St Mary In The Castle
Joseph Kay was a competent neo-classical architect who was surveyor to the Foundling Hospital and clerk of works to Greenwich Hospital. For the Earl of Chichester, Thomas Pelham, he built Pelham Crescent, Hastings between 1824 and 1828. This is a delightful crescent of houses built below the cliff and raised above the general level of the seafront road. At its centre is the portico of St Mary-in-the-Castle church.
The church, partly due to its unusual siting, hard against the cliff, but also following one of the established classical forms for auditoria, is semi-circular in plan with an embracing box-pewed balcony. It was for many years neglected and brutally vandalised. There is still some water penetration from the cliff face but this seems to be under control.
The church was converted to a multi-cultural arts centre between 1991 and 2000. The stage is an open platform in front of a Victorian reredos. The form is excellent for concerts but not well adapted for dramatic presentations.
The original portico entrance is not in use, and there is no signage at that level, due to the close proximity of the crescent houses. This also restricts productions to a 10.30 finish time. The entrance in use is by way of a shop at lower level, facing the sea, which also serves as an art gallery. From here it is a long trail into the church crypt (itself an interesting space) and, ultimately, the auditorium. Get-in for equipment and props is not convenient.
Provision for disabled patrons is good but there is, as yet, no licensed bar. The lack of an obvious street presence relating visually to the former church entrance is a marked disadvantage but, despite all weaknesses, St Mary’s is a handsome and enjoyable building.
- Owner/Management: Hastings Borough Council
- 1828 Design/Construction: as a churchJoseph Kay- Architect
- 1993 Alteration: conversion to arts centreJohn Papworth- Architect