion agreed to the proposals put forward by the Diocese. Temporary premises were purchased for the Sisters in North Street in November 1862 and made suitable. A Chapel was created in this building, Wortley House, capable of holding about 14 people and from November 9 Mass was celebrated there using the altar and vestments passed over from Offington Hall.

St. Mary of the Angels 1861 – 1870

In Autumn 1861 Fr. Michael J. Fannan arrived in Worthing to be in charge of the Mission. He found himself immediately involved in discussions about developments with Thomas Gaisford, the Sisters of Sion and Bishop Grant. Archive files show:

A list of ‘Subscriptions for purchasing the site and building a permanent Chapel at Worthing’ …’was noted in February 1862. Mr. Gaisford of Offington gave £1000, Rev. Ignatius Collingbridge £115, Mr. Hope Scott £100, Lady Emily Gaisford £50, Charles Gould gave £25 and the Duke of Norfolk, Henry Munster and N. Power gave £10 each. The donations totalled in all £1447.14.0. All parties agreed to the purchase of a plot of freehold land covering an area stretching south of Richmond Road between Crescent Road and Gratwicke Road. The price was £248.10.0 and the site was bought in October 1862’.

On April 14 1863, the conveyance of the land was completed. Henry Clutton an expert in French medieval architecture, was asked to draw up a design for a combined church and convent. He chose the use of red brick, Bath and Pulborough stone and flint. The design allowed for the easy future extension when required. The contract to build ‘a part of a New Catholic Church in the said Town of Worthing’ was given to the local firm of Blaker and signed in the presence of the Bishop. Thomas Gaisford undertook to pay the sum of £1081 being 80% of the expected costs. The residual money of 20% would be paid three months after completion and delivery of the building. Bishop Grant laid the foundation stone of Our Lady of the Angels on May 4 1863. The ceremony was witnessed by a large crowd, Catholic and non-Catholic. On February 10 1864, Fr. Fannan left the Mission. On May 29 1864, the new church of Our Lady of the Angels was ‘Privately’ blessed and the first mass celebrated.

The Early Purdon Years 1870 – 1899

On July 9 1870, the Rev. James Purdon took charge. The entry for November 11 1870 showed how within a few months the new priest was industriously active. In Shoreham a small schoolroom formed out of an old stable, was to serve as Chapel and School and was opened in John Street, where Mass was celebrated by Fr. Purdon on that day.

‘The ground for the site of the new church was given by the Rev. Wm. Wheeler, formerly Protestant Rector of the Town of New Shoreham. Before the purchase of the site Mass was celebrated in a small, dingy house at No.2 Surry Street.’

In 1875 the Mission of Shoreham gained Church, School and Presbytery these being paid for by (Augusta) Duchess of Norfolk and from this time Shoreham ceased to be a part of the Worthing Mission.

Fr. Purdon’s notes relate that in April 1873 new works to St Mary’s giving the church a cruciform shape, were commenced for the chancel, transept, sacristy, tower and school room. The expenses being entirely defrayed by Thomas Gaisford. Three handsome stained windows in the chancel were given by Thomas Gaisford, the founder and benefactor of the Mission, as a memorial of the Lady Emily Gaisford R.I.P. Under the column which supports the arches of the chapel of the Sacred Heart was placed an iron box containing a document and various religious objects together with stones taken from all the Catholic ruined edifices in the neighbourhood.

On November 12 1873, the new buildings were solemnly blessed and opened by Bishop J Danell and the Altar of the Sacred Heart was consecrated. The relics of Saints Anastasius, Venantius and Victor were placed in the Altar. Sixteen priests assisted at the Pontifical High Mass. The young Duke of Norfolk with many other persons of distinction being present. Confirmation was administered in the afternoon by the Bishop.

In August 1882, works were commenced on the building of a new transept and chapel for St. Joseph. The whole expense was paid for by Thos. Gaisford. In that year two stained glass memorial windows were put in the church in memory of Mr. Gaisford’s eldest son and two other children who died in infancy. They depicted St. Charles Borromeo and an Angel Guardian.

