Heritage Lottery Fund success for The Friends of St Peter’s Church, Preston Park

The Friends of St Peter’s Church, Preston Park in Brighton, have been successful in winning a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund of £64,000 to restore and conserve the Edwardian stencilling in the chancel of the historically significant 13th century church.

The funding is for a year-long project which also hopes to raise awareness of this beautiful church, the oldest building in Brighton, hidden in the heart of Preston Park. It aims to engage local people in the heritage through a programme of free activities, workshops and events based around wall stencilling and their conservation. The overall aim is to promote the building as a community asset that is available for use and open to all.

The Edwardian stencilling dates from 1906 following destruction of the original scheme in a fire. The work was designed and overseen by Phillip Mainwaring Johnston, also architect to Chichester Cathedral, who is known for his restoration work in a number of south-coast churches. The work was paid for by the Stanford Family, the owners of Preston Manor, which sits next to the church.

The stencilling on the walls and ceiling of the chancel is an elaborate scheme of medieval designs and motifs, with heraldic devices.  A recurring motif are the keys of St Peter. But after more than a century the original impact of the design, which is said to be striking, has been dulled by dust, grime and candle smoke. 

The Conservators, Hare and Humphreys, were chosen out of several companies, to restore and clean the stencilling. They have a large number of prestigious projects in their portfolio, including the British Museum, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Royal Barge Gloriana, St Pancras Hotel and The Royal Academy. Restoration work will start in early 2018 and take about four months to complete. St Peter’s Church will remain open during this time – the conservators will welcome visitors.

Caroline Bell, Chair, St Peter's Church Friends Group says:

We are more than delighted, we are over the moon, to have been successful in our Heritage Lottery Fund application as it's something we've been working towards for years. The Conservators will be cleaning the wonderful Edwardian stencilling that has been hidden under a hundred years worth of candle smoke and grime. We can’t wait to see the colours brought back to life! The funding provides for a whole range of exciting heritage activities and workshops for the local community to get involved.

The Friends group also plan to collect and share the stories of people who came to St Peter’s before its closure in 1990. They aim to develop the interpretation available in the church and online with more information about the church’s history. They hope to promote the Friends of St Peter’s as a custodian group, recruiting more volunteers and providing training to enable people to learn new skills and take on new roles in the group.

This conservation and heritage project will tell the story of St Peter's from the late-Victorian era to the present day. Using the 1906 wall-stencilling as a starting point, it will relate the history of St Peter's as the late-Victorian and Edwardian suburbs of Brighton grew around it and it was incorporated into the City.

The small, flint-built church originally sat in downland, alongside the main route from London to Brighton, serving the village of Preston.  In 1928, as Brighton developed, Preston Village and St Peter's officially became part of the larger town.

This is now a little known part of Brighton's story. Its distinct place is little understood and this project is an opportunity to both conserve the wall-stencilling and tell the story of St Peter's in the 20th century.

The Friends of St Peter's will be hosting a special event with Paul Humphreys, from Hare & Humphreys on 8th October. Paul will talk about the history of stencilling and the planned project and the work of Hare & Humphreys. Find out more about the event.

Find out more about St Peter's, Preston Park