An announcement in the Chronique de Jersey of 12th October 1844 that the church would be open for Divine Service on the following day marked the completion of St. Mark’s Church following two and a half years of planning and construction. It was only right that the Dean of Jersey, the Very Reverend Francis Jeune, later to become Bishop of Peterborough, should preach the sermons at both Morning and Evening services, for it was he who recognised the need for a new church in the area and who was the chief mover of the project. The Licence for the opening of the church began thus:
‘Know ye that whereas the population of the Town and Parish of St Helier has greatly increased and that many faithful persons are deterred from worshipping God according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England, owing to the deficiency of accommodation in existing Churches and Chapels, and whence certain members of the Church of England desirous of promoting the glory of God and of providing for the spiritual wants of themselves, their families and poorer brethren, have at full cost erected and completed a suitable building by the name of St. Mark’s Church, for the performance of Divine Service…’
Houses were springing up in the area and rival speculative builders were constructing streets such as St. Mark’s Road, Stopford Road and Springfield Road. Thousands of new residents were settling in the parish, many of whom were English to whom the services in French at the Town Church were unintelligible. The Dean was an exceptionally able man of whom Gladstone was reputed to have said that he wished he could have him as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He got his plans ‘cut and dried” before consulting anyone and found a Mr. Philips who was willing to sell the plot of land on which the church now stands. He asked Mr. J.T. Parkinson, the architect of All Saints, to draw a picture of the proposed church. The inspiration for the name which he chose may have been the spring, later known as King’s Well, at the foot of the steps that lead from Queen’s Road to Mont à l’Abbé. This was known in the olden days as La Fontaine de St. Marc. As late as 1722, it was reported that three people were prosecuted for allowing their ducks to defile ‘St. Mark’s spring near Rouge Bouillon.’
Dean Jeune raised the money for the building of the church by making it a proprietary chapel. This attracted the criticism that ‘it was built on the share holding system, which strangely introduces purposes of trade into the sacred concerns of religion’ but it was the quickest way of getting a church built in those days. Many a rich man, who might only have given a guinea as a subscription, was prepared to pay £50 if that made him a shareholder with a voice in the management of his church. He was unlikely to make a fortune from letting his pews and hardly a year passed at St. Mark’s without a call of two or three pounds being made on each proprietor to meet some deficit, but well-to-do laymen did not mind this so long as they could secure for themselves and their families the kind of service they liked. In theory, the system was wrong as a church should be free to all, but in practice it did not work badly. It had the advantage that if a family moved away their pew was not left empty. There was a group of energetic laymen whose personal interest it was to find another family to occupy the vacant seat.
For the first fifty years of its existence, St. Mark’s was always full and often there was a waiting list of people anxious to secure seats. The Dean worked out all this and calculated that 70 shares of £50 each would provide a worthy building and at a meeting called on 16th May 1842 he laid out his plans. He offered to take up 16 shares (a considerable outlay for those days of £800) and to make the pews that came to him from six of those shares free. The plans were accepted; all the shares were disposed of in the next few weeks and, on 1st August the foundation stone was laid by the Lieutenant Governor.
The building of the church was not without difficulties. The specifications and plans which were pinned up in a lawyers office for inspection were stolen by a builder to prevent any rivals from tendering and resulted in the following notice being inserted in the Chronique de Jersey on 27th July 1842: –
‘In consequence of the surreptitious removal of the specifications for the carpenter’s work of St. Mark’s Church, by which several workmen may have been deprived of the opportunity of tendering, the committee has determined to keep up the competition for a week longer, and to receive tenders up to Saturday the 30th instant at 12 o’clock.’
The next problem was that the walls of the church were so badly built that in October, when half way up, they collapsed in ruins. The Committee sacked the builder and the supervisor and in April 1843 the building was restarted with a new firm and a new architect. By September, the spire was complete with its weather-cock on the top. By the time of its completion in 1844 the building had cost nearly double the original estimate and the shares had to be raised to £85.
The Altar was presented by the Dean and a special subscription to pay for a ring of the bells raised the total of £326 10s 5d. This prompted the remark that:
‘St. Mark’s is the only church in the Island to possess a peal of bells but these are not half such an attraction as the bevy of belles who throng its walls every Sunday.’