A Farewell to Thomas Gaisford – 1898

On February 26 1898, Fr. Purdon wrote in his Journal that ‘Thomas Gaisford, the founder of and generous benefactor to the Mission, died at Offington. R. I. P. A sad day and an irreparable loss to the Mission and many others’.

On March 2 1898, he again included the fact that ‘Thomas Gaisford was buried in his own vault as principal benefactor of the Mission’. The Mass was said by Rev. J. Purdon, the friend and confessor for twenty-seven years of the deceased. Great public sympathy and respect was shown in the Town and at the funeral; all the papers giving the ‘most truthful and highest praise of the deceased, both in his private and public character’.On March 2 1898 the Worthing Gazette reported, ‘The deceased gentleman, whose health had been declining a considerable time – several months having elapsed since he last attended the Worthing Bench to discharge his magisterial duties –became a victim to influenza about a week ago. Pneumonia supervened, and although every effort was made to restore him to health, he sank under that formidable disease. A large-hearted and broad-minded man, he never strained the law to the detriment of anyone who had the misfortune to be brought before him and if he strove to hold evenly the scales of justice, any redeeming feature in a case was marked by a compassionate leniency in his decision. In 1890 he filled the vacancy of Chairman of the Worthing Bench. Last evening the body of the deceased was removed from Offington to the church reposing beneath a catafalque and surrounded by lighted candles. A brass Calvary cross extended the full length of the coffin’.

‘A founders grave was appropriated for him in the aisle of the church, and here, some years since, sepulchre was found for Lady Emily Gaisford and an infant child. It was necessary to obtain the direct sanction of the Home Secretary for today’s ceremony; but now that the grave has closed over him for whose use it was specially designed, it will be no more opened.’

The Purdon Years 1900 – 1923

On April 5 1900, important additions to the church were commenced including a new Aisle and Baptistery and enlargement of the Porch and Sacristy. The whole expense (about £1000) being paid by the Dowager Lady Loder; the architect was Mr. Walters the same who designed the reredos.

St Mary of the Angels interior sometime after 1902

In October 1902, a beautiful Altar, dedicated to the Holy Souls, as a memorial shrine to the deceased Catholic relatives of the Dowager Lady Loder was erected in the North Aisle, at her ladyship’s sole cost. The designs were by F. A. Walters, the sculpture by the renown Nathaniel Hitch and the stone work by Hatch of Vauxhall.

On November 15 1907, the Dowager Lady Loder died, She had been a convert to the Catholic Church for about ten years and a member of the Worthing congregation; during that time several important and costly additions were made in the church.

In 1908 it was recognised that Fr. Purdon had completed, single-handedly, thirty eight years work in church and parish. On the 4 September 1917 Bishop Amigo made Fr Purdon an Honorary Canon.

On October 20 1923, Canon Purdon died by which time he had given fifty-three years of his priestly life to the parish of Worthing.

St. Mary’s and the First World War

Just over four weeks before St. Mary’s celebrated her Golden Jubilee, on August 4 1914, war was declared. Although St. Mary’s did not have what may be called a large congregation, there were twenty men who either lived in Worthing or had strong
connections to the town who lost their lives.

A stone memorial is mounted on the exterior of the East Wall of the church listing the parishioners of St. Mary’s who lost their lives in the First World War. Among the names appearing there is:

W T Gaisford Lieutenant Colonel, Seaforth Highlanders, 7th Bn., died 25.09.15, aged 44. His body was never found. He is also commemorated on the Loos Memorial and Scottish National War Memorial, Edinburgh Castle. Walter Thomas was the son of Thomas Gaisford and his last wife, Lady Alice Mary.

Canon Charles Westlake 1923 – 1958

On November 27 1923, Fr. Charles Westlake came to Worthing. His plans and Fr. Purdon’s before him, began to be fulfilled when in 1928 he bought land on which to build a school. It opened in August 1929 with 240 pupils, being junior and senior students between the ages of seven and fifteen years enjoying for the first time the benefits of a purpose built school. The schoolrooms in the church grounds, named St. Joseph’s, were retained for the education of the infant children between the ages of five and seven years. The new school was called St. Mary’s and the first Headmaster was Mr. Albert E. Joy. Extensions were added in 1935 to accommodate a rapid increase of entries at which time the present school hall was built.

