PURLEY, Surrey – St Mark, Woodcote. 


The Croydon Advertiser of 4 December 1909 reported a fundraising bazaar in aid of the new church, along with some details about the building.

It is being built from the design of Mr. G. H. Fellowes Prynne, F.R.I.B.A., on the fine site Peaks-hill.  The first sod was cut on July 7th last by the Venerable the Archdeacon of Kingston, and the foundation stone was laid on 23rd October last by the Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of Kingston.  The church will have accommodation for 700 people, and the total cost of the building ready for worship, including twenty feet of the tower, will be about £9,500.

The article went on to state that all but £1,800 had been raised.

A little book by Celia Barker, published by the parish and entitled It’s up the Ladder to Heaven (1985), carried Fellowes Prynne’s own description of the church, originally seen in the church magazine of January 1908.

Externally the main feature will be the tower and spire, which are placed towards the north-western end of the church, and in this position will stand up as a landmark to the neighbourhood…

The plan shows four entrance porchways, two being placed at the west end on either side of the Baptistry, one on the north side, under the tower, and one on the south side, leading to the transept.  A nave, 85 feet long by 25′ broad, is divided into five bays and arcade of five arches north and south, the three western arches opening into the aisles, and the two eastern arches to the north and south transepts.  A lofty chancel arch divides the chancel from the nave, and three steps lead up to the former.

Arches on either side of the choir allow for the altar being seen from the transept.  On the north side of the chancel, and at the east end of the north transept, a chapel is thrown out.  The enormous value of this chapel will at once be seen, as it can be lighted and heated by itself, and is intended to be used for daily or special services, which are attended by comparatively few people.  The comfort and convenience of such congregation being brought together into a small space, and not spread over a large area of an otherwise empty church, is now fully recognised, and few new churches are built without some such provision.

The organ chamber is formed on the south side of the chancel, immediately over a passage for returning communicants, and the choir vestry and the organ face both towards the chancel and the south transept.  A clergy vestry, with separate vestry porch and lavatory, is placed at the south east corner of the building, and in direct contact with the choir vestry.  The roof of the chancel and nave are of waggon form, and carried through at one height, 39 feet from the nave floor level.  One specially noticeable feature of the plan is that the nave floor slopes 12 inches downwards from the western entrance to the chancel steps, so that each row of seats rises slightly from east to west, giving a better view to those at the back of the church, and helping the acoustic properties of the church.

Externally in it intended to use Kentish Rag stone for the wall facing, the dressings being worked in free stone.  Internally the facings will be of brick and the columns, dressings etc., in Corsham Down stone.  The church will have accommodation for some 700 adults.

Enough has been said to show that the new church of St. Mark’s, Woodcote, will not only be a handsome addition to the churches of the diocese, and an architectural ornament to Purley, but will have every essential qualification for making it a new centre for church life in the neighbourhood – but again, beyond this, it is believed that the interior will not only be beautiful architecturally, but truly devotional in effect, and that thus the good influence of the very building may not only be felt by the present generation, but by those of many generations to come.

Fellowes Prynne was commissioned to come up with a design after the incumbent had visited Budleigh Salterton and seen St. Peter’s church. Unlike most of the parishes for which Fellowes Prynne worked, this was much more a “low church” than an Anglo-Catholic congregation.

He had designed a rose window for the east end, but was over-ruled by the parish, and the question arises as to whether anything else he would have wanted had to be omitted. It is difficult to tell on seeing the building now, as there have been alterations and modernisations to the chancel and sanctuary.

Overall, the building has a typical lofty red brick and white stone interior, with the usual barrel roof. The arches are stone faced. There is evidence of a chancel wall having existed, but this is no longer in situ. There is a carved altar (covered at the time the church was visited) and a black and white marble floor in the chancel and sanctuary. The usual parquet flooring is found in the nave and, unusually, pews rather than chairs (but see comment above). There is a variety of stained glass, all originally designed by Fellowes Prynne, who also designed the later War memorial.

The Lady or Morning Chapel is of particular interest. It is in the favoured apsidal form, and has not only an altar with a painting by Edward Prynne, but also a canopy over the altar, depicting Christ in Majesty. The painting on the altar bears the artist’s monogram. The Lady Chapel is otherwise very typical, with curved sanctuary steps, and turquoise mosaic flooring with scattered white inlay, and the architect’s favoured chairs. Fellowes Prynne had apparently been asked to modify the design of the chapel by the same people who objected to the rose window, but he held his ground in this instance.  The altar and altar rails were fashioned by the Crediton-based firm of Dart and Francis between 1919 and 1922.

The exterior is of pale sandstone, with sufficient texture and detail to detract from the potential starkness. A tower was in the original plans, and, although commenced, was never finished. This would have been the principal external feature and, as ever, would have given the desired balance and poise to the complete building.

The building was done by R Wilkins & Sons Limited, and the foundation stone, laid in the north wall by the Bishop of Bishop of Kingston, bears the date 23 October 1909.

The postcard of the interior was sent in 1912.  The black and white photographs of the Lady Chapel were taken in the 1980s.