When building work began, the design of the chapel had not even been finalised. It was modified and developed as building progressed and structural difficulties were overcome.
One of the tallest interior-vaulted churches in the United Kingdom, the chapel rises 94ft to the apex of the vault inside and 150ft to the roof ridge. The £1.2million project to add an elegant arcade porch with extended buttresses at the west end completes the project.
Dominic Oliver, headmaster, said: “The chapel is an amazing building and an immensely important part of the school and community life. It can take about 1,000 people and it is the only place where the whole school can gather. There has been incredible craftsmanship from the very beginning. It is a vast edifice in a crazy position and it has taken a long time.”
The sloping ground meant the foundations had to be an average of 60ft deep and it took seven years to dig them, so the crypt chapel was not finished until 1875. Nine years later, the eastern apse was built to full height but it took another 27 years to construct the remaining nine bays of the main chapel.
The unfinished upper chapel was dedicated on July 18, 1911. The open, unprotected western arch was boarded up and covered with possibly the largest piece of corrugated iron in the world – and so it remained for 43 years, while the interior was furnished.
This final project, bringing the west end out three metres, gives an entrance worthy of the interior, constructed with love by Chichester Stoneworks.
Mr Oliver said: “A big part of what is exciting about this last portion is that in the pandemic, everyone was facing so much grim stuff, it was a horrible time, but during that time the real beacon of hope was that the work could continue, and the whole place is a beacon of hope in the Sussex landscape. It is a still, meditative place where you can reflect on the important things in life.”
It has been funded entirely by donations and legacies, and there are stories of countless individuals for whom this place is central to their lives.
Dr Damian Kerney, head of history, is a former student who watched with joy the choir organ being installed in 1986.
He said: “This place lifts your soul. The 13m-high Gothic columns take your eyes up and up, and when the organ is in full throttle, the sound is just incredible.
“The fundraising has been inspiring and it is heartwarming to see it finished.
“Friends of Lancing Chapel was formed in 1946, after the Second World War, to complete the chapel and from that point, old boys, pupils, masters, parents, all have been contributing, generation after generation.”
Mr Oliver said the Friends’ sole purpose had been to complete the building, so now the focus would shift into a new aim of continuing to maintain it and build new relationships.
Lancing College Chapel is the minster for all the Woodard schools. The west wall with its rose window was constructed between 1957 and 1978, and the ceremony of dedication on May 13, 1978, was attended by Prince Charles.
But the west end was still unfinished and would remain so for another 44 years. Originally, there was a plan to link the chapel to the school with a large ante-chapel but this would have blocked access to the school kitchens, so the idea was eventually thrown out.
In 2011, the Friends made a push for funds, to coincide with the 200th birthday of the Rev Nathaniel Woodard, the founder of Lancing College.
Various designs were considered and in 2017, the three-arched porch created by architect Michael Drury was approved. It took months of negotiations and several modifications before the relevant authorities were persuaded this design would work.
The contract with Chichester Stoneworks was signed in November 2019 and stone was ordered from the Doulting stone quarry in Somerset. This was selected as it matched the adjacent stonework from the 1970s. The stone was supplied in sawn blocks and it was transformed in the workshops, with finely molded and finished dressings.
Adam Stone, managing director of Chichester Stoneworks, said a huge amount of work had gone into the blind tracery, so the arches outside matched designs inside the chapel.
He added: “The enormity is the real thing. Every time you come to it, there was some awe to it. You were getting higher and the ground was getting further away. We have been involved for a number of years and we are so grateful to have been chosen to finish this iconic building, it is a real privilege.”