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Saturday, 19 March 2022

The History, Art and Architecture of St.Mark's Church, Swindon New Town 1843-1995

Michael Gray gave our February talk to a packed Zoom audience on St.Mark's Church, located in the Railway Village, and built a little after the village. Michael recently reviewed the listings for Historic England when the whole Railway Village became a Heritage Action Zone in 2019; he gave us the talk he gives on Heritage Open Days, and I hope we can have a tour round it before long as a Friends' trip.

The railway came to Swindon in 1841, at that time, Brunel sketched plans for the village, not the church. The main church in Swindon at this time was Holy Rood in Lawn, it was very small and with 1800 staff employed in the works, the need for another church was appreciated by the Goddard and Villet families who each paid £500 for the church, probably half a million today. The bulk of the funding came from Lambeth Palace, £5-6,000 was allocated to build a church, vicarage and church school.

Michael started his talk with this lovely photograph of light pouring through a window from the south, the effect is of sunlight passing through incense burnt in all services. The resurgence of all things Catholic, with ritualist ideas dating back to 1830 was called the Oxford movement and dates back to 1830, arriving in Swindon in 1840, it didn't take hold then, but Canon JMG Ponsonby who was vicar from 1879-1903 was keen on the Oxford movement.
George Gilbert Scott tendered for the job , submitting the watercolour below which won him the commission. His most famous other commissions include St Pancras station and the Albert memorial tower.

In the graveyard, there are 5 large memorials, including 2 listed ones. The one above as you can see is to Joseph Armstrong who was an engineer and driver, 6000 attended his funeral.
Many people who worked in the railway works had come from other regions of the UK, they tended to build their own churches because they didn't want to worship in Anglican churches which is why we have so many chapels in Swindon.
The photograph above shows a hammerbeam roof and scissor trusses to give height and space; the church lifts the worshipper up , as though revisiting paradise.
You can see above the detailing on the stone work
The stained glass in the church is beautiful, the window below is the one behind the altar. Jesus in depicted in the centre of the window, set in a sunburst with 4 apostles around him, and the hand of God above him. It was designed by Martin Travers who died in 1949
The two windows below were made at different times, the one on the left in 1888, depicts the returning prodigal son, and jealous brother depicted as Henry VIII. The one on the right, the Baptistry window was commissioned to mark 150 years of St Marks and the other 3 Anglican churches, St.Saviours, St Lukes and St.Aldems
Below is a magnified bit of the window on the left.
Two more windows, the one on the left tells the story of Isiah and Jeremiah, commissioned in 1894 as a tribute to a dead wife. The window on the right was made in 2012 in memory of Rex Hurrell, commemorating Saint Sithney, patron saint of mad dogs


You can find what Sir John Betjeman thought about St.Mark's by listening to this BBC archive material from March 1949.  However to listen, you have to log in to Discogs, something I was not able to do just now. And also watch the talk by clicking here
What a fascinating tour around St.Mark's, thank you very much Michael.


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