In the mostly flat landscape of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership (OWLP) area the local churches really stand out. There are nevertheless also numerous churches and chapels in the landscape which go largely unnoticed, but which have their own, unique and fascinating story to tell.
Here, we pick out one of these, St. Mark’s in Ten Mile Bank, near the top end of the OWLP area, now a Grade II listed church. The research for this blog post was carried out as part of the research for the partnership’s stage 2 submission and was kindly provided by a former colleague here at Cambridgeshire ACRE, Scilla Latham, who worked here until very recently as Church Buildings Support Officer.
St Mark’s church stands on the west bank of the River Great Ouse, a short distance north of the Hilgay Bridge. Built between 1846 and 47, with a burial ground of half and acre, it served as a chapel of ease within the parish of Hilgay and was consecrated in 1852.
The Rev. W Joseph Parkes MA who was the rector of All Saints church Hilgay was described as the “munificent contributor” to the total cost of £1,000. The architect is unknown.
A Nonconformist church
The church, which seats 150 people, is built of Gault brick with a slate roof on a simple rectangular plan with two entrance doors on the south side – one at the west end of the nave, the priest’s door to the chancel at the east end. In style it is influenced by the Early English Gothic with triple lancet windows at the east and west ends, and simple lancets on each of the side walls. Its extreme simplicity indicates the influence of the Tractarian principles of the Oxford Movement in the mid 19th century.
The original furnishings remain: of note are the fine poppyhead pew ends and the 17th century balustraded communion rails – possibly re-located from Hilgay church. The luxuriant foliage and grand design of the font which was installed when the church was consecrated in 1852 is strangely at odds with the simplicity of the rest of the building.
Big changes in the middle of the 19th century
St Mark’s was built to serve the needs of the growing population of Ten Mile Bank which is two miles from the medieval parish church in the village of Hilgay. It may also have been built to counteract the ascendancy of the two Methodist chapels already open close by – the Wesleyan chapel in Ten Mile Bank opposite the river crossing and a Primitive Methodist chapel on the east bank.
The first steam engine drainage pump constructed at Ten Mile Bank in 1819/20, followed by a larger engine in 1842 led to the land being easier to cultivate and a consequent arrival of more farm labourers. The 1842 Ten Mile Bank drainage engine was constructed for the Littleport and Downham drainage commissioners and worked in conjunction with “one 9 miles distant, in the Isle of Ely”: between them they drained 30,000 acres. The Ten Mile Bank engine emptied about 130 tons of water a minute into the River Ouse.
The church’s construction coincided with the opening of Hilgay Fen station on 25th October 1847 which was a mile from the church and provided easy access to King’s Lynn and Cambridge.
From Yorkshire to Ten Mile Bank to Sydney to Wales
White’s directory of 1854, records the Curate of St Marks as the Rev Wesley Farrer, MA. Born in Yorkshire in 1823. He went to Oxford University and then took Holy Orders – and by March 1851 he was curate of Lanchester in Durham and married (to Elizabeth who was born in Liverpool in 1827) with a two month old son, John.
Ten years later he was Curate of Holy Trinity church, Sheffield Brightside and the father of six children. During the intervening years he had spent at least two years as curate at Ten Mile Bank but more interestingly his two youngest children were born in Sydney, New South Wales in 1858 and 1860. It seems likely he went there as a missionary but this story is yet to be researched.
The next two Censuses find him settled as Vicar of Castleside, Durham and then in 1891 he living in Rhys in Flintshire, North Wales with his wife and youngest daughter Harriet. Wesley Farrer died aged 76 in 1898. His wife, Elizabeth had died two years earlier: her burial being recorded at St Pancras in London.
Subsidence and restoration
An awareness of the difficulty of building on water-logged ground is demonstrated by the use of a suspended floor with rose-shaped cast iron vents to provide under-floor ventilation. However, the fact that the whole building was later underpinned with brickwork suggests an ongoing struggle with subsidence caused by the water-logged conditions.
Significant alterations carried out in 1934 were aimed at strengthen the building to alleviate subsidence to the west end of the church. At this time the south west door was moved eastwards, reusing the existing stonework, to the original position of the western-most window on this side, almost certainly to strengthen the south west corner. Additionally, two of the lancets in the west window were blocked and the bellcote reduced in height at this time.
In 2002 the condition of the church was so serious that without the intervention of the local community it would have been closed. Its architectural heritage was recognised by English Heritage registering it and the War Memorial as Grade II on account of their significance as a rural group. Local fundraising achieved £36,000 and English Heritage awarded £245,000 towards the restoration of the building. The National Churches Trust provided a grant of £6,500. The church was re-dedicated by Bishop Anthony on St Mark’s day, 25th April 2009.
Interesting War Memorial
The War Memorial (Grade II listed) erected after the 1st World War commemorates 22 men killed in that war and a further 7 killed during the 2nd World War. It is made of rough hewn granite.
On the north side are the names of two men killed on active service with the British Army in less well remember conflicts, which were added in November 2001. The first killed in Malaya in 1946, fighting Communist guerrillas, and the second during the Korean War in 1952.