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St Mark's 1880's   PART1

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Christmas 1880. St Mark's was sixteen years old and a new Vicar appeared on the scene on St Thomas' Day, Tues. 21st December. He was the Rev. Charles Mansfield Owen and he hadn't come from far, just across the Itchen - where he had been a curate at Holy Trinity, near Kingsland. That year Christmas fell at a week-end and it is interesting to look at the register.

Sat. Dec. 25       8 a.m.           C. M. Owen          36 (communicants)

(Xmas Day)       11 a.m.                                       41 (communicants)

                         4 p.m.

Sun. Dec. 26      8 a.m.                                       11 (comm..)

                      11 a.m.

                               3 p.m.                                       Children's Service.

                   6.30 p.m.                                        4 (comm..)


The Christmas collection over the weekend amounted to just over six and a half pounds sterling - £6. IOs 6 3/4d.

The main services at the church at that period were at 8 a.m.; 11 a.m. and 6.30 p.m. and the average number of communicants was 30, but the emphasis in services was different as "Holy Communion" was often seen as an additional part of the 11a.m. service that many churchgoers did not partake in regularly.

There were also some more unusual services: (1) a "Hospital" Sunday (in the days before the National Health Service the church tried hard to care for the sick by helping to raise funds and increase awareness); (2) a "Special Service for Domestic Servants" in March, no doubt the fore-runner of Mothering Sunday (a look at the early census returns for Woolston shows how many servants there were in some of the fine houses, and it was beginning to be realised that domestic servants had relatives too and ought to be allowed a day off to visit them); (3) a "Children's Flower Service" at 3 p.m. on Easter Sunday and (4) an annual festival in October to celebrate the church's birthday when they had a special offertory to reduce the debt on the additional church land and collected £6.

The land under St Mark's was as damp as ever and needed draining, so Charles wisely saw to the installation of a new boiler for hot water, had drains and sinking wells put in and the crypt cemented and drained.

One sad incident cast a shadow on his time as Vicar and that was the death of his brother on a visit to Woolston just a year after he had come, December '81. A small diamond tile in the middle of the chancel floor, between the rows of choir seats, is marked, "H.R.B.O. Dec. 1.1881 " and the large stained glass window behind the organ pipes was installed in memory of the Vicar's brother who was in the Royal Marines. (See the section on "The Stained Glass Windows at St Mark's Woolston")

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Woolston at this stage appears to have been a hive of activity. The Gutch and Cox Village Directory for 1884 states,

"The Steam Floating bridge...plies to and fro every five minutes...Here are large ship and yacht and boat building establishments, that of Messrs. Oswald, Mordant, and Co. being on an extensive scale, employing an immense number of hands. There are also many coal depots and corn wharves, several good inns, and an excellent hotel and tea gardens near the Floating bridge...Here is a Roman Catholic Church...recently erected at a cost Of £800, but it is intended at a future time to erect a much larger edifice, and the present building will then be used as schools... The Presbyterians and Wesleyans have their separate places of worship here. Here is also a Masonic Hall, which is used for meetings of the Freemasons, and also for Entertainments, Public Meetings, & c. "

It also mentions the Coastguard Station, which had a chief officer, chief boatman and nine men. They lived in a row of cottages in Grove Rd (today's Glen Rd.).

The commercial importance of the village was stressed as the Directory included a separate commercial list as well as the list of residents, with some entries in larger, bolder print and even advertising. An enterprising "Fancy Baker" in Victoria Road and a Saddler and Harness Maker opposite the London Hotel inserted attractive advertisements with graphics.

St Mark's had had two vicars within five years and was in need of more stability. It found it with the Rev. Geoffrey Hughes who arrived in 1885. He was a dynamic man and served St Mark's for 37 years until he, too, died in office.

One of the first things he must have noticed, coming at Christmas, was how crowded the church was. In those days it was quite common for churches to have some private or "allocated" pews. These were paid for each year by certain families and reserved only for them. The money went to help pay for the Vicar and at St Mark's 176 seats were reserved like this. There would also have been free seats for anyone to use, but as Woolston had grown so much there wóuld not have been enough room in the church for everyone, and having to turn people away at Christmas was felt to be a "great evil." It's hard to believe that the church as it stood was officially supposed to hold 475 people including children.

Before he even called a committee meeting on the subject, the Rev. Hughes wrote to Mr White, the original architect, asking him how he thought the church could be enlarged to accommodate another 230 people. The additional church land allowed new scope for extension.

Should it be lengthened grandly, extending the nave?

Should it be widened, making it more compact and perhaps more friendly?