The ring of bells at St. Mark’s is the most southerly ring in the British Isles. They were probably not rung as frequently in the traditional style because in the 1880’s there was apparently no objection from ringers when the installation of a clock and a large clock bell effectively ended any possibility of practising the art of campanology. In 1974 a generous bequest and the sale of the clock bell enabled the bells to be re-hung for this purpose. Since that time, they have been rung regularly by a very strong local band and many visitors to the island.
The congregation of St. Mark’s in the 19th Century was ‘well-to-do’ and gave generously to causes that interested it, including the building of St. Mark’s School, the S.P.G. and the building of St. Luke’s Church, a sum of £160 being the result of collections for this purpose. The Proprietors were not allowed to neglect their duties either. In 1853 their attention was drawn to:
‘the great discomfort experienced by the large congregation during the severe winter through the damp and cold state in which the church is allowed to remain. The high rate charged for sittings fully warrants the renters to expect that so serious an evil will continue no longer.’
The original organ, no details of which remain, was replaced in 1872 by another instrument built by Gray and Davison, the main pipes of which are still in use. Further reconstruction of the organ took place in the 1950’s followed by a major rebuild in 1972 and again in 1994.
The present reredos was erected after the Occupation as a memorial to a former parishioner, and the original one, with its winged lions of St. Mark was placed in its present situation at the west end of the gallery. The motif of the winged lion, associated with St. Mark even in very early Christian literature, may be seen in a number of places about the church, including the frontal of the nave altar. The erection of the original reredos did not meet with universal approval and a letter to the Editor of the Jersey Express dated 10th February 1881 from the Misses Westaway expressed in very strong terms their objections to this and other proposed changes.
On 13th March 1917, various requirements having been met, including the surrendering by the Proprietors of their pews, an order in Council made St. Mark’s an independent church with a district of its own. For more than seventy years it had been merely a chapel-of-ease to the Town Church, its Minister being Assistant Curate to the Rector. Mr. Mace, who had been Curate-in-Charge for three years, was instituted as the first vicar.
Repairs, re-decoration and restoration work have taken pace at various times, notably in 1927 and 1981-84. In 1941, all pew rents were abolished and a notice in the porch stated that ‘all seats in this church are free and unreserved’. Centenary services were held in 1944 during the Occupation.
In the first one hundred and fifty years of its life, the church of St. Mark has witnessed many events. A few weeks after its consecration by the Bishop of Winchester on 6th August 1846, the visit of Queen Victoria brought the church into the limelight. A triumphal arch of welcome was built across David Place in front of it and this, says the account of the ceremony ‘. . was the most beautiful sight of all. The bells pealed forth a joyous sound as the Sovereign passed, while a group of school children on the steps sang the National Anthem. It was a most affectionate scene and one that appeared deeply to impress the Royal pair.’
The event was recorded in P.J. Ouless’ picture of The Queen passing St. Mark’s.
1994 saw the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Church of St. Mark and a major re-ordering and refurbishment of the building. The principal alterations were the removal of a number of pews, the addition of a raised nave altar, the re-positioning of the font against the southwest wall of the nave and the laying of carpet to the whole of the ground floor. The anniversary was celebrated with a Sung Eucharist on Thursday 13th October at which the Bishop of Southampton, the Right Reverend John Perry was the Celebrant and Preacher. Guests included the then Lieutenant-Governor, Sir John Sutton and the Constable of St. Helier, Robert Le Brocq.
The following year, 1995, saw the fiftieth anniversary of the Liberation of the Island of Jersey from five years of Occupation by an enemy force. This emotional occasion was also marked by a Sung Eucharist. Those present included several who were members of the church at the time of the Liberation, including two Sons of the Reverend F.W. Killer, the Vicar of St. Mark’s during the years of the Occupation.
Over half a century ago, the Dean of Jersey wrote: –
‘For many years, St. Mark’s has been a real force in the life of the Church in the Island… May God’s richest blessing rest upon her and her work in the years to come.’
Better words to end this short history cannot be found.
Researched and written by Jack Worrall