Hastings Old Town Parish

One Modern Parish, Two Medieval Churches

The Fishermen's Church at Rock-a-Nore

The nineteenth century was an age of mission. Both St Clement’s and All Saints’ developed satellite churches to accommodate the expanding population as it moved through Clive Vale. All Saints’ had an additional problem, which did not affect the relatively prosperous St Clement’s to the same degree. A large part of the population of the Parish consisted of the fishing community whose attendance at divine services was not good.

The two parishes were combined between 1770 and 1849. John Goodge Foyster was the Rector of the combined parish from 1832 until it was re-separated in 1849. He then became Rector of St Clement’s and his brother, Henry Samuel Foyster, became Rector of All Saints’. They were wealthy and undertook to build a mission church to serve the fishermen on their own beach.

They purchased a seventy-five year lease for the land (a former boat-builder’s yard) and obtained a licence from the Bishop of Chichester. Work began in August 1853 and the church was opened the following year. The building, despite its common name, was never consecrated as a church, but was licensed as a chapel of ease (a place of worship which is a satellite to the parish church). The new church, dedicated to St Nicholas, was an immediate success among the fishing community and at times its congregations equalled or exceeded the congregations of the mother church of All Saints’. It was served by a succession of dedicated and at times charismatic chaplains, almost all lay or in minor orders. From the 1920s it was staffed by Church Army captains.

The Fishermen’s Church was originally austerely evangelical; but over the years it became more ornamented, culminating in the late 1930s with the installation of a stained-glass east window, depicting Christ walking upon the Sea of Galilee.

Alas, it did not last! In 1939 Rock-a-Nore became a prohibited zone and the church was requisitioned as a store-house. The building was severely damaged during the war (including the loss of the east window) and it did not prove possible for the building to resume its former role. After a period as a furniture repository, it became in 1956 the fishermen’s museum it is today. Despite the passing of the years, the Fishermen’s Church is still close to the heart of the fishing community. There are still occasional services, particularly baptisms, of which there are several each year, carried out in the font which was installed in 1917.