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Early Years of St Mark's Parish

How did the new Church of St Mark's come into being?

It's not every day that a new church is built in an area, so how does it come about? Is there a loud cry from the people demanding a new church, or is it imposed by distant authorities mysteriously plotting the ecclesiastical layout of England, or can a rich Vicar (!) decide to build his own?

In the case of Woolston, we must look at what was happening up the road in Peartree where there was already an old church in existence, Jesus Chapel, serving largely the Itchen community and what little there was of Woolston. It seems the Davies family had inherited the right of patronage - the right to present someone to the living as next Vicar of Peartree, and as there were three very scholarly clergy in the family - the then Vicar, William Lewis; his son, Thomas Lewis Owen and his nephew, John Silvester, it was only sensible to keep the living in the family. When the Vicar died in 1856, his nephew took over for a while and as the church was small and the population of Peartree and Woolston had grown, there was a suggestion to build a new church by public subscription with the understanding that John Silvester should be its first Vicar. This is in fact what did happen. John Silvester resigned from Peartree in 1860 and went to work at St Mark's, Alexandria, where according to tradition Mark, the evangelist, spent his last days, then returned to work briefly at St Peter's, Southampton, before becoming the first Vicar of St Mark's, Woolston, while his cousin Thomas Lewis had become Vicar of Peartree. The two neighbouring communities were to have cousins as incumbents for several years to come and their personal interest in local history and education was to be an asset. Indeed, the two cousins ended up living very close to each other because when the new railway line to Woolston was laid through the garden of Peartree Vicarage, the Vicar felt forced to move to the site of Woolston Lawn (near the station) and the Vicar of St Mark's, having no vicarage, lived at 2 Hawthorn Villas, a few yards away.

What of the building and architecture of St Mark's?

T.L.O.Davies remained the Vicar of Peartree until 1917, within a year of his death, and wrote some articles on the neighbourhood called "Historical Notes" which were printed in the Southampton Times in 1901 and in which he describes the building of St Mark's:

"It was first intended to place it in Obelisk Road, but Mr Thomas Chamberlayne offered to give the present site, which was gladly accepted. The architect was Mr White, of Wimpole Street, and Mr Bull was the builder. "It consists of chancel and nave, with north aisle to each, and these, including the porch and a small vestry, cost £2,500." It had been planned that the church could be enlarged at a later date when there was more money and need. "It was consecrated by the Bishop (Sumner) of Winchester on November 17th, 1863. The communion plate was the gift of the Rev. Mark Cooper, then Rector of St.Mary's.”

Another description of St Mark's reads:

The new church at Woolston was "built of Swanage stone, with dressings of Corsham Down stone: its pillars and capitals are of Bath and Tisbury stone, and the chancel arch is carried by a shaft of Devonshire marble." (A History and Description of Southampton by B. B. Woodward.)

William White (1825-1900) was an architect specialising in churches at a time when English villages were growing rapidly and the church was seen very much as the hub of the community. There was therefore an expansion in church buildings and a fraternity of ecclesiastical architects that included Sir Gilbert G.Scott, G.E.Street and Butterfield. Visiting Italian cathedrals and a revival in Gothic style influenced the design of his work, which included many churches, two cathedrals in Madagascar and Pretoria- and a large country house in Wicklow, Ireland. St Mark's has stone on the outside which has just been repointed (Spring '99) and gives a light, clean yet long standing effect, but the inside is at first a surprise being coloured brickwork (polychrome) with almost no internal stone. This was not to save money but because White thought the more subtle tones and coloured designs were more restful on the eye. (St Michael's, Lyndhurst was also designed by him just when people were thinking about the emerging need for a church in Woolston (1858-9)).

Unlike Weston Church, then Sholing, both built within three years, St Mark's did not have a cemetery. One reason was that the church didn't originally own more land than the small section it stood on another must have been that it was unsuitable. Heinz poorly drained with salt water lying only a few

feet beneath it - as it is to this day. So for the first 16 years burials took place in the very limited space at Peartree until the new cemetery was built on the Portsmouth Road.