The congregation continued to grow and the presbytery at 39 Richmond Road was found to be inadequate for the increase of clergy. A larger presbytery was required and the solution was found when 68 Gratwicke Road, was given to the parish. It was
large enough to accommodate the Canon and the three curates now in residence.

Canon was concerned for the spiritual welfare of his parishioners from outside the town centre. In 1926 a Mass centre was started at South Street, Lancing in a room lent by a non-Catholic. In 1927, a Mass centre was started in Durrington in a chapel in a
bungalow owned by a Mrs. Berry.

In December 1935, a barn with attached land was bought in Goring to be used after renovation as a Mass centre. The area of land would be sufficient to provide adequate space for a purpose built church.

Later, in East Worthing at the Dolphin Public House, with the agreement of both the owner and the licensee, a hired room became a venue for Mass celebration on Sunday.

Extension of the mother church itself, however, was desperately needed. Plans were drawn up and work commenced in 1938 to extend the nave westwards.
In 1938 land was acquired at the northern end of Cotswold Road, Salvington. A corrugated iron and asbestos chapel of ease was built for those parishioners in the area of this extremity of the parish.

In the early 1950’s Canon Westlake had the foresight to buy a plot of land at the corner of Chesswood Road and Ham Road in East Worthing.

Canon Westlake then bought land at Goring in 1953, and this was used for Chatsmore Catholic High School. It was at first called St. Mary’s until 1959 when it became the Blessed Robert Southwell. Due in some respect to pressure from the Local Education Authority, in 1973 after enlargement, its name was changed to Chatsmore.

St. Mary’s school became a primary school including an infants’ department filled by those who had previously used the school rooms in the car park.

All Canon’s plans had come to fruition. To add icing to his cake, John Stone and David Patterson, two sons of parishioners, were ordained to the priesthood at St. Mary’s in June 1956, by Archbishop Cyril Cowderoy of Southwark.

Canon Westlake passed away on March 1 1958 aged 79 years after serving the parish in Worthing for 35 years.

Monsignor Denis Wall 1958 – 1966

Denis Patrick Wall was ordained on 3 June 1944 after completing his training at Wonersh. He was Chancellor of the Diocese from 1952 until 1958, when he came to Worthing.

English Martyrs’ Church

The barn at Goring was carefully restored and reconstructed to provide a temporary chapel. The alterations were completed in 1937. A Miss Thornly had built a fine presbytery at her own expense for the future resident priest.

The following is a copy of a letter from Canon Westlake which details all that was achieved to lead to the creation of the new parish in Goring, To be read at each Mass on Sunday, September 7th 1952 :

“During my convalescence in June I approached the Bishop about having a resident priest here and his Lordship has now appointed Fr Desmond McCarthy, who for some years has been the Diocesan Inspector of Schools, to be the first resident priest in Goring since the so-called Reformation. For Goring then, this is an historic occasion and I know you welcome it. I bought the land in December 1935 and the reconstruction of the barn into a chapel was finished in time for its opening in 1937,
when I had the privilege of saying the first Mass on December 19 and 52 people were present. The War hindered further progress but since then the number of Catholics has considerably increased and further building will bring a further increase.

To start with you have this chapel which when the time comes for a church to be built will make a good parish hall; there is also ground for a church. You have also a  fine presbytery, the generous gift of Miss Thornly who you should ever remember in your prayers. But the upkeep of this house and the maintenance of the priest is the chief problem. Rates, taxes and insurance have to be met, and the wages of a housekeeper. The house is unfurnished and a certain amount of repair and painting is necessary now – happily I have a certain sum of money in hand to face the latter”.

The present English Martyr’s church was built in 1968. By the1964 Centenary year, attendance at the Catholic churches in the Worthing area had increased to about 5000 souls.

The stories of St. Charles’ and St. Michael’s was due to the guidance of Monsignor Wall and the considerable fund raising efforts of the parishioners of St. Mary’s who made the new parishes realities.

St. Charles Borromeo Church

Monsignor Wall obtained planning permission in 1958 to use the land bought by Canon Westlake for a church and presbytery. Until the church was ready for use, the Dolphin public house in Dominion Road, was used as a Mass centre for the three years.