The architect, who since first building St Mark's, had been busy on another church in North London with similar coloured brickwork, favoured widening. He thought it would bring the people closer to the priest and the possibility of an extension had been provisionally planned in the beginning.

The extension involved a lot of meetings, correspondence and suggestions between the architect and the people of St Mark's who had their own ideas about roofs, windows and costs. It would require extra pillars and arches and windows, and the congregation wanted a porch as well. When all was settled, the cost was to be £1,400. The plans were exhibited in St Mark's Girls' School, opposite the church so that local contractors could apply. Mr Franklin was chosen and work started in September 1886.

It's worth considering that the average family consisted of 6 children, whose growing feet must have put a strain on resources. The sewing machine was being adapted to mass-production and coping with thicker materials, but for shoes and boots, leather soles were all that was available and leather does not last long on wet, rough or muddy roads. It's not surprising then to hear that some children had no shoes to wear and that St Mark's schoolteachers sometimes had to lend them shoes so that they could go to school. It was probably also a contributing factor to the reason why St Mark's set up a "Provident" or special savings fund to help families buy shoes.

Soon everyone was enthusiastic about the extension and no one less so than the Vicar.

"Since we have been able to make so favourable a contract for the South Aisle of the church, could we not now entertain an extension of our original scheme? I suggest two things:

1st. That we should make an effort to complete the tower and spire;

2nd. That we should obtain a new organ."

Mr White's rough estimate for the tower was £450, for the spire £150 extra, making a total of £600.

The probable cost of a new organ was £300.

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Excitement and optimism grew. The title of the fund raising events was changed to "The Woolston Church Completion and Organ Fund." The Vicar may have dreamed of finishing the tower, but when the chance of acquiring an organ arose it may have taken preference on funds.. The curate, the Rev. O. R. Barnicott (living at Woodhayes, Woolston), had seen a suitable organ in a shop in Bellevue, Southampton. The organ builder, Mr Sims, had been making it in his slack time over two years and needed space to build another. It had 20 stops and was quite powerful. It was decided to buy the organ and see whether funds allowed for the spire and tower.

The organ was placed in the North Chancel aisle but 40 pews had to be removed to make room.

A grand opening recital was planned for Sept. 20th 1886 when Mr Perkins, newly appointed to St Michael's, and an assistant organist at Westminster Abbey and well known at the Crystal Palace and Royal Albert Hall, would play in the afternoon and evening.

Another pressure to replace the old organ may have come from the choir and members of the St Mary Extra Choral Society which met in "Howl Hall" in College Rd. It was a descendant of The Woolston and Peartree Harmonic Association, which had started life in 1865 in Peartree School. The President in 1884 was the Vicar of Peartree and several local doctors followed the early example of Dr Fyffe and conducted it.

The women of the parish meanwhile, were planning a dolls' show to raise extra money for the extension. The dolls (and one thinks of china dolls with expressive faces and detailed clothing) were to be in tableaux or little scenes. Proposed scenes included a French fish market, a seaside, a wedding, a nursery, a hospital, lawn tennis, May Day and Uncle Tom's Cabin. Any odd dolls could be placed in a "home for stray dolls"! After a rehearsal in Woolston, the dolls were to be carried across the Itchen in a cart to the Philharmonic Hall where there would be prizes for design and execution and the dolls auctioned.

The enlargement of St Mark's also meant some other changes. The font, which is nearly always placed near a doorway in a church - (baptism being seen as a gateway to being a Christian-) was moved to a new position, in the new aisle near the new porch. St Mark's extension was seen as a move to welcome more people into the church, a new doorway with more space round the font was an attempt to symbolise this. (The font's new position may have been an improvement on the previous one, near the north-west corner cupboards, but it was still in a gloomy corner and when future congregations had shown their reluctance to enter by any door other than the one nearest to the main road, it was felt in 1991 that a brighter and more prominent position, seen clearly at both entrances, was a better idea and the font was moved once again.)

The architect (as in his London church, St Saviour's, Aberdeen Park) favoured a "crossing" passage in the main aisle, and so the older crossing was widened and 22 seats removed, allowing more movement. As often happens, improvements also bring drawbacks, and whereas the plan had been to provide 230 extra seats, installing the new organ and widening the passage meant the loss of 62 old ones.

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When Rev. C. M. Owen arrived he felt it was time Woolston should have its own Vicarage. The Parish had been more than 20 years without one. He looked at ways and means to achieve this and found a grant of £600 from Queen Anne's Bounty was obtainable provided he could raise another £600 within six months. Under his influence the people exerted themselves and "Collecting cards" were issued as an appeal in preference to a fete, and the money was collected just in time. Even an offertory made by the children at St Mark's school was given to the Vicarage Fund by special request. In 1882 "Charlton Lodge" which had belonged to Dr Fyffe became Woolston Vicarage. The address was sometimes written as Weston Grove but the site was the present site of the Vicarage. The cost of the house and of the ground rent upon it came to £1,590. £600 towards this was supplied by Queen Anne's Bounty, but Charles didn't infact live there very long. One of the problems of being a young clergyman is that every congregation likes a young curate to be a bachelor but a Vicar should be married and the transition has to be done as if by magic to avoid too much public curiosity. Perhaps this is what happened to Charles as St Mark's was where he fell in love. Within two and a half years of coming, he had left for St George's, Edgbaston in Birmingham, but a year later he was back getting married to a local girl - Susan, the daughter of Surgeon-General Thomas and Lady Longmore! Charles and Susan married at St Mark's on August 19th 1984. They naturally kept in touch with family and friends and when Susan came home on a visit, Charles would preach in church. Quite appropriately many years later their descendants gave a new oak pulpit as a memorial.

There was a short interregnum and the records show the Rev. C. M. Cross mentioned as Vicar in March 1883.

July 6th 1883 saw the Rev. Edward G. Blomfield inducted. His address was written as the Vicarage, Grove Road but his time at St Mark's was tragically short. The population of Woolston had grown to over 3000 with families renting the new smaller houses, but the attractive geography of Woolston, near the shore, the country and accessible to town, had its drawbacks too. The land, still quaintly described in Kelly's Directory 1886 - 90 as yielding crops "The chief crops are wheat, oats, barley and beans, " was sandy with a subsoil of gravel, low-lying and hard to drain. This affected the roads, but more importantly the water wells.

Although even Queen Victoria's husband had died of typhoid twenty years earlier and her son Bertie's illness had caused great concern more recently, people generally were not careful enough about drinking water. Woolston's "Good Spring Water for Sea Stock" was at risk of contamination.

In Southampton the water was collected at Mansbridge Waterworks from the river Itchen but it was still poorly filtered and untreated, otherwise people relied on water wells. Woolston residents were only just being offered the chance to connect to main water supply and probably many people would have still continued to use their own wells, communal wells or pumps. Woolston being at almost sea-level, the water in wells would have been at greater risk from sewage and contamination, as drainage was so poor, and the stream opposite the vicarage in Archery Park would have been like an open sewer. Whatever the exact cause of his death within two years of coming to Woolston, it was the unhealthy conditions of the area and the infectious diseases easily caught from visiting sick parishioners that were cited in the case of the Rev. Blomfield by later relatives. His name is remembered in two of the Burne Jones stained glass windows in the Lady Chapel.

Poor drainage affected another of Woolston's problems, badly maintained roads. It was still the responsibility of every parish to appoint a "way-warden" to oversee the conditions of the roads and to try to prevent muddy, rutted, pitted roads causing a nuisance. The parish church had a difficult task because many landlords and their tenants didn't want the expense or bother of keeping their sections of the road in good condition. Yet, if the roads were brought up to a reasonable standard, there was the hope that the Highway Board would take them over, maintain them as a Public Highway for the good of the public and charge a small rate to the people instead. This, of course, would save a lot of trouble and solve many problems, but first the parish, and the "way-warden" in particular, had to persuade the landowners to repair their sections of the road. Some were slow to act, some lived far away and some doubted if the Highway Board would really agree to take them over and maintain them. Others did improve the roads and after a man was paid to "supply, dig, cart, spread gravel, do siding and watertabling", sixteen roads were fit to be handed over in 1886 and declared Public Highways. But there remained a number of people who made such a bad job of draining the road and half-filling their deadwells that roads were still impassable years later.

Nevertheless, when the changes were finished, St Mark's had 459 free seats and 176 private ones, and a notice in the main doorway mentions a grant given for this.

Suddenly it was action stations in preparation for the opening! Sixteen dozen kneelers were ordered and twelve dozen hymn books, and labels to go inside. Lighting the new aisle was considered and the outside ironwork and doors, presumably to the new back entrance, were painted in readiness.

March 10th 1887. The Dean of Winchester officially opened the extension at 11.30 and preached on the subject, "I am the door;" the archdeacon preaching in the evening.

St Mark's then was in excellent condition for celebrating Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee and rejoicing in the new Empire which she symbolised, and a special service of "Thanksgiving for the Queen" was held on June 21st.

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