Central Square

1990s, flats on the site of St Mark's Church, built 1838–9, demolished 1927 | Part of Central Square

From St Mark’s Church (demolished) to Central Squarea
Contributed by Survey of London on Aug. 4, 2020

The Church of St Mark, Whitechapel, preceded much of the Tenter Ground’s housing, and thus had the effect of rooting development. Construction began in February 1838 and was nearly complete by the end of the year. The church was consecrated on 30 May 1839. The Metropolis Churches Fund, established by Bishop Charles James Blomfield in 1836, initiated and funded the building. This was an early project by the Fund, which went on to build extensively in east London, especially in Bethnal Green, though not elsewhere in Whitechapel. In keeping with the Fund’s mission to provide church space and pastoral care for poor Londoners, St Mark’s had free seatings and a resident clergyman. It was not until 1841 that the parish of St Mark’s, broadly coterminous with Goodman’s Fields, was created out of that of St Mary Matfelon. In the same year St Mark’s National School was established on Royal Mint Street.1

St Mark’s Church was one of the first designs from the office of Thomas Henry Wyatt (1807–1880) and David Brandon (1813–1897). The modest brick building in a pre-Ecclesiological Gothic Revival style was given energy by a tall west tower crowned by a fine octagonal lantern. The main entrance, flanked by two smaller doors for access to gallery staircases, opened to a plain interior that was galleried around three sides to accommodate sittings for 800. A small rectangular chancel gained five stained-glass lancets by William Warrington in 1857. William Alexander Longmore oversaw the removal of the north and south galleries in 1874–5, to improve acoustics while also implying less than full houses.2

St Mark’s was among the poorest and most pastorally challenging parishes in London. It attracted reformers and was a stepping-stone for a number of early Christian socialist disciples of Frederick Denison Maurice. The first among these, incumbent from 1852 to 1856, was (John) Llewelyn Davies (1826–1916), a theologian associated with the co-operative movement. His friend Robert Hebert Quick (1831–1891) joined him as an unpaid curate in 1855 and went on to become an influential educationist. The Rev. David James Vaughan (1825–1905), with a similar outlook, was Davies’s successor to 1860. The parish’s population and their difficulties were eloquently described by the Rev. Charles Voysey (1828–1912), the theistic father of the architect, C. F. A. Voysey (1857–1941), who was a curate at St Mark’s from 1861 to 1863. He was dismissed having preached a sermon against eternal punishment to which a wealthy member of the congregation took exception. The Rev. Brooke Lambert followed on from 1865 to 1871 when, on the basis of thorough investigations, he published Pauperism: seven sermons preached at St. Mark’s, Whitechapel, and one preached before the university, Oxford, with a preface on the work and position of clergy in poor districts. Parish work necessarily focussed on social and welfare matters. By the end of the nineteenth century, the district’s large Jewish population was being served by converted Jews, including the Rev. Michael Rosenthal, a former rabbi.

St Mark’s closed after the First World War, having struggled for decades to maintain a steady congregation. In 1926 its parish united with that of St Paul’s Dock Street. The building was demolished in 1927 and the site was sold off.3

It was acquired and redeveloped in 1927–8 by D. Stanton & Sons Ltd, salvage dealers, who put up a three-storey concrete- and steel-framed warehouse to designs by Moore-Smith & Colbeck. The site was again redeveloped in 1995–6 as Central Square (27–29 St Mark Street and 6 East Tenter Street), a block of twenty-nine flats in three and four storeys in a weak neo-Georgian manner, stock brick with lower-storey channelled rustication.

St Mark’s vicarage, a three-storey house that was attached to the south side of the church at 29 St Mark Street, survived as offices to the salvage warehouse. It was rebuilt in the 1990s as part of Central Square, pastiche including hood-moulds applied to rustication.4

  1. Globe, 5 Feb 1838, p.3; 22 Nov 1838, p.3: Morning Advertiser, 31 May 1839, p.3: Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, LC14367, Jean Olwen Maynard, ‘History of the parish of English Martyrs Tower Hill, vol.2: 1870–1886’, c._2005, p.24: Gordon Barnes, _Stepney Churches: An Historical Account, 1967, pp.81–2 

  2. Ordnance Survey maps (OS): The Builder, 21 Nov 1857, p.679: Maynard, ‘English Martyrs’, vol.2, p.24 

  3. Charles Voysey, A Corner in the Kingdom of God, 1861–1863, 1905, p.48: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography sub _Davies, Lambert, Quick, Vaughan, and Voysey: Barnes, _Stepney Churches, pp.81–2: www.stgitehistory.org.uk/stmarkwhitechapel.html 

  4. OS: London Metropolitan Archives, District Surveyors Returns: Goad insurance maps: Bridget Cherry, Charles O’Brien and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England, London 5: East, 2005, p.433: Tower Hamlets planning applications online