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The comeback kid
They called it the Children’s Church because money collected at Sunday school services all over Sussex helped toward the foundation of St Cuthman’s.
It was built in 1938 on the giant Whitehawk estate in East Brighton after Christians complained there was nowhere for them to worship.
But only five years later, the church was destroyed by a German bomb during the Second World War and was not rebuilt until 1952.
Today, celebrations take place to mark the diamond jubilee of this friendly little church, known to few people outside Whitehawk.
When the estate was built in the 1920s and 1930s, church and educational needs were provided by St Mark’s in Kemp Town.
But the pressure of 1,000 households proved too much for the parish to handle and an appeal was launched in 1934 by George Bell, Bishop of Chichester.
He told children in a letter that a roll of subscribers was to be placed in the new church and that each contributor would receive both a membership book (of the St Cuthman’s Company of Sussex Church Builders) and a badge.
Bishop Bell dedicated ground for the church in 1936 and a site had been found right in the middle of the estate.
Building started the following year and the cost was estimated at £6,000. Much of this money was raised by children, some of them collecting farthings.
Every parish in Sussex that had contributed towards the cost was invited to the laying of the foundation stone in October 1937.
Two hundred children agreed to lay a brick, each paying a shilling for the privilege. All the men building the church were local and were proud of the building.
St Cuthman’s was consecrated in 1938 and the Rev Francis Musgrave was the Vicar. Sadly he was killed during the Second World War.
In August 1943, a German plane flew over Whitehawk and dropped three bombs.
One hit football pitches in Whitehawk Road and a second landed in Sheepcote Valley.
The third landed directly on St Cuthman’s, destroying the little church. It killed William Hayler, a man who was there acting as an air-raid warden.
All that remained in the rubble was a golden crucifix, which surprisingly was undamaged. It was taken away and eventually placed in the new church.
Many older people in Whitehawk still remember seeing the bomb blast and some in nearby houses had lucky escapes.
For many years services were held at nearby St David’s Hall, which had also been used before St Cuthman’s was established.
In 1951, work started on a replacement church and it was designed by well-known Brighton architect John Denman. Costs were kept down by using seats and windows from the old St James’s Church which had been demolished.
It reopened in 1952 and has been at the heart of the community ever since.
The full history of the church will be told and displayed at celebrations being held there today between noon and 5pm. It follows a special memories event at Whitehawk Library on May 22.
There will be a community party with music, a barbecue and activities for children, Copies of local activist Fred Netley’s book, Holy Oak – A History Of Whitehawk And Manor Farm 1934-1974, will be available on the day. The book contains a full account of the church’s history.
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