Robertsbridge United Reformed Church

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Robertsbridge United Reformed Church
Robertsbridge United Reformed Church, Robertsbridge (NHLE Code 1221451).JPG
The church from the west
Robertsbridge United Reformed Church is located in East Sussex
Robertsbridge United Reformed Church
Location of the former church within East Sussex
50°59′08″N 0°28′29″E / 50.9856°N 0.4747°E / 50.9856; 0.4747Coordinates: 50°59′08″N 0°28′29″E / 50.9856°N 0.4747°E / 50.9856; 0.4747
LocationHigh Street, Robertsbridge, East Sussex TN32 5AQ
CountryUnited Kingdom
DenominationUnited Reformed Church
Previous denominationCongregational
Former name(s)Robertsbridge Congregational Church
Founded29 June 1881
Founder(s)Edward Piper
Functional statusClosed
Heritage designationGrade II
Designated13 May 1987
Architect(s)Thomas Elworthy
StyleClassical/Italianate/Gothic Revival/Renaissance Revival
Groundbreaking29 June 1881
SynodSouthern Synod

Robertsbridge United Reformed Church (originally Robertsbridge Congregational Chapel) is a former United Reformed Church place of worship in Robertsbridge, a village in the district of Rother in the English county of East Sussex. Built for Congregational worshippers in 1881 following their secession from a long-established Wesleyan Methodist chapel, it was the third Nonconformist place of worship in the village, whose nearest parish church was in the neighbouring settlement of Salehurst. Like the former Strict Baptist and Methodist chapels in the village, which have both closed, it no longer serves Robertsbridge as a place of worship. Local architect Thomas Elworthy's distinctive design—a "rich" and highly decorated blend of several styles—has divided opinion amongst architectural historians. English Heritage has listed the church at Grade II for its architectural and historical importance.


The ancient village of Salehurst, mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086, had an extensive parish spanning the River Rother. There was no settlement at Robertsbridge, 1 mile (1.6 km) southwest of Salehurst village,[1] until after 1210, when a Cistercian abbey founded in 1176 moved there from its site further up the valley.[2] By the 14th century, Robertsbridge was by far the larger village.[2] There was no place of worship serving the Established Church, though: a chapel associated with the abbey was last recorded in 1567 and was probably demolished soon afterwards,[3] and the parish church remained in Salehurst. In 1676, when a religious census was taken, Salehurst parish was found to have the second highest number of Nonconformists (28) of any parish in the area: it was behind only Rye, whose Nonconformist population was increased by refugees from continental Europe.[4] (In England, people and ministers who worshipped outside the Church of England but were not part of the Roman Catholic Church were historically known as Nonconformists or Dissenters. Nonconformism became officially recognised after the Act of Uniformity 1662.)[5]

Independents apparently dominated the early Nonconformist scene locally, but Wesleyan Methodism became prominent in the late 18th century. John Wesley visited Robertsbridge five times between 1771 and 1784 and preached to large crowds.[4][6] A chapel was built in 1812 and extended in 1842, and a Sunday school was added in 1872. One of the early lay preachers during this period of rapid growth, and a leading member of the local Methodist Society, was Edward Piper.[6][7]

The architect Thomas Elworthy inserted this stone in the brick façade.

In 1876, there was a split in the local Methodist Society, causing some members of the Methodist chapel's congregation to secede. This move was led by Edward Piper, who started holding meetings for Congregational-style worship in a house on Robertsbridge High Street.[8][9] Five years later, Piper commissioned the St Leonards-on-Sea-based architect[10] Thomas Elworthy to design a new chapel on the site of this house. It was founded on 29 June 1881 by Piper with the help of Rev. Charles New, incumbent at the Robertson Street Congregational Chapel in Hastings.[11] Construction finished soon afterwards, but Piper died almost immediately afterwards—on 20 November 1881, at the age of 70—just before he was due to preach his inaugural sermon.[12] An inscribed stone tablet commemorates him. As well as the foundation (or Memorial) stone on the exterior,[11] Thomas Elworthy inserted a stone inscribed with his name and the date.[13]

