In 1849 the villagers of Newtown worshipped in the new church of St Peter on Eastern Hill, but the population was increasing rapidly and through the influence of Reverend Daniel Newham, a school was erected in ‘Collingwood’. In June 1850 Mr J A Clowes was appointed to the district. (St Mark’s Church, Centenary Issue, p.5)
Rev Clowes of St Peters was noted as having “scarcely a dozen adults in his congregation” when he started but by 1851, “the room is often so full as not to afford accommodation for all who wish to attend”. In June 1851 a portion of Collingwood north of Gertrude Street and west of the Yarra at East Collingwood was separated from St Peter’s by the Lord Bishop of Melbourne and and into a parish called St Marks. The population of which as estimated at 3,000 souls, but so rapid the increase in numbers following the discovery of gold that in 1852 it was estimated to be 9000 and at 1855 at least 18,000 souls, one-half of whom are members of the Episcopal Church. The parish made do with School but it was crowded and on 14 April 1852, a public meeting was held and a subscription opened for the erection of a parish church. They raised 400 pounds and a committee was formed for the purpose of raising funds. The church was to be of stone and the site for its erection on the land adjoining the schools purchased for church and school purposes by the Bishop and formerly property of John Hodgson, Esq MLC. After the Boys School was built. The Committee decided to commence the erection of a new church and laid the foundation stone on 31st July 1853. “The plans were prepared by Mr. James Blackburn in the Early English style of architecture and the building was estimated to cost 5000 pounds and to contain when finished about 1000 sittings”. (The Argus, 1 Feb 1855, p.6, St. Mark’s Church, Collingwood).
By the time the Church was opened nearly 200 people assisted at a tea meeting given at the school in commemoration of the opening of St. Mark’s Church for Divine service. The “cup that cheers and not inebriates” having passed round, a public meeting was subsequently held, at which the Rev. Mr Clowes presided. (The Argus, 1 Feb 1855, p.6, St. Mark’s Church, Collingwood).
The building was not without difficulty. On 3 March 1854 James Blackburn died of typhoid (Australian Dictionary of Biography Vol. 1. p.110) and such it lost its designer and ‘a large subscriber and indefatigable collector’ (Parish Minute Book 24 Jan 1854 – 29 Dec 1854. MS11291, Box 1957. SLV. Manuscripts) and then on 17 September 1854, during a ‘fearful gale of wind’ the walls were overturned and falling inwards were broken into fragments. Further donations were collected to help complete the building. The following were instrumental in its building, the Lord Bishop for the land, the Rev. Jas. A Closes and his lady raising 2,000 pounds, the late James Blackburn City Surveyor for raising the church and collecting large sums towards its building, Charles Curtis for lending 500 pounds interest free, Richard Grice, who paid 250 pounds initially and then purchased all the wood, lead and slate necessary for the roof and floor at a cost over 1,000 pounds, Councillor John Matthew Smith, who granted land with frontages to four streets, as an endowment to the church of which this parish is to have the exclusive benefit until the church which we have raised is free from debt. This has been divided into 16 allotments and will be let to tenants at an annual rent, without purchase and leases given varying in length according to the nature of the improvement which the tenant contemplates and the amount raised annually in this way will be thrown into a sinking fund for the gradual liquidation of the debt, the plastering by Mr Langtree (400 pounds), and a number of other items from notable people of the time (The Argus, 1 Feb 1855, p.6, St. Mark’s Church, Collingwood).
The total expenditure of the school was 16,500 pounds. (The Argus, 1 Feb 1855, p.6, St. Mark’s Church, Collingwood). Much of the expense and fight to fund the debts of the church were carried by the first Reverend, J. A. Clowes. Just under a year following the completion of the church his health broke and he left Australia for England in July 1856 on 18months’ leave of absence, but due to illness of his daughter he never returned. (St Mark’s Church, Centenary Issue, p.5)
During December1860 architects Lloyd Tayler was called to the “dilapidated state of the church particularly the roof” and the Building Committee resolved “to get an Architect to examine the building throughout and report to the Trustees the probable cost of effecting the necessary repairs and having the church put in a decent order” (Parish Minutes, 5 Dec 1860). The work proceeded and tenders were provided by Fergusson and Urie (167 pounds) and Connell and Co for (149 pounds). (Parish Minutes 9 May 1861) (Parish Church of St Mark, Fitzroy, Helen Lardner, 1996, p.13).
Another architect Leonard Terry also worked on the building and designed the bluestone stairs and the completion of the side gallery (Argus 3 April 1865, p.3) and in 1874 the tower and spire were added to the design of architect Charles Webb (Argus 21 Nov 1874, p.10). Further development occurred with the removal of the Infant’s School (picture above) and a new Infant’s Sunday School was developed in 1891. In 1892 a side chapel was built under the church gallery, perhaps designed by Hyndman and Bates (Parish Church of St Mark, Fitzroy, Helen Lardner, 1996, p.13-14).
During 1894, the spire was struck by lightning and the extremity of the tower was out of perpendicular. It was remarked by one of the following vicar’s “It had a devil of a twist”. The twist was removed during Brother Bill’s time. (St Mark’s Church, Centenary Issue, p.5)
“The last work carried out on the church last century were alterations to the windows of the sanctuary and the installation of the beautiful stained glass Pritchard Memorial Windows. These three windows, which replaced the earlier windows, depict Christ, Moses and Elijah and were the gift of John Pritchard. They remain and are splendid examples of the work of the firms Brooks Robinson Ltd (Parish Church of St Mark, Fitzroy, Helen Lardner, 1996, p.14).
The church had several Reverends, including:
- Rev. James Aaron Clowes (Jun 1850-Jun 1858)
- Rev. Robert B. Barlow, BA (Dec 1858-Aug 1885)
- Rev. John Francis Stretch, LL.B. (Oct 1885-Oct 1892)
- Rev. James Barley Sharp (Nov 1892- Sep 1896)
- Rev. William Hancock, MA (Oct 1896-Apr 1900)
- Rev. Frederick Evelyn Snodgrass, M.A. (Apr 1900-Dec 1909)
- Rev. Arthur Joseph Drewett (or Druitt) (1909 or Feb 1910? -1922)
- Rev. Reginald G. Nichols M.A. Diploma Ed., B.D. (Nov 1922-1942) ‘Brother Bill’
- Rev. Claude Woodhouse (1942 or Jan 1943 – Aug 1947)
- Rev. Noel A. Tolhurst, Th.L., A.I.C.A. (Sep 1947 – Feb 1952)
- Rev. Norman Leslie Hill Th.L. (Mar 1952 – Oct 1961)
- Rev. William James Baldwin Clayden Th.L. (Feb 1962 – Apr 1965)
- Rev. Leon Marshall-Wood Th.L. Apr 1965 – ?)
It also had a number of very notable benefactors including:
- Richard Grice (1813-1882) who was a pastoralist, businessman, philanthropist and business man. He lived in Fitzroy between 1850 and 1863 and donated 1,000 pounds a year to the church, to a total of 40,000 pounds (estimate provided by ADB Vol 4.p300) (Parish Church of St Mark, Fitzroy, Helen Lardner, 1996, p.23-24).
- John Grice (1850-1935), Richard’s son, who was associated with the National Bank of Australasia, a director and Vice-Chancellor of the University Council in 1918. (ADB Vol, 9, pp.105-106) (Parish Church of St Mark, Fitzroy, Helen Lardner, 1996