The urbanisation of so much of Britain in the 1820’s and 1830’s was proceeding at an alarming rate. Small country towns with the parish church as their focal point became the centres of a vast sprawling metropolis of industry and housing. It was a matter of deep concern to the authorities that there were many families whose parish church was too far away, or too small, that they were not only denied the ability to attend church, perhaps twice on Sunday, but they were also more importantly denied the moral and spiritual guidance that regular church-going could bring. The Church Building Society was set up in 1818 to raise money for churches in areas where they were needed. They were supported by the King, the Universities and many clergy, particularly the Evangelicals. Seen also as a celebration for the peace after Waterloo, Parliament quickly passed an Act in 1818 granting one million pounds for the building of new churches, and appointing Commissioners to administer the Act. In the event, only ninety-six new churches resulted from the million pounds, and in 1824 another half-a-million pounds was voted, which was spread more thinly. Only twenty-six churches were entirely financed out of the second grant, which usually provided a contribution towards the building costs and was still being dispensed in the mid-1850’s, eventually benefitting 450 churches.
The emphasis was on value for money, particularly in the first phase. This meant that the Commissioner’s churches were characterised by their plainness, lack of ornament and basic plan form. They invariably had no chancels, but they usually had galleries to accommodate the large number of ‘sittings’ and were built of the cheapest materials. There was little scope for architectural expression. Gothic, or at least windows with pointed arches, proved to be the cheapest and most popular style. As Sir George Gilbert Scott said when he built St. Nicholas at Lincoln in 1838, ‘Church architecture was then perhaps at its lowest level’. Scott himself benefitted from a grant from the Church Building Society in 1837, towards the building of Flauden Church, and subsequently the Commissioners paid grants varying between £50 and £2,000, for eighteen churches he built between 1840 and 1853.
One of these was St Mark’s, built between 1847-8, in stone in Decorated style with a bell turret at the east end of the nave. It seated 84 in pews plus room for another 166 free places.
Clarke, B. F. L., Church Builders of the Nineteenth Century, A Study of the Gothic Revival in England (David and Charles, Newton Abbot, 1969), p. 23.
Pevsner, N., Some Architectural Writers of the Nineteenth Century (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1972), pp. 32-4.
Scott’s Recollections, I 295.