In 1959 Bishop Cowderoy of Southwark approved the plans drawn up by Mr. Bingham Towner for a new church to be built on the Chesswood Road site. The total cost of the church was £35,329 and St. Charles’ was officially registered in April 1962 as a place of worship, the first service taking place in the church in May. A carved and gilded dolphin was positioned by the main entrance to remind the parishioners of the former use of the Dolphin Pub. The family atmosphere of the ‘Dolphin Masses’ is remembered still. The church was dedicated by Bishop Cormac Murphy-
O’Connor on June 13 1979.

Monsignor Canon Arthur Iggleden, V. G. 1966 – 1981

Monsignor Iggleden was aware that his parish consisted of the parish church of St. Mary’s and also the parish ‘in the making’ of St. Michael’s in the north of the town. He encouraged the congregation in the formation of an efficient Parish Committee. It
had a balanced membership both male and female and also in numbers from St. Mary’s and St. Michael’s. He agreed to put their request to the Bishop for the independence of St. Michael’s when he considered the time was right for the idea to be viable.

As the years progressed, Monsignor Iggleden found the situation of being both Vicar General of Arundel & Brighton and parish priest of a large parish very tiring. In 1981 he decided that it was time to pass the parish over to a younger priest. He retired and became the chaplain to the Augustine Sisters in Kemp Town,

He died in Brighton on June 24 2001.

St. Michael of the Angels Church

The history of St. Mary’s as a ‘Mother Church’ and provider for her family was completed by the building and finally the joyful addition to the Diocese of a new parish.

Areas of the original parish of St. Mary’s, – that had been served by Mass-centres had all been upgraded to parishes but for one – the area to the north of the town covering Durrington, Salvington and Findon. In that part of town, from November 1927 a chapel in a bungalow owned by a Mrs. Berry, had first been the venue for Mass. Some time later a ‘dingy’ corrugated iron and asbestos building, was used as a Mass centre. This had been erected on a piece of land at the north eastern end of Cotswold Road,
Durrington, bought by Fr. Westlake in 1938.

The Mass attendance of residents in that area had been slowly increasing and it became obvious that the chapel wasn’t large enough for the local Catholic community. St. Mary’s had another task to perform – the buying of a larger site and the building of a third daughter church was required.

The parish was very fortunate to be given a house and land in Hayling Rise, High Salvington, by a Mrs. Hughes who was a parishioner and some finance came from the sale of the land on which the chapel stood. Plans were drawn up with building
commencing in early 1965. The following extract from a local paper described the result.

The Worthing Herald, of Friday April 8 1966, featured an article:

‘The church (St. Michael’s) which has cost £60,000 and taken a year to build was designed by Jones and Kelly of Dublin. Sited on the hill overlooking Worthing to the sea, it is of modern design, squarely built. Its interior is a contemporary work of art. The accent is on light, which is amply provided through
beautifully -angular stained- glass windows, designed and manufactured by the Irish State Glass Co. of Dublin. The windows are sited so that on a sunny morning a multitude of coloured beams of sunlight shower on the altar. The outstanding features of the interior are the works of art which adorn it. The 14 Stations of the Cross have been especially commissioned by David O’Connell of Chichester and are probably the most revolutionary of their type in any Catholic church in the country’.

With the rapid expansion of the north west Worthing area in the 1970’s, Mass attendance grew proportionally. In 1978 Mgr. Iggleden advised the new Bishop that separating St. Michael’s from St. Mary’s, as a stand-alone parish, was at last viable. It’s area would be Durrington, Salvington, High Salvington, Findon Valley, Charmandean and the town north of the Littlehampton Road. Bishop Cormac formally installed Fr. Harry Salsbury as the first Parish Priest during his Induction Mass on Wednesday July 11 1979.

Father Anthony Shelley 1981 – 1990

In 1981 Fr. Tony Shelley arrived at St Mary’s from the Maryvale Pastoral Centre. With the support of Bishop Cormac, Fr. Shelley significantly altered the layout of the interior of St. Mary’s church. The very long nave from east wall to west was halved with a centralisation of the altar and church made at the junction of the south and north transepts. An arched Corona with down-lighting was placed above an altar positioned on a raised platform. This gave a much improved visual aspect for all services. Behind the altar, a glass panelled reredos was placed giving a private Altar
of Repose in a Blessed Sacrament Chapel in the south Transept. The Baptismal font was positioned to the side of the altar in full view of everyone.

