Church of St Mark, boundary walls and gatepiers


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Church Place, Swindon, SN1 5EH


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Statutory Address:
Church Place, Swindon, SN1 5EH

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Swindon (Unitary Authority)
Central Swindon South
National Grid Reference:


Anglican parish church for New Swindon, built in 1843-1845, by (Sir) George Gilbert Scott, RA (1811-1878) and William Bonython Moffatt (1812-1887); altered and extended in 1897 by Temple Moore (1856-1920).

Reasons for Designation

The Anglican Church of St Mark, built in 1843-1845 to designs by Sir George Gilbert Scott and William Bonython Moffatt for the Great Western Railway, is listed at Grade II, for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest: * for its design, by highly significant ecclesiastical architects of the period, its traditional Gothic style immediately announcing the permanence of the new parish of New Swindon; * for its fine and extensive detailing, internally and externally, demonstrating the ecclesiological approach to the revival of Gothic architecture;

Historic interest: * as a place of worship built as part of the holistic provision of housing, health and welfare facilities for workers at the Great Western Railway’s Swindon works from the 1840s to the C20, creating the Swindon Railway Village; * as a strongly Tractarian establishment whose worship continues to reflect these principles.

Group value: * the Church of St Mark, and its associated boundary walls and gatepiers, share strong group value with all the listed buildings of the Swindon Railway Village to its east and south, created as part of an overall plan to provide the staff of the works and their families with integrated housing, health, welfare and leisure facilities.


The Great Western Railway works in Swindon were established in 1841, to provide a central repair facility for the various locomotives which had been sourced to run on the railway line from London to Bristol, whose construction had begun in 1840. The Great Western Railway (GWR) village was established in Swindon from 1841, aiming initially to provide 300 homes and associated health, welfare, lodging and education facilities for a new community of workers and their families arriving from across the country to staff the railway works, which came to house an extensive and integrated design, engineering, construction and repair plant for locomotives and other rolling stock, and rails. At its peak in 1925, the workforce numbered over 14,000. The works remained in use by GWR and, following the nationalisation of the railways, British Rail, until 1986. Until 1845, only one parish church existed in Swindon: Holy Rood, situated in what is now known as Swindon Old Town. The growth of the GWR works, headed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) and the associated rows of workers’ model housing, constructed from 1841 onwards, meant that congregations had swelled, with about 1,800 staff at the works by the mid-1840s, together with their families. The railway village, dubbed New Swindon, had been conceived as a largely self-contained community, with facilities including a school, church and cricket pitch. In 1842, a legacy of £500 was left on the death of George Henry Gibbs, a director of the GWR company, as a contribution towards the construction of the church and school for New Swindon. The company supported the aim, and a committee of directors was set up to oversee the project. A parcel of land just west of the railway village was donated for the church by the neighbouring landowner, Col Vilett. Leading architects of the period were invited to submit plans and estimates for the work; the committee eventually selected a design by George Gilbert Scott and his partner William Bonython Moffatt, prolific and highly-regarded Gothic Revival architects, having been impressed by their recent design for the Church of the Holy Trinity in Halstead, Essex. In addition, the executor of GH Gibbs’ will promised a further £1,000 towards the building of the church if Scott and Moffatt were appointed. Subscriptions were taken up, and by 1843 the church fund stood at £5,600. William Sissons of Hull was successful in tendering for the construction of the new church.

The building was intended to accommodate 800 worshippers, with room for future expansion if more space was needed. The initial design consisted of chancel, six-bay nave, north and south aisles, sacristy and south porch. The large north tower, adjoining the north aisle, was a late alteration to the plans, added to improve the building’s appearance from the railway. The church, which was dedicated to St Mark, was consecrated on 25 April 1845, by the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol. A new chapelry of Swindon New Town was created in the following year. The chancel was extended in 1866, by George Frederick Bodley (1927-1907), pupil of Sir George Gilbert Scott.

The Church of St Mark was constructed at the height of the Oxford Movement, which advocated High Church or Anglo-Catholic ritual in worship, but early attempts by clergy to introduce Tractarian teaching and practices were strongly resisted by the congregation, resulting in falling attendance in the 1850s. By the 1880s, though, High Church ritual including communion was successfully introduced, and under Canon J M G Ponsonby (vicar 1897-1903) and his successor, A G G Ross (vicar 1903-37) the observances were maintained and strengthened, and continue today.

In 1897, the church was altered by the addition of a vestry to the north of the nave and a chapel to the south. The work was undertaken by architect Temple Moore (1856-1920), who also lengthened the chancel, and added a new organ case at the east end of the north aisle. At the same time, stained glass by Charles Eamer Kempe (1837-1907) was added to the east window of the new south chapel, and in one of the north aisle windows. In 1904, six bells were hung in the tower in memory of Canon Ponsonby. The rood was added in 1927, as were two further bells. The east window, depicting Christ and the Evangelists, was added following the Second World War.

Sir John Betjeman had a long relationship with the church, and wrote of it: “If ever I feel England is pagan, if ever I feel the poor old Church of England is tottering to its grave, I revisit S Mark’s in Swindon. That corrects the impression at once. A simple and definite faith is taught; S Mark’s and its daughter churches are crowded.”

