One hundred and twenty five years is a long and proud history for the church, during which time many notable events have take place and numerous parishioners have come and gone across its lofty portals.
This guide sets out firstly to describe the construction of the church building and then to outline some of its history. It is not intended to be fully comprehensive and the compilers make no apology for anything or indeed anybody that has been omitted.
St Mark’s church was built in 1874-6 and designed by the local architect John Wild. The church is set in an elevated position at the top of a hill and assumes a proud role to the east of the surrounding town. The plan is traditional, with nave, side aisles and chancel. On the north side a small transept forms the organ chamber and vestry while, quite unusually, the tower and spire are located to the south of the chancel, thus maximising the impact of the spire on the streetscape.
The architectural style is said to be late 13th century although the main features are decorated Gothic. There are unusual clock gablets to the base of the spire adjacent to the broaches that have the effect of lifting the clock faces by ten or more feet above their typical location on the tower.
The church is constructed of local sandstone, with patterned slate roofs and overhanging eaves. There is a series of valley gutters to the south side, to the base of the tower and between the gablets to the west. The spire rises to a height of 141ft and contains a clock and peal of eight bells.
At its time of erection, the cost was estimated to be about £10,000, defrayed solely by Col Thomas Evans Lees Esq, of Werneth Park. The former schools, which adjoin the church, are also of stone and were erected at a cost of £2,000: the gift of James Collinge Esq, of Greenhill. Both of these gentlemen had extensive cotton mills in the Glodwick neighbourhood.
Internally the church consists of a lofty nave, divided from the side aisles by granite pillars and graceful stone arches. Originally designed to seat some 700 people, subsequent alterations and removal of pews mean that that figure has now been considerably reduced. The chancel is fitted with carved oak seats and the floor laid with ornamental tiles. A Lady Chapel has been formed in part of the south aisle and a nave altar provides flexibility for various services.
When the district of Glodwick started to be more built up in the second part of the 19th century the earliest efforts to meet the area’s spiritual needs were conducted in a first-floor room over the top of a joiners shop. The building, known as the ‘Garret’, was situated in Wellfold, a small street leading up to Glodwlck Lows opposite the end of Brompton Street. This street, of course, disappeared along with many others several years ago, but the name is still commemorated by one of the blocks of flats later built on the site. These premises quickly became inadequate to meet an ever-increaslng need, and for a time the Mutual School in Nugget Street was used as a temporary church.
Eventually, Colonel Thomas Lees and Mr James Collinge decided to build a new church at the top of the hill, looking down towards Sheepwashes Brook. The land had been previously used by the owners of the old Shakespeare Inn, which used to stand on the opposite side of the road, as a bowllng green. It should be borne in mind that, around that time, Waterloo Street only came halfway up the hill, the remainder of the area up to Glodwlck being just green fields.
Two foundation stones of the church were placed at the foot of the tower, one internally and the other externally, on Saturday afternoon of 25 April 1874 – St Mark’s Day – by Mr Elliott Lees, son of the founder. The writing on the external stone is now not readable, but that on the internal stone reads: “This stone was laid by Elliott Lees, son of the founder, St Marks Day 1874.”
At the same time Miss Annie Collinge, daughter of its benefactor, laid a foundation stone for the school building. The original plans were to build a vicarage alongside the church and school; that idea was eventually abandoned in favour of a site overlooking Alexandra Park, made possible by a gift of £1,000 from the founder’s sister and brother-in-law, Mr and Mrs Knowles. That vicarage served the needs of the parish for well over 100 years before it was replaced by the present building on Skipton Street. Bishop Fraser of Manchester consecrated the church on 14 June 1876.
Colonel Lees, the founder of the Church, unfortunately died only three years after the consecration. His son Elliott placed a fine stained-glass window in the west gable wall to his father’s memory.
It is interesting to note that Mr Elllott Lees represented Oldham in Parliament from 1886 to 1892 before moving on to Birkenhead and subsequently being made a Baronet in 1897, only a year before his own untimely death at the early age of 48 years.
In 1911, in memory and gratitude to the Lees family, it was decided to introduce the Lees Memorial Scheme which it was hoped would finance the building of a mission and institute. Even in those days, before our ever-spiraling inflation, that was a terrific and daunting proposition. The former Glodwick Wesleyan School on the corner of Brompton Street was purchased by Mr Arthur Wrigley JP, a partner in the Lees and Wrigley cotton mill at Greenback, together with his two brothers, and presented to the church for use as an institute, having separate rooms for each organisation.
After the end of the First World War another cotton mill owner, Mr Jesse Thorpe – a former church warden at St. Mark’s, gave the church a plot of land in Tate Street at the back of Pearl Mill for use as a recreation ground.
In 1952 the mission on Onchan Avenue was sold to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in order to cater for the many displaced families from Eastern Europe who had settled in the Oldham area.
On 20 May 1962, following the closure of Christ Church in Hamilton Street, the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt. Rev. William Greer, led members of the church in procession to a point on Glodwick Road where the Parish boundaries met; whereupon they joined with a similar session from St. Mark’s and went together to worship in the latter church. To commemorate the amalgamation of the two parishes, a chapel dedicated to Our Lady and Christ the King was formed in the south aisle at St Mark’s. The chapel was dedicated by the Bishop of Manchester on 17 September 1967.
By the 1970s, much of the old part of Glodwick had disappeared, with wholesale demolition of property to the east side of Glodwick Road which was replaced by new shops and houses. A new school stands on the site of the old Shakespeare Inn and a Health Centre was erected between Glodwick Road and Nugget Street.
The centenary of the building of St. Mark’s was celebrated in style in 1976 with a host of events raising money to build a new foyer, kitchen and toilet block to connect the two parish halls (formerly the schools which had closed in 1956). Since then the building next to Waterloo Street has been sold. For many years it was a supermarket and is now a ladies’ gym.
In 2008 the parish was fortunate to obtain a grant of £42,000 from Neighbourhood Learning in Deprived Communities, which has enabled the refurbishment of St Mark’s House into a learning centre for the community: indeed, what the building was originally intended for! The St Mark’s Centre was officially opened by the Bishop of Beverley, the Rt Revd Martyn Jarrett.
Further refurbishment work has been undertaken of the hall and the kitchen and we are currently converting the disused land at the back of what has now become St Mark’s Centre into a Community Garden.