A short history of St. Mark’s
St Mark’s is on the site of the old Roman Road Stane Street, which ran all the way from the Roman London Bridge to Chichester, via the gap in the North Downs at Box Hill. Kennington Park Road still follows the route of the old Stane Street.
Engraving by WH Prior: ‘Kennington Common and Church in 1830’
From the 1600s, the area where St Mark’s is now situated was Kennington Common. The Common was notorious as a place for public executions, including the execution of Jacobite rebels in 1745. It was also the site of large public fairs and boxing matches and the Common gained a riotous, dissolute reputation.
Because of the huge numbers of people who congregated on the Common, it attracted large numbers of public speakers. In 1739 these included the radical Anglican clergyman (and Methodist pioneer) George Whitefield, who preached nightly to crowds of up to 30,000 in the open air. In fact, in Whitefield’s diary entry for Sunday 5 May 1739, he estimates the crowd at no less than 50,000. The 25-year-old preacher had quickly gained a reputation as the greatest orator of his day and some people clearly travelled a great distance to hear him. Dozens of horse-drawn coaches could be seen parked along the edge of the Common. Later that year, fellow Methodists John and Charles Wesley also became regulars on Kennington Common, attracting crowds of comparable size.
In 1824 St Mark’s was built on the old gallows corner of Kennington Common, one of four ‘Waterloo’ churches built in south London following the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Each was named after one of the four gospel writers: St Mark’s, Kennington; St John’s, Waterloo; St Luke’s, Norwood and St Matthew’s, Brixton. The church cost £16,093 4s 3d, and was opened by the Archbishop of Canterbury on 30 June. The first vicar of St Mark’s was the Rev William Otter, later Bishop of Chichester.
On the right of the engraving by WH Prior is the road to Lambeth with the Horns Tavern on the corner (far right of picture). The Tavern was a popular 18th and 19th century meeting place. In the distance is the new St Mark’s, on the site of the old Kennington Gallows. In front of St Mark’s is the Kennington Toll Gate.
St. Mark’s today
In the 1850s, Kennington Common was enclosed and Kennington Park created. In the late 19th century the vicar of St Mark’s was the Rev Henry Montgomery, later to become Bishop of Tasmania. The fourth of the Montgomerys’ nine children (born in 1887) gained international fame during World War II as ‘Monty’, Field Marshal Montgomery. St Mark’s Montgomery Hall is named in his memory. Another local resident in the early 20th century was the young Charlie Chaplin, who lived with his mother in a number of homes in and around Kennington Road.
During the Second World War the area was heavily bombed and St Mark’s suffered serious damage. The only parts to survive were the Grecian facade and pillars, topped by the small cupola and cross. The vicar of the day was the Rev John Darlington, who had been in post for 50 years (and still used to wear a top hat and tailcoat to church). Darlington died in 1947 while the church was still a ruin. Southwark Diocese had earmarked the remains of St Mark’s for demolition. But after seven years of dereliction, the Rev Wallace Bird obtained permission from the Archbishop of Canterbury, patron of the parish and close neighbour of St Mark’s at nearby Lambeth Palace, to rebuild both the buildings and the congregation.
In 1960 the restored St Mark’s was opened. By the 1980s St Mark’s had become one of the best known and most influential churches in Britain, under the inspirational leadership of the Rev Nicholas Rivett-Carnac.
Today St Mark’s is a vibrant, growing church which offers the same message of hope that was offered on Kennington Common by George Whitefield and the Wesleys 270 years ago. It is a place where people can wrestle with life’s big questions and find faith in Jesus Christ.
A busy south London crossroads formerly notorious for death and vice has become a place of life and renewal.
Parish Archives and old registers are all held by…
The London Metropolitan Archives
40 Northampton Road
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