Sacred Heart Catholic Church     Mayfield Lane

The Sacred Heart Church is the focus of a parish which includes not only Wadhurst but also the villages of Stonegate, Tidebrook, Mark Cross, Rotherfield, Ticehurst, Flimwell, Frant and Eridge.  This parish, on the eastern boundary of the Diocese of Arundel & Brighton, had its beginnings in 1879 when local people started to use the chapel at The Mount, a monastery situated south west of Wadhurst station.  The monastery had been built by Rosminian priests, members of the Institute of Charity founded by Fr Antonio Rosmini in 1828. 

However, there were even earlier Catholic establishments which provided support to the local faithful.  People rode or walked many miles to attend Mass at these places, bringing food with them, breakfasting afterwards before their long journey home.  In 1868 the Xaverian College, Mayfield School for Boys was opened, followed in 1869 by St Michael’s Orphanage at Mark Cross.  St Michael’s later became St Joseph’s College, the junior seminary which sent young men on to complete their training for the priesthood. at St John’s, Wonersh. 

In 1872 The Old Palace, former holiday residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury, also in Mayfield, became the Convent of the Holy Child Jesus which still functions as a school for girls.  What is now known as Frant Court was St. Lawrence’s Convent (July 1942-May 1972), a home for wayward girls, where priests from Mark Cross regularly said Mass.  In more recent years St Benedict’s Priory, Mayfield Lane, was the novitiate for Benedictine Tyburn nuns, which was latterly run as a guest house and centre for perpetual adoration and daily Mass.  In 1963 the church of St Peter, Prince of Apostles was built in Rotherfield.

Despite having use of the chapel at the Mount, Wadhurst Catholics wanted their own place of worship nearer the town.  In 1928 a piece of land in Mayfield Lane was purchased by the Rosminians and on 27th June the foundation stone of the new church was laid.  The contract price of £2,937.13s.8d was funded by local people with donations from other Rosminian parishes.  A further £100 was spent on furnishing and fitting out the new building.  A large number of items such as vestments, chalice, candlesticks and statues were donated, most of which we still have today.

The architect was Mr E. Bower Norris, FRIBA, of ‘Sandy and Norris’ of Stafford and London.  The builders were Connor Brothers of Crowborough.

The official opening and blessing of the new church by Bishop Peter Amigo took place on March 12th. 1929.  The first Parish Priest was Fr. A. Emery of the Rosminian order ‘The Mount’.

The Sacred Heart [©Toni Buckley]

After the recent refurbishment of the church, and the addition of the annexe, the work begun in 1929 is completed.  The church was opened and blessed but was never consecrated because of an outstanding debt of £1,500 on the building (that was the rule in those days).  When all debts were paid, the country was in the depths of the Second World War.  In 1974 the church underwent reordering – the altar was brought forward and new windows put in.  Three years ago the Parish Pastoral Council approved a programme of repairs which included re-instating the coloured glass windows, restoring them to their appearance in 1929.  It was also thought opportune to add to the facilities of the church and plans for the annexe were drawn up.

The annexe which provides much-needed toilet and kitchen facilities has been built as a flexible and adaptable addition to the church.  It provides an area for small meetings and social gatherings, a venue for Children’s Liturgy of the Word and can be used for overflow congregations when necessary.

We now have a building to be proud of and one that will meet the needs of the parish community well into the 21st century.