St. Louis, King of France

What do these allotments, photographed in October 1963, have to do with a 13th century French king?

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Allotments in East Brighton, 7 October 1963. Looking north with Henley Road running left to right. Houses in Wilson Avenue on far right. (c) Regency Society, James Gray Collection, Vol 23_123

The answer is simple.  Just a few months after the photograph above was taken, work started on the construction of the Catholic Church of St Louis, King of France. The Church, or more accurately the Mass Centre, was opened on 20 December 1964 on Henley Road, Brighton. The centre served the Whitehawk housing estate as the church of St John the Baptist was either considered too far away or would have been overcrowded on Sundays.

St Louis the kKing composite

Composite image of St Louis Mass Centre. North elevation © The Arundel & Brighton Diocesan Trust

Information about the building and its history is scant.  In 2017, a fire which damaged (mainly) the Sacristy of St John the Baptist Church in Bristol Road, Brighton, led to the loss of a number of parish records.  The only pieces of information which the Diocesan Archivist of Arundel and Brighton could provide were two photographs, each showing a different end of what appears to be the north side of the Centre (the roofs of John Howard House are just visible to the right).  The image above is a composite of those two photographs – hence the impression of a strange bend in Henley road.

Unfortunately, the building was constructed using high-alumina cement and was later declared unsafe.  It closed in October 1982, being replaced by a block of flats, Henley Court, in 1985-86.  A short life of just 18 years.

The contract for the building of the Mass Centre (held at The Keep in Brighton) was between Rev. Michael Costello, on behalf of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Southwark, and Lanner Ltd (Builders) of Wakefield in Yorkshire.  The cost of building “a church and a hall” was to be £32,000.  Nearly all materials to be used are specified in detail, including concrete: there is no mention of the high-alumina cement that would be used to make that concrete.

CAT 18_3_4_3 St Louis West Elevation

St Louis Mass Centre. West elevation. Image courtesy of “The Keep” (East Sussex County Records Office)

The drawings in the contract give a rare glimpse of the west elevation of the building.  This western main entrance to the building was reached by turning off Henley Road.  The west front was extremely near to those houses on the south side of Henley Road which can be seen in the first photograph above.

The plan below gives a clearer impression of the site.  Running from right to left (east to west) at the top of the image is Roedean Road.  The part of the site which had been earmarked for the Presbytery remained empty until the Roedean Court flat were built in the last 1960s or early 1970s.

CAR 18_3_4_3 plan St Louis

St Louis Mass Centre. Plan. Image courtesy of “The Keep” (East Sussex County Records Office)

The connection between a 1930s British housing estate and King Louis IX of France (1224-1270)?  King Louis went on two Crusades, he was considered to be a good husband, a good king and a good Catholic. So good in fact that he was canonised just 27 years after his death.  His wife’s brother-in-law was Henry III of England.  Yet the connection with England still seems rather remote.  There is no shortage of more local saints to patronise local churches.

St Louis Mass Centre, Wilson Ave, Brighton ha912143_d01

Four white pannels spanning the south facade of St Louis Mass Centre are visible in the upper third of this image. Sorce: Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

Any further information about this building or its connection with France would be most welcome.

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