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St Nicholas, Brighton, Sussex

(50°49′27″N, 0°8′39″W)
TQ 308 044
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Sussex
now West Sussex
  • Kathryn Morrison

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Feature Sets

The church of St Nicholas stands on a hill overlooking the Old Town of Brighton. It has a W tower, an aisled nave with 5-bay arcades and an aisled chancel flanked by chapels. It is essentially a late 14thc. building, but was largely rebuilt in 1852-54.


There was a church in Brighton in 1086. A few years later it was granted to the priory of St Pancras at Lewes, a gift confirmed by William de Warenne in c.1093. After the Dissolution the advowson was granted to Thomas Cromwell, then Anne of Cleves, and eventually to the Bishop of Chichester. The rebuilding and restoration of 1852-54 was undertaken by Richard Cromwell Carpenter. In 1873 it ceased to be the parish church of Brighton. The vestry was added to the N of the chancel in 1876, and the clerestorey inserted in 1892.

The font was partly recut in 1745 at the instigation of two churchwardens whose names were cut into the base of the tub, together with the date. That inscription has since been removed. An interior view of 1830 shows the font located in the middle of the nave.





Figural sculpture is unusual in Sussex, and this example displays considerable assurance. Its highly distinctive style is difficult to parallel elsewhere. According to the VCH it is 'obviously of foreign origin'. It is usually dated to the second half of the 12thc. Prior and Gardner suggested that this font was connected to French works (eg: Clermont and St Benoit-sur-Loire), and that the same sculptors may have worked at Barfreston in Kent (Prior and Gardner 203-204). George Zarnecki suggested that it may have been made at Fecamp (where he finds parallels in the tomb of Guillaume de Ros) and shipped across the Channel (GZ index cards). However, parallels with the casket in the choir of La Trinite at Fecamp are limited to the band of Byzantine blossom under the figural scenes. Otherwise the style and technique are quite different. An identification of the stone from which this font is carved may help determine its provenance with greater precision. According to the VCH, it is of Caen stone.

Journal of the British Archaeological Association ns 23, 1917, 150-54.
Victoria County History: Sussex. 3 (City of Chichester). 1935, 259.
W. Godfrey (ed), Guide to the Church of St Nicholas, Brighton, 1951.
F. Bond, Fonts and Font Covers. Oxford 1908, 162.
F. E. Sawyer, 'The Ecclesiastical History of Brighton', Sussex Archaeological Collections 29, 1879, 181-210.
J. L. André, 'Fonts in Sussex Churches', Sussex Archaeological Collections 44, 1901, 29-30.
J. Somers Clarke 'St Nicholas' Church, Brighton', Sussex Archaeological Collections 32, 1882, 33-74.
P. Mainwaring Johnston, 'Carvings from the Tomb of Guillaume de Ros, Third Abbot of Fecamp', Architectural Journal 7, 1927.
A. K. Walker, An Introduction to the Study of English Fonts with Details of those in Sussex. London 1908, 54-55.