The church serves the loosely-defined Montpelier and Clifton Hill areas of Brighton, which lie west of the major Dyke Road and cover the steep slopes between the Seven Dials district and the seafront. A church named St. Stephen's had served parts of the district since 1851, when it had been moved to Montpelier Place from its previous location in Castle Square, close to the Royal Pavilion, where it served as the Royal Chapel. However, it was not convenient for the area as a whole, with most of its parishioners being drawn instead from the streets to the south of the church.
Development of the Montpelier and Clifton Hill areas started in the 1820s, and by the 1840s they had essentially taken the form they remain in today, with a range of high-quality houses, many in the form of Regency terraces and crescents such as Clifton Terrace. However, one area of open land remained: at the time (the 1850s) it was known as Temple Fields, and consisted of a field, a pond and a partly-built house. This was chosen as the site for a new church to serve the area. On present-day maps, Temple Fields is the area bounded by Denmark Terrace, Clifton Hill, Powis Road and Victoria Road. The church faces three streets: St. Michael's Place, Powis Road and Victoria Road (on which the main entrance is located).
Plans for the church were drawn up in 1858, and construction took place between 1860 and 1861 to a design by George Frederick Bodley (whose father had been a doctor in Brighton and a resident of the Furze Hill area of Hove, close to the Montpelier and Clifton Hill districts). Bodley was also working on St. Paul's Church in West Street, Brighton at the time, on an interior alterations project.
The design of the exterior was reminiscent of the Italianate style, in red brick with horizontal bands of white stone and a steeply pitched slate roof. This featured a modest flèche spire containing a bell recovered from Sevastopol during the Crimean War (1854-1856).
An early draft by Bodley
The church took two years to build at a cost of £6,728, and was consecrated by the Bishop of Chichester on 29 September 1862. There was room for a congregation of 700; pew rent was charged on 300 of these seats at first. The Reverend Charles Beanlands, who had been a curate at St. Paul's Church since his ordination in 1849, was given the perpetual curacy of St. Michael's Church, and he remained in this position until his death in 1898.
Fr Beanlands - the first priest at Saint Michael's