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St Mark's had a Vicar, the Rev. Silvester Davies, but no Vicarage, so a villa was rented instead at 2 Hawthorn Villa, Bridge Road, (today's Portsmouth Rd) close to his cousin the Vicar of Peartree.

The sites are marked on the 1868 Ordnance Survey map which also shows the site of the Cliff Hotel as well as two other buildings East Cliff and West Cliff all just south of the main carriage route. The name “cliff” must really have meant what it said for the map shows the hatched lines of quarries and the rails used for the trucks that carried the gravel and sand excavated to the wharf, already marked on the previous tithe map. A later description of this part of Woolston (1878) explains "Near the floating bridge is the Cliff Hotel and Tea Gardens, below which large excavations for ballast have been made in the bold gravelly cliff which rises abruptly from the beach, and is thickly mantled with oak and other trees." (White's History Gazeteer and Directory of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.)

Within three years (1866) the Vicar produced plans to extend the basic shell of St Mark's as had been originally intended. He wanted a new large vestry, added seating in the south chancel aisle, and a transept portion; and we assume that the crypt beneath, with some basic hot water heating system was also built at this stage. The cost was over £1,100.

That year also saw trains stopping at the new Woolston Station and a major outbreak of cholera in Southampton which spread alarmingly for four months, but which thankfully didn't cross the Itchen. For the first eight years, St Mark's was lighted entirely by candles and oil-lamps but in 1871 it was felt that gas lighting would be a great improvement, if the £80 needed could be raised.

St Mark's had expanded to meet the increasing population but the Vicar was also sensitive to the need to educate the local children. He had been involved in Peartree's Church schools and now in 1870 he appealed to his parishioners and friends for money to build Church aided schools in Woolston.

.....I send this paper forth with the prayer, in which all I am sure will join, that God may direct us in this matter as shall be to His glory, and the good of His people.
My chief reasons for preferring a voluntary to School Board Rate school might be put under these heads:-
  (1).     Because I prefer the Voluntary system of charity to that which is simply enforced by law.
  (2).     Because I believe that the Christian Faith will be taught far mor satisfactorily under the Voluntary                School, 
which will be strictly regulated, however, by the conscience clause, as specified in Sec. 7. In                the Rate school religious teaching will be reduced to its minimum, if not practically excluded.
  (3)     Because I believe the School Board, with its rates and attendant expenses, will press heavily and                      permanently on many who find rates and taxes heavy enough already.

                                                                                                      I remain, yours faithfully,
                                                                                                               J. SILVESTER DAVIES
                                                                                                                                       Vicar of Woolston
To the Parishioners of Woolston especially, and also
To the inhabitants of St May Extra.

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Two years later St Mark's Infants' School was in existence on land given by the Chamberlaynes, with a house for the schoolteacher on the site and, within another eight years, another building had been erected a

few steps down from the Infants, nearer the church, to accommodate the older girls. This was ten years before the Second Education Act made education compulsory for children between five and thirteen.

In '71 there were 219 houses inhabited and 26 uninhabited, making a population of nearly 1500 people.

Two other additions changed Woolston's landscape soon after in 1876. One was the Presbyterian Church on the corner of John's and Portsmouth Roads, now sadly demolished, and the other was the frame of an iron ship arriving from Sunderland to the shipyard of. Mr T. R. Oswald where it was to become

Woolston's first iron ship - "The Aberfoyle". White's History Gazetteer and Directory of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight 1878 describes the shipyard like this:

“An extensive ship and bridge building yard and engine manufactory was established here in 1876 by Messrs Oswald, who employ, when in full work, some 1000 hands. The works cover 20 acres, and are quite self-contained; all the details for the vessels and their engines are made on the premises, and the machinery is of the most improved description. "

St Marks Pic 4.jpg

As already mentioned, St Mark's owned only the plot of land on which it stood. In 1878 the of the land next to the church wrote saying he proposed letting his land for building purposes and that if St Mark's wanted to buy it, it should inform him. A meeting was speedily held and the additional land west and south of the church bought for £130, the debt being paid off over five years.



                                                                                                                                                                                                        Bronte Matthews

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