The church maintained its connection with the Robertson Street Congregational Church in Hastings into the 20th century, and was served by ministers from Burwash at times.[11] The Methodist chapel closed in 1960,[14] after which the remaining Methodists in Robertsbridge joined worshippers at the Congregational Church.[1] After this, the name Congregational Methodist Church was sometimes used for the building.[13][14] In 1972, the Congregational Church, Presbyterian Church of England and some other denominations merged to form the United Reformed Church,[15] and the church at Robertsbridge became part of that denomination.[16] Until its closure it was part of the denomination's Southern Synod.[17]

Under the name Robertsbridge United Reformed Church, the building was listed at Grade II by English Heritage on 13 May 1987.[18] This defines it as a "nationally important" building of "special interest".[19] As of February 2001, it was one of 1,991 Grade II listed buildings, and 2,106 listed buildings of all grades, in the district of Rother.[20] It was licensed for worship in accordance with the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855 and had the registration number 33848.[21]

Robertsbridge United Reformed Church closed on 5 September 2015.[22] The building was put up for sale for £200,000 in October 2015,[23] and was later offered at auction at a lower price.[24] The members joined with others to form Community Church Robertsbridge, which is affiliated with the Baptist Union of Great Britain and which meets in the youth centre on George Hill in Robertsbridge.[25][26]

Architecture and description[edit]

The doorway has moulded pilasters.

Congregationalism was traditionally "a prosperous denomination [that] built well-finished and well-furnished buildings"; by the late 19th century, the quality of some exceeded even that of contemporary Anglican churches, and as of 2006 26% of the surviving 1,115 such churches in England had listed status.[15] Thomas Elworthy, the local architect commissioned to design the church at Robertsbridge, was closely associated with the Hastings area and Nonconformist ecclesiastical architecture.[27] Most of his commissions were for Congregationalists,[27] and most of his works reflect the localised reaction against the Gothic Revival style seen in several parts of Sussex in the 1880s.[10] His Congregational churches at Croft Road, Hastings (1877) and Mount Pleasant Road, Hastings (1878–79; both demolished) were Free Renaissance Revival and Early English Gothic Revival respectively;[28] his St Leonard's Baptist Church of 1883 at St Leonards-on-Sea was a "rich Italianate";[28] and the Robertsbridge church displayed an eclectic mix of styles. It has elements of the Classical,[18] Renaissance Revival[10] and Italianate styles with some Gothic Revival features.[13][14] As an architect, Thomas Elworthy is "often maligned",[10] and critical reaction to the building has varied: Nikolaus Pevsner called it "truly horrible" and "most dissolute",[13] whereas a more recent analysis by English Heritage saw it as a "rich and fruity example of a Nonconformist church".[18] Sussex church historian Robert Elleray described the church as "very Victorian" and "an unexpected Renaissance intrusion into the predominantly 18th-century High Street", and thought Pevsner had made "a harsh judgement".[12]