In about 1974, the west end of the nave and aisles was partitioned off to create an organ loft above and a church hall below. The organ was moved from its late-C19 position in the north aisle. The work was designed by HAC Masters. In the 1980s, the internal porch was fitted out with new cupboards, and doors to the south aisle of the church and to the church hall.


Anglican parish church for New Swindon, built in 1843-1845, by (Sir) George Gilbert Scott, RA (1811-1878) and William Bonython Moffatt (1812-1887); altered and extended in 1897 by Temple Moore (1856-1920).

MATERIALS Rock-faced snecked Swindon sandstone with Bath stone dressings. C20 grey tile roofs.

PLAN The plan has nave and north and south aisles; south porch; tower adjoining the north aisle opposite the south chapel; chancel; south chapel and north vestry.

EXTERIOR The building is in a curvilinear Decorated style, with a six-bay nave, chancel, north and south aisles with clerestory, and later south chapel and north vestry. The clerestory has two pointed segmental-headed clerestory windows between flat gabled buttresses with cusping, and a fleuron decorated hollow moulding over. The aisles have two-light pointed-arched windows of varying tracery between buttresses with offsets. The gabled south porch is in C14 style, with paired shafts and triple keeling, drip mould with label stops and gabled buttresses to either side of the opening. The porch roof has an arch-braced, collar-rafter roof. The double doors have elaborate ledging and bracing, wrought-iron strap hinges and bolts. The south aisle chapel is of three bays, with a door in the western bay in a Caernarvon-arched, moulded opening; the two-light, pointed-arched windows have elaborate tracery. The bays are divided by gabled buttresses with cusping. At the east end of the chancel is the three-light east window, with elaborate, cusped Decorated tracery, under a drip mould with label stops and continuous string. The corner buttresses are gabled with cusping. To the left is the east window in the south chapel, square-headed with three lights and cusping. To the right, the flat-roofed north vestry, two storeys, with four-light mullioned window to the lower floor and a two-light, pointed window above. To the north side the vestry has a small pointed-arched doorway with drip mould and label stops, with slit window alongside, and a high, pointed-arched window with matching mould and label stops, lighting the former organ bay, and grotesque rainwater heads. Adjoining the aisle towards the western end stands the four-stage tower, with angle buttresses with offsets rising through all four stages, corner stair turret, and two-light louvred bell openings with drip moulds and label stops. The tower has a crocketed spire with base lucarnes and a north door matching the west door of the nave. The west end has a large, five-light pointed-arched window with cusped tracery under a drip mould with label stop. The west doorway is pointed arched, with mouldings in three orders, under a drip mould with label stop. The opening is now glazed.

INTERIOR The south porch gives access into an inner porch created in the west-end hall conversion, which takes in the western two bays of the nave and aisles. The inner porch has 1980s light oak timber fittings. Doors give access into the south aisle to the right, and ahead into the church hall. The interior of the church is in Bath stone ashlar, with concrete floors (timber beneath pews). The four-bay nave arcades, with two chamfered orders and continuous moulding with label stops, are carried on quatrefoil piers. The open hammer-beam roof with scissor bracing springs from carved corbels. The three-bay chancel has a moulded arcade of keeled columns with circular abaci. The chancel arch has clustered octagonal columns with foliate carved capitals. The wagon roof is of four bays on coved wall plates, with corbel brackets. The high altar remains in situ, with an additional, recent, forward altar table of limestone set at the western end of the chancel. The chancel ceiling is timber, rising from corbels with a cornice. The floor is paved in black and white marble. The Lady Chapel has a flat, panelled and painted timber ceiling with angel bosses. Its floor is laid in timber parquet with black and white marble to the dais. The westernmost two bays are divided from the nave at ground-floor level to create an organ loft over a single-storey church hall. The dividing wall has two deep rectangular recesses. The easternmost bay of the north aisle is enclosed, formerly housing the organ, with a carved, glazed timber screen dividing it from the north aisle. The pews have chamfered bench ends.

PRINCIPAL FITTINGS The FONT is octagonal with carved quatrefoil panels, and a suspended oak cover spire. The octagonal stone PULPIT shares steps to a rood door under a canopy with cusping. The suspended ROOD dates from 1928; it was designed by T H Lyon and carved by Herbert Read of Exeter. Tabernacle WAR MEMORIAL with carved figure of St George in a round-arched niche with cornice. STAINED GLASS: the west window dates from 1843-1845. The east window in the south chapel was installed in 1897; made by Charles Eamer Kempe, it depicts Mary and the Christ Child. Another window in the north aisle is also by Kempe. The east window, installed after the Second World War, shows Christ in a mandorla flanked by the Evangelists.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES The churchyard is bounded to the south, along the roadside, by a BOUNDARY WALL with two vehicular openings. There are paired GATEPIERS to the eastern entrance; these are square in section, with gabled copings and fleur-de-lys finials. The WALL is rough-faced Swindon stone, with regular buttresses along its length with offsets; the top has shaped coping. Towards the western end is a later vehicular access; the walls have been breached and then extended inwards to create an angled opening. At the western end the wall terminates in a pier with sloped coping.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Cattell, J, Falconer, K, Swindon: The Legacy of a Railway Town (RCHME), (1995), 61-2, 83, 161, 164-5
Crittall, E, The Victoria History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume IX, (1970), 144-159
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Wiltshire, (1975), 508


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 29 Jul 2004
Reference: IOE01/13000/03
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Ben White. Source Historic England Archive
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