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The Friary Church of St Francis & St Anthony

A Brief History

In 1859 Italian Capuchin Franciscan Friars were invited to the parish by the Hon. Mrs. Montgomery of the Elms, Horsham Road.

At first mass was celebrated in the coach house there, converted as St. Philip's chapel, Mrs. Montgomery standing near the altar to translate the sermons into English. In the following year a friary was founded by her cousin F. S. Blunt of Crabbet Park in Worth, on a 3-a. site north-east of the then railway station. The buildings were finished in 1861, and were of brick and stone in plain Gothic style; they consisted of four ranges round a quadrangle with the tall church, dedicated to St. Francis, at the north end. In 1863 £100 a year was received from F. S. Blunt and less regular sums from Mrs. Montgomery. The mission district, which included Horsham, then stretched between Rudgwick and Copthorne (in Worth) in the north and Nuthurst and Lindfield in the south. A guild of St. Anthony of Padua was founded c. 1895, and in 1910 had over 200,000 members throughout the world. Its chapel, in coloured marble, onyx, and alabaster, incorporated the altar and altarpiece from Mrs. Montgomery's private chapel in Naples, which had previously formed part of an oratory in the church. The friars carried out much missionary work, both in the neighbourhood and elsewhere, for instance in the hop-picking area of Kent in 1910.

The Victorian church was demolished in 1958, and a new building, dedicated to St. Francis and St. Anthony, was consecrated in the following year. Designed by H. S. Goodhart-Rendel, and like the previous church of Franciscan austerity, it is of brick, with patterned decoration, and is not oriented. Included from the previous church were fittings from the chapel of St. Anthony and, behind the high altar, the tomb of the founder F. S. Blunt (d. 1872), whose effigy in Franciscan habit was sculpted by his brother the poet W. S. Blunt. The original burial ground also remained in 1985; besides the large gabled vault of the Blount family of East Grinstead, it contains the grave of Lord Alfred Douglas (d. 1945).

The Capuchin Franciscans left Crawley in 1980- 1, the parish being handed over to secular clergy and the friary buildings demolished.’ From: 'Ifield: Roman Catholicism', A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 6 Part 3: Bramber Rape (North-Eastern Part) including Crawley New Town (1987), pp. 70-1.

It is a substantial brick building, low and spreading and instantly recognisable as being by Goodhart Rendel. Brick of course, beautifully laid and with contrasting bands and distinctive detailing around window heads and tracery. Nave and aisles roofed as one both externally and internally. A low tower at the east end and then originally a short sanctuary. A major re-ordering was undertaken in 1988 by Goodman Kaye Partnership which radically altered the interior. The tower area was opened up and the east wall was removed and left open into an extended eastern section of the church. This caused the destruction of the decorative ceiling painting east of the nave. 

SOURCES: Victoria County History 

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