He also initiated the office of Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist in the parish.

Father James Anthony Clarke 1990 – 2004

Fr. James Clarke, known as Fr. Tony, came to Worthing in 1990. Throughout his fourteen years at Worthing, Fr. Tony was found to be a popular and jovial priest who enjoyed socialising with his parishioners.

In 1997 Liz and Steve Longhurst joined the Columban Lay Mission Programme. The parish was hugely supportive of their decision and helped finance them by raising over £1500 for the Columbans. They spent six months on intensive training and
were assigned for three years as Lay Missionaries to the Philippines. It was a very enriching, often extremely tough experience, shared with St. Mary’s through regular letters. Steve and Liz found the support of the parish invaluable. Very sadly
Steve died of cancer three years after their return while they were still working as Columban Missionaries with marginalised people in the UK.

The interior of St Mary’s was redecorated at the Millenium and modern lighting installed. The north rose window was fitted with stained glass. Then Fr. Tony was appointed a Canon by the diocese in 2001 and was given the parish of The Sacred Heart, Cobham, Surrey in 2004. He died suddenly on April 4 2007.

Father Kieran Gardiner and Father Rory Kelly served the
parish from 2004 – 2007 and in their short tenure they introduced amongst other things the First Friday of the Month Mass with Laying-on of Hands for Healing a service that continues today.

Father Christopher Benyon tirelessly served the parish from 2007- 2015

An important development instigated by Fr. Chris Benyon was the installation of a ‘web cam’ used to broadcast services at St. Mary’s to a worldwide audience. This facility was established to benefit housebound parishioners who were too sick to attend daily Mass. Today it is additionally used by hundreds of people from around the world, helping relatives of parishioners to see the baptism of a new member of their far-flung family or maybe the wedding of a relative. This service also enables people in areas where the Catholic Church may not be able to regularly celebrate Mass to hear the Liturgy of the Word and to watch the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Fr Chris strove to unite the different groups across our large multi-cultural town centre parish. One of these initiatives was to for the parish to celebrate an International Mass whereby our parishioners, who represent over twenty different countries, wear national costumes and come together in Sion School Hall after Mass to enjoy a shared family meal, with many international dishes. This event continues and is enjoyed by many in our parish to this day.

In 2012 St Mary of the Angels was one of the largest churches involved in an ecumenical mission called ‘More Than Gold’ in recognition of the London 2012 Olympics. This was organised by Worthing Churches Together and brought together the various Worthing churches to host both Open Door prayer meetings and to run shared events to which friends and families of parishioners could be invited in order to come into the church and to meet the community. Many of the St Mary of the Angels Parish Groups were involved, this helped to grow a sense of leadership and discipleship in our laity – a topic that was very close to Fr Chris’ heart.


The parish is now rejoicing for the completion of more than one hundred and fifty years that St. Mary’s has served the town of Worthing, currently under the spiritual guidance of Father Terry Martin.

Groups such as the Catholic Aid For Overseas Development, Justice and Peace and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul have always been encouraged in the parish by our priests and many dedicated parishioners. The Knights of St Columba, The Catenian Association and The Legion of Mary have also been ever working to support the parish and sick or lonely. The sale of Fairtrade goods is well supported as is Worthing’s Churches Homeless Organisation, in collaboration with other denominations. The parishioners of St. Mary of the Angels always respond very generously to worldwide appeals and projects for those less fortunate, suffering poverty and starvation.

The parish remains faithful to prayer and has a number of regular prayer groups; including Mother’s Prayers, the Charismatic Prayer Group and the Divine Mercy Prayer Group.

This has been possible because of the efforts of those people who so many years ago decided that a Catholic church was needed and then strove to undertake the work required to provide the church in which we worship today. We are very proud to be part of a truly universal church with dedicated priests, nuns, bishops and a pope who all lead us and provide such inspiration and hope in a world greatly in need of the harmony, peace and love that was the gift of Jesus to all his faithful followers.