The church is principally of red brick with extensive use of terracotta dressings.[14][16] The façade, on an elevated section of the High Street known as High Pavement,[1] rises to two storeys and has three bays with a four-window range.[16][18] A stone cornice separates the lower and upper storeys, and another runs below the parapet upon which a central brick pediment stands. This was originally surrounded by a balustrade with stone urns.[16][18] The bays are divided by brick pilasters. The windows are all casements and are set below semicircular fanlights in ornately moulded round-headed surrounds.[18] The outer bays have single windows, but those above the entrance are paired.[16] The doorway has moulded pilasters and a cornice topped with stone urns, and the door is panelled.[18]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c Martin, Dorothy I. (1999). "Life in the Village of Robertsbridge" (PDF). Robertsbridge: Robertsbridge and District Archaeological Society. p. 3. Archived (PDF) from the original on 15 February 2013. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
  2. ^ a b Martin & Mastin 1974, p. 4.
  3. ^ Martin & Mastin 1974, p. 8.
  4. ^ a b Hodson 1914, p. 124.
  5. ^ Beevers, Marks & Roles 1989, pp. 42–43.
  6. ^ a b Gillet 1989, p. 104.
  7. ^ Hodson 1914, pp. 125–126.
  8. ^ Gillet 1989, p. 100.
  9. ^ Hodson 1914, p. 126.
  10. ^ a b c d Elleray 1981, p. 28.
  11. ^ a b c Hodson 1914, p. 127.
  12. ^ a b Elleray 1981, §. 177.
  13. ^ a b c d Nairn & Pevsner 1965, p. 589.
  14. ^ a b c d Elleray 2004, p. 46.
  15. ^ a b "Places of Worship Selection Guide" (PDF). English Heritage (Heritage Protection Department). March 2007. p. 12. Archived (PDF) from the original on 7 February 2013. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
  16. ^ a b c d e Stell 2002, p. 354.
  17. ^ "Robertsbridge". The United Reformed Church. 2013. Archived from the original on 15 February 2013. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g Historic England (2011). "The United Reformed Church, High Street (east side), Robertsbridge, Salehurst, Rother, East Sussex (1221451)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 5 July 2011.
  19. ^ "Listed Buildings". English Heritage. 2012. Archived from the original on 24 January 2013. Retrieved 24 January 2013.
  20. ^ "Images of England — Statistics by County (East Sussex)". Images of England. English Heritage. 2007. Archived from the original on 27 December 2012. Retrieved 27 December 2012.
  21. ^ Registered in accordance with the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855 (Number in Worship Register: 33848; Name: Robertsbridge United Reformed Church; Address: Robertsbridge; Denomination: United Reformed Church). Retrieved 4 September 2012. (Archived version of list from April 2010; Click here for access to subsequent updates)
  22. ^ "Record, General Assembly, Southport 2016: The United Reformed Church" (PDF). London: United Reformed Church. 19 August 2016. Archived (PDF) from the original on 20 October 2020. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  23. ^ "Robertsbridge United Reformed Church, High Street, Robertsbridge, TN32 5AL". Estates Gazette/Propertylink. RELX Group. 2015. Archived from the original on 16 October 2015. Retrieved 23 October 2015.
  24. ^ "Lot 96: Former Church Hall with Potential". Clive Emson Land & Property Auctioneers. March 2016. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 3 March 2016.
  25. ^ "Meetings". Community Church Robertsbridge. 2017. Archived from the original on 7 July 2017. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  26. ^ "Churches A—C". Baptist Union of Great Britain/South Eastern Baptist Association. 2010–2017. Archived from the original on 7 July 2017. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  27. ^ a b Elleray 1981, p. 32.
  28. ^ a b Elleray 2004, p. 29.


  • Beevers, David; Marks, Richard; Roles, John (1989). Sussex Churches and Chapels. Brighton: The Royal Pavilion, Art Gallery and Museums. ISBN 0-948723-11-4.
  • Elleray, D. Robert (1981). The Victorian Churches of Sussex. Chichester: Phillimore & Co. Ltd. ISBN 0-85033-378-4.
  • Elleray, D. Robert (2004). Sussex Places of Worship. Worthing: Optimus Books. ISBN 0-9533132-7-1.
  • Gillet, Alan (1989). Battle and Robertsbridge in Old Photographs. Gloucester: Alan Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-86299-646-5.
  • Hodson, Leonard J. (1914). A History of Salehurst. Robertsbridge: Leonard Hodson.
  • Martin, David; Mastin, Barbara (1974). An Architectural History of Robertsbridge. Hastings Area Archaeological Papers. Hastings: Hastings Area Archaeological Papers. ISBN 0-904124-04-5.
  • Nairn, Ian; Pevsner, Nikolaus (1965). The Buildings of England: Sussex. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-071028-0.
  • Stell, Christopher (2002). Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting-houses in Eastern England. Swindon: English Heritage. ISBN 1-873592-50-7.