Both are named after female Christian saints. Both are Grade II Listed. They are separated by a 300 metre distance as the dove flies. They are separated by more or less six decades of history. One is built of rubblestone with ashlar dressings. The other is built of purplish brick with sharp stone dressings. Elizabeth Williamson, Tim Hudson, Jeremy Musson and Ian Nairn record in The Buildings of England Sussex West, 2019, “Littlehampton is pleasant, but, like most West Sussex seaside towns, disjointed. The joy of it is in the landscape of river and beach.” Between said port and resort lie the Roman Catholic Church of St Catherine of Alexandria and the Anglican Church of St Mary the Virgin, two of Littlehampton’s rather discrete charms.
St Catherine’s was founded by Minna, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, in memory of her husband Henry, the 14th Duke, who had died in 1860. It is one of five churches founded by the Dowager to commemorate the Five Holy Wounds. Architectural historian Dr Roderick O’Donnell explains, “St Catherine’s was designed by Matthew Ellison Hadfield and is one of the most prominent Roman Catholic churches on the south coast. Augustus Welby Pugin compliments the architect in 1843 and 1850.” The architectural style is, of course, Gothic Revival.
The church forms a very attractive pairing with its priest’s house by the same architect. The modulations of the slate roofs are particularly remarkable, from a stonking big bellcote to a thoroughly traceried gablet of timber framed trefoils and quatrefoils. Later additions include St Joseph’s Chapel and a sanctuary extension, both carried out by Pugin and Pugin, the practice established by Augustus Welby Pugin and continued by his descendants. St Catherine’s Church and Presbytery retain their architectural integrity, providing a dignified focal point to the mainly residential suburb of Beach Road.
Further inland on Church Street is the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin. Originally a Georgian Gothick church designed by George Draper in 1826, architect William Randoll Blacking transformed the building in the 1930s. The result is a robust piece of loosely Tudor Revival architecture: a simple, bold, geometric composition. Various elements of earlier incarnations have been retained in the structure, such as stained glass from the 14th and 19th centuries, but the overall effect is a solid and coherent piece of early 20th century ecclesiastical architecture. A striking copper roof, hidden at ground level by a parapet, highlights its cruciform shape from a dove’s eye view. St Mary’s Cemetery drapes a welcome green apron around the church.