St Mark's Church

Churches and Chapels by Atticus (Contents)

Not very far from the mark shall we be in saying that if this Church were a little nearer it would not be quite so far off, and that if it could be approached more easily people would not have so much difficulty in getting to it. “A right fair mark,” as Benvolio hath it, “is soonest hit;” but you can’t hit St. Mark’s very well, because it is a long way out of ordinary sight, is covered up in a far-away region, stands upon a hill but hides itself, and until very recently has entailed, in its approach, an expedition, on one side, up a breath-exhausting hill, and on the other through a world of puddle, relieved by sundry ominous holes calculated to appal the timid and confound the brave. We made two efforts to reach this Church from the eastern side; once in the night time, during which, and particularly when within 100 yards of the building, we had to beat about mystically between Scylla and Charybdis, and once at day time, when the utmost care was necessary in order to avoid a mild mishap amid deep side crevices, cart ruts two feet deep, lime heaps, and cellar excavations.

We shall long remember the time when, after our first visit, we left the Church, All the night had we been in a sadly-sweet frame of mind, listening to prayers and music, and drinking in the best parts of a rather dull sermon; but directly after we left a disheartening struggle amid mud ensued, and all our devotional sentiment was taken right out of us. An old man, following us, who had been manifesting much facial seriousness in the Church, stepped calmly, but without knowing it, into a pile of soft lime, and the moment he got ankle deep his virtue disappeared amid a radiation of heavy English, which consigned the whole road to perdition. For several months this identical road spoiled the effect of numerous Sunday evening sermons; but, it is now in a fair state of order.

St. Mark’s Church, is situated on the north-western side of the town, between Wellington-terrace and the Preston and Wyre Railway, and was opened on the 22nd of September, 1863. For some time previously religious services were held on Sundays in Wellfield-road school, which then belonged Christ Church, but the district being large and of an increasing disposition, a new church was decided upon. The late Rev. T. Clark, incumbent at that time of Christ Church, promoted its erection very considerably; and when the building was opened those worshipping in Wellfield-road school (which was afterwards handed over for educational purposes to St. Mark’s) went to it. St. Mark’s cost about £7,000 – without the steeple, which is now being erected, and will, it is expected, be finished about the beginning of March next. It will be a considerable architectural relief to the building, and will be some guide to strangers and outer barbarians who may want to patronise it either for business purposes or piety. The late J. Bairstow, Esq., left £1,000 towards the steeple, which will cost about £1,250. In the district there are upwards of 6,000 persons, and not many of them are much better than they ought to be.

St. Mark’s is built in the cruciform style, is mildly elaborate, and moderately serene in outline; but there is nothing very remarkable about any part of it. Rails run round it, and on the roof there are eight boxed-up, angular-headed projections which may mean something, but from which we have been unable to extract any special consolation. At each end of the church there are doors; those at the back being small and plain, those in front being also diminutive but larger. The principal entrance possesses some good points, but it lacks capaciousness and clearness – has a covered-up, hotel doorway aspect which we don’t relish. It seems also to be very inconveniently situated: the bulk of those attending the church come in the opposite direction, and, therefore, if opposed to back door business, which is rather suspicious at a church, have to make a long round-about march, wasting their precious time and strength considerably in getting to the front.

The church, which is fashioned externally of stone, has a brick interior. A feeling of snugness comes over you on entering; small passages, closed doors, and an amplitude of curtains – there are curtains at every door in the church – induce a sensation of coziness; but when you get within, a sort of bewildering disappointment supervenes. The place seems cold and unfinished, – looks as if the plasterers and painters had yet to be sent for. But it has been decided to do without them: the inside is complete. There may be some wisdom in this style of thing; but a well-lined inside, whether it appertains to men or churches, is a matter worthy of consideration. There is an uncomely, fantastical plainness about the interior walls of St. Mark’s, a want of tone and elegance all over them, which may be very interesting to some, but which the bulk of people will not be able to appreciate. If they were whitewashed, in even the commonest style, they would look better than at present. Bands of cream-coloured brick run round the walls, and the window arches are bordered with similar material. The roof is amazingly stocked with wood, all dark stained: as you look up at it a sense of solemn maddlement creeps over you; and what such a profuse and complex display of timber can mean is a mystery, which only the gods and sharp architects will be able to solve. The roof is supported by ten long, thin, gilt-headed iron pillars, which relieve what would otherwise in the general aspect of the church amount to a heavy monotony of red brickwork and sombre timber.

On each side of the body of the church there are four neat-looking three-light windows; at the western end there is a beautiful five-light window, but its effect is completely spoiled by a small, pert-looking, precocious organ, which stands right before it. At each end of the transept there are circular lights of condensed though pleasant proportions. The chancel is spacious, lofty, and not too solemn looking. The base is ornamented with illumined tablets, and above there are three windows, the central one bearing small painted representations of the “Sower” and the “Good Shepherd,” whilst those flanking it are plain. This chancel, owing to its good architectural disposition, might, by a little more decoration and the insertion of full stained glass windows, be made very beautiful. The Church is an extremely draughty one; and if it were not for a screen at the west end and a series of curtains at the different doors, stiff necks, sore throats, coughs, colds, and other inconveniences needing much ointment and many pills would be required by the congregation. Just within the screen there is a massive stone font, supported by polished granite pillars, and surrounded at the base by a carpet upon which repose four small cushions bearing respectively on their surface a mystic injunction about “thinking” and “thanking.”

The Church will accommodate about 1,000. There are 500 free sittings in it, the bulk being in the transept, which is galleried, and is the best and quietest place in the building, and the remainder at the extreme western end. All the seats are small, open, and pretty convenient; but the backs are very low, and people can’t fall asleep in them comfortably. The price of the chargeable sittings ranges from 8s. to 10s. each per year. The average congregation numbers nearly 600; is constituted of working people with a seasoning of middle-class individuals; is of a peaceable friendly disposition; does not look black and ill-natured when a stranger appears; is quite gracious in the matter of seat-finding, book-lending, and the like; and is well backed up in its kindness by a roseate-featured gentleman – Mr. Ormandy, one of the wardens – who sits in a free pew near the front door, and does his best to prevent visitors from either losing themselves, swooning, or becoming miserable. In this quarter there is also stationed another official, a beadle, or verger, or something of the sort, who is quite inclined to be obliging; but he seems to have an unsettled, wandering disposition, is always moving about the place as if he had got mercury in him, can’t keep still for the life of him more than two minutes at a time, and disturbs the congregation by his evolutions. We dare say he tries to do his best, and thinks that mobility is the criterion of efficiency; but we don’t care for his perpetual activity, and shouldn’t like to sleep with him, for we are afraid he would be a dreadfully uneasy bed-fellow.

The organ gallery appears to be a pleasant resort for a few hours’ gossip and smirking. The musical instrument in it is diminutive, rather elegant in appearance at a distance, and is played with medium skill; but somehow it occasionally sounds when it should not, sometimes gives a gentle squeak in the middle of a prayer, now and then is inclined to do a little business whilst the sermon is being preached; and a lady member of the congregation has put this question to us on the subject, “Would it sound if the organist kept his hands and feet off it, and attended to the service?” That is rather a direct interrogation from so fair a source, and lest we might give offence we will allow people to answer it for themselves in their own way, after which they may, if inclined, communicate with the vivacious beadle, and tell him to look after the organ as well as the doors, &c. The singers in the gallery are spirited, give their services, like the organist, “gratisly” – one of the wardens told us so – and, if not pre-eminently musical, make a very fair average ninth-rate effort in the direction of melody. They will mend, we have no doubt, eventually – may finally get into the “fastoso” style. In the meantime, we recommend careful reading, mingled with wise doses of sal-prunel and Locock’s wafers.

On the first Sunday in every month, sometimes in the morning and sometimes in the evening, the sacrament is partaken of at St. Mark’s church; and, comparatively speaking, the number of participants is considerable. The business is not entirely left, as in some churches, to worn-out old men and sacredly-snuffy old women – to a miserable half-dozen of fogies, nearly as ignorant of the vital virtues of the sacrament as the Virginian old beldame who took it to cure the rheumatism. At St. Mark’s the sacrament takers consist of all classes of people, of various ages, and, considering the district, they muster very creditably.

The first incumbent of St. Mark’s was the Rev. J. W. Green, who had very poor health, and died on the 5th of October, 1865. Nineteen days afterwards the Rev. T. Johnson was appointed to the incumbency which he continues to retain. Mr. Johnson is apparently about 40 years of age. He was first ordained as curate of St. Peter’s, Oldham; stayed there two years and five months; then was appointed curate of Pontefract Parish Church, a position he occupied for nearly two years; subsequently took sole charge of a church at Holcombe, near Bury; four months afterwards came to Preston as curate of the Parish Church; remained there a considerable time; then went to Carnforth, near Lancaster; stayed but a short period in that quarter; and was afterwards appointed incumbent of St. Marks in this town. Although not very aged himself be lives in a house which is between 700 and 800 years old, and which possesses associations running back to the Roman era. This is Tulketh Hall, an ancient, castellated, exposed building on an eminence in Ashton, and facing in a direct line, extending over a valley, the front door of St. Mark’s Church. With a fair spy-glass Mr. Johnson may at any time keep an exact eye upon that door from his own front sitting room.

Nobody can tell when the building, altered considerably in modern times and now called Tulketh Hall, was first erected. Some antiquaries say that a body of monks from the monastery of Savigny, in Normandy, originally built it in 1124; others state that the place was made before that time; but this is certain, that a number of monks from the monastery named occupied it early in the twelfth century, and that they afterwards left it and went to Furness Abbey. On the south-west of Tulketh Hall the remains of a fosse (ditch or moat) were, up to recent times, visible; some old ruins adjoining could also be seen; and it has been supposed by some persons that there was once a Roman stronghold or castle here. Tulketh Hall has been occupied by several ancient families, and was once the seat of the Heskeths, of Rossall, near Fleetwood.

The Rev. T. Johnson has lived in it for perhaps a couple of years, and seems to suffer none from either its isolation or antiquity. He thrives very well, like the generality of parsons, and will be a long liver if careful. He has what a phrenological physiologist would call a vitally sanguine constitution – has a good deal of temper, excitability, and determination in his character. You may persuade him, but he will be awkward to drive. He has a somewhat tall, gentlemanly, elastic figure; looks as if he had worn stays at some time; is polished, well-dressed, and careful; respects scented soap; hates the smell of raw onions; is scrupulous in his toilet; is sharp, swellish, and good-mannered; rather likes platform speaking; is inclined to get into a narrow groove of thought politically and theologically, when crossed by opponents; is eloquent when earnest; talks rubbish like everybody else at times; has a strong clear voice; is a good preacher; is moderate in his action; has never, even in his fiercest moments, injured the pulpit; has a refined, rather affected, and at times doubtful pronunciation; gets upwards of £300 a year from the Church; has been financially lucky in other ways; has a homely class of parishioners, who would like to see him at other times than on Sundays; is well respected on the whole, and may thank his stars that fate reserved him for a parson. His curate – the Rev. C. F. Holt – seems to be only just out of pin feather, is rather afraid of hopping off the twig; and needs sundry lessons in clerical flying before he will make much headway. He is good-looking, but not eloquent; precise in his shaving, but short of fire and originality; smart in features, but bad in his reading; has a very neat moustache, but a rather mediocre mental grasp; wears neat neck-ties and very clean shirts, but often fills you with the east wind when preaching. He is, however, a very indefatigable visitor, works hard and cheerfully in the district, has, by his outside labours, augmented the congregation, and on this account deserves credit. He is neither eloquent in expression nor sky-scraping in thought: but he labours hard amongst outside sinners, and an ounce of that kind of service is often worth a ton of pulpit rhetoric and sermonising bespanglement. At the schools in Wellfield-road the average day attendance is 310; whilst on Sundays it reaches 470. The school is a good one; the master is strong, healthy, and active, and the mistress is careful, antique-looking, and efficient.