A short history

St Wilfrid’s Church stands on a hill almost at the highest point of the town of Haywards Heath, at 300 ft. above sea level overlooking the Weald and Downs of Sussex and it is claimed that the church marks the crossover point at the very centre of the old County of Sussex. The Church was designed by Mr George Frederick Bodley R.A. (18271907), and the church was constructed on the edge of what was an expanding railway town following the completion of the London and Brighton Railway on 12th July 1840. The foundation stone of the church was laid on St Wilfrid’s Day in 1863 and the building work continued throughout 1864. St Wilfrid’s Church was consecrated on Monday 5th June 1865 – St Boniface’s Day. This was the time of considerable expansion in the town

The Church was built in a cruciform shape, in a modern English Romanesque style which reflects an earlier fourteenth century design. It has a low spired 88ft tiled central Sussex style tower rising above the chancel. The tower was noted and praised by Nikolaus Pevsner for its design. It rises in three stages and is topped with a shallow four sided tiled cap. The sandstone blocks (with Scaynes Hill stone dressings) for the external walls of the church were given free of cost by the owner of the Franklyns Quarry at Birch Green on the Franklyns Estate, on the south side of the Scaynes Hill/Lewes Road. The church was built by Mr John Fabian of Brighton and the stone pillars of the church were constructed with the assistance of Mr Thomas White, the founder of a building firm based in Franklyn Road. The internal walls of the church were faced with red brick from St John’s Common in Burgess Hill and red clay tiles covered the floor and on the wall panels below the windows. The brick walls are now painted white but a small section showing the original red brick remains today on the wall in the north transept. The nave is constructed with five bays with buttressed north and south aisles and a clerestory, lit by quatrefoil and cinquefoil (four- and five-lobed) windows and the roof is tiled. New choir vestries were built on the north side of the church in 1880.

The new Church was at first glazed with windows of plain frosted leaded glass. The first stained glass window depicting St Wilfrid was fitted on the south side of the Chancel under the tower in 1867 made by Ford Madox Brown, and William Morris. The other windows were slowly re-glazed using stained glass until 1893, the windows depicting biblical characters and saints. The windows on the south side were made by a number of artists including Burne Jones, William Morris, Thomas Garner and Gilbert Scott and the north aisle windows in the glass workshops of Burlison and Grylls. The window depicting St Richard on the north side of the chancel was designed by Mr G. F. Bodley and made under his supervision by Burlison and Grylls. In the Good Shepherd Chapel there is a memorial window for two brothers killed during the Great War which is of considerable artistic significance. In 1962, during a number of church alterations a new East Window was commissioned and fitted depicting the Ascension of Christ, with the eleven disciples depicted in various colours, including red, deep blue and green, at the base of the window. The window was designed by Antoine Theodore M. Acket (1918-1981) and was manufactured by Wainwright & Waring.

St Wilfrid’s Church was listed under Section 30 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1947 as a building of special architectural and historic interest on 10th September 1951 when it was 86 years old. It was briefly described as a ‘modern church’ built of sandstone in the 14th-century style. It is listed at Grade II* by English Heritage. In February 2001, St Wilfrid’s Church was one of only 54 Grade II* listed buildings, and 1,028 listed buildings of all grades, in the whole district of Mid Sussex. Ray Smith June 2012

The Church was reordered in the early months of 1997. A new pipe organ built by Kenneth Tickell was put onto a newly built balcony at the west end of the church in 1998. The sanctuary and chancel area was opened up to provide a flexible space for worship and other events. The communion rails were re-sited in the nave. Some of the 1962 changes were removed, including panelling and carpets. A new slate floor was laid in the nave, and the church repainted.

St Wilfrid’s Church had been in use for just over a year when this early photograph was taken in July 1866.
Stained glass window depicting St Wilfrid by Ford Madox Brown and William Morris, 1867.