Lewes gallery behind campaign to save mural threatened with demolition

Detail from Pilgrim's Progress, painted by refugee Hans Feibusch in the church crypt
Detail from Pilgrim's Progress, painted by refugee Hans Feibusch in the church crypt

A campaign is under way to save a rare mural housed in a church which has been earmarked for demolition.

The large and disused St Elisabeth’s Church in Victoria Drive, Eastbourne, could be knocked down as early as September this year if a public consultation – due to finish on Monday, January 8 – recommends demolition.

The Church Commission is behind the plans to sell the site for redevelopment.

But within the crypt walls of the Listed building is the Pilgrim’s Progress mural by Hans Feibusch, highly acclaimed by art historians.

They say Feibusch, a Jewish refugee who fled Germany for Britain in the 1930s, chose the allegory of Pilgrim’s Progress as a vehicle for his own story, depicting a refugee fleeing Nazi Germany and his eventual acceptance and redemption not in the Celestial City but in 1940s Britain.

The estimate to salvage the mural and relocate it is £300,000.

Alex Grey, a director at the Martyrs’ Gallery and Project Space in Lewes, is behind the campaign to save the mural.

He said: “If approved, a scheme will allow the church to go ahead with the demolition, irrespective of whether the mural is still in situ.

“The scheme contains a provision that demolition will not go ahead until September 1, 2018, or until the ‘proposed recipients’ of the mural ‘have secured adequate resources’ to remove and relocate the mural – in other words, unless someone other than the Church of England provides the money for the mural’s relocation before September 2018, the mural will be destroyed along with the building.

“The mural is a registered War Memorial, and is unique, we believe, in being dedicated to civilian casualties of war. As we embark on the 21st century, it acquires new resonance in the context of mass displacement of people into Europe by conflicts further afield.

“It is imperative that anyone who is concerned about the mural acts now to maximise the likelihood that it will be successfully salvaged before demolition takes place.

“We have a wealth of information on our website at www.martyrs.gallery about the current status of Pilgrim’s Progress, plus guidance on how to object to the proposed plans, which must be done before the imminent deadline of January 8.”

St Elisabeth’s has been derelict for a number of years with the congregation now in the adjacent modern church.