The history of the Annunciation
A Hidden Gem
The visitor to the ‘Hanover’ area of Brighton who eventually finds this little church, clinging to one of our steepest hillsides, usually first remarks on its hiddenness - what a surprise to find a parish church in the heart of these tightly packed streets! This is just as the founder intended.
The Reverend Arthur Douglas Wagner, founder and benefactor, saw the workers’ cottages springing up amid the market gardens on the hill in the 1850’s and determined to build here a little church for the poor. The wealthy visitors to Brighton from Regency days were well served by the Established Church, but Father Wagner’s intention was to bring the light of faith and education to the poor. The fashionable Brighton churches drew crowds and charged pew rents but on this hillside was to be a place that was free and devoted only to its immediate neighbours, the labouring families of farm and railway workers and fishermen.
His convinced belief in the truth of the Incarnation (a favourite phrase of his was ‘Our Divine Incarnate Lord’) from which naturally flowed an unwavering devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and a firm grasp on the importance of the sacraments; can be seen clearly in his foundation of The Annunciation.
From the first, the richness of worship in this place would be a solace for the local poor and despite the dark days of persecution for ‘ritualism’, the church remained hidden enough to develop quietly and steadily along the lines intended by its first devoted Priests. Always beginning a new project on a feast of Our Lady, Father Wagner preached at the opening of The Annunciation on 15th August 1864, (The Feast of The Assumption):
‘today we are planting a seed amidst obloquy and opposition -
may it grow to become a tree where souls may find rest’.
With that planting came the building of schools - at first provision was made for a School for Girls and Infants below the church (open to the air on 3 sides!) and in 1865 plans were lodged for the building of a Boys’ School in Southover Street (now the Hanover Community Centre). Even after the introduction of the Education Act providing state run education, several hundred children were still catered for in the Sunday School and associated Clubs and associations. Had plans for a separate School for girls been realised the intention was to assume the normal East - West axis of the church by removing the floor thus creating a high ceiling church and placing the the altar at the Washington Street end. When the parish was consulted, they apparently preferred the present simple lines and so the liturgical south aisle and Holy Name Chapel were added in 1881 by way of enlargement, and retaining the present axis.
Various other additions have been given to the church over the years,. However, one gets the impression from the early accounts that what has been treasured most about this hidden gem has been the faithfulness and devotion of its people, its Religious Sisters and its priests. Their steadfastness and dedication have built up a place of palpable holiness and prayer that in the early days was clearly also the centre for education, welfare and social entertainment.
By the grace of God, amidst apparently ever accelerating changes in Church and society during the last century, The Annunciation maintains the daily round of prayer and catholic liturgy and its unusual position, opening directly onto the street like most of our houses, means that it cannot but be part of the community it was built to serve.
A particular grace has been an initiative of The Annunciation to host a local street festival which has been owned by the neighbourhood as ‘Hanover Day’. This is a day of celebration to strengthen and encourage the local community and begins in church with the Parish Mass.
Since 1994 the Church has also supported considerable artistic and musical talent with various exhibitions and concerts throughout the year.
Here follow some excerpts from Father Chapman’s biography and the 1914 Jubilee Booklet to give the flavour of The Annunciation’s beginnings.
A visitor in September 1864 remarked that Coleman Street was only a chalk path and Washington Street only half built and impassable:
‘I can remember being warned to walk in the middle of the road in Washington Street as smallpox was raging there’.
The early priests at The Annunciation were noted for their care:
‘the Clergy were liable to be called in all directions, especially for infectious diseases, which were then very prevalent. A lady who had a child ill with scarlet fever was in despair at being unable to get a priest to visit her. “Send to The Annunciation”, she was told, “you will not be refused there”; and so she found.’
Fr Chapman, the first Vicar, died in 1891 of TB aged 44; Fr Fison the second Vicar, of Typhoid in 1895 aged 42.
Describing the parish in 1877 an observer wrote:
‘50 years ago there were only a few houses scattered here and there, among the market gardens. ... now there are 16 streets of small modern houses; two streets are occupied by small shopkeepers of various trades. At 1pm the streets are thronged with men returning from the station works for their dinners; this shows the occupation of very many of the inhabitants. Others are employed in various houses of business, or do shop work at home. There are also a great number of small laundries. With the exception of the bottom row of houses the whole parish is essentially poor. Many of the houses contain two or more families.’
he Church of The Annunciation of Our Lady in Washington Street, Brighton, was founded by the Revd. Arthur Douglas Wagner on 15 August 1864 as a Mission from St Paul’s, West Street in Brighton.
Revd. Charles Anderson
Revd. Christopher Tompson (who stayed until 1875 and began the
Sunday School, Choir and the use of vestments)
Fr George Chapman arrived in 1877 from Liverpool
Church consecrated – 9th July 1884 and given Parochial status 14 August 1888
George Chapman First Vicar 1888 – 1891 (died)
Reginald Fison Second Vicar 1891 – 1895 (died)
Henry Hinde Third Vicar 1896 – 1910
William Carey Fourth Vicar 1910 – 1924
John Tiley Fifth Vicar 1924 – 1934
Geoffrey Davis Sixth Vicar 1934 – 1937 (died)
Edwin A. Power Seventh Vicar 1937 – 1952 (died)
Ronald Bullivant Eighth Vicar 1953 – 1989
David Wostenholm Ninth Vicar 1990 – 2001
David Hawthorn Tenth Vicar 2001 – 2004
Steven Foster Priest-in-Charge 2005 - 2009
Michael Wells Priest-in-Charge 2010
Architects: William Dancy, Brighton 1864. Edmund Scott, Brighton 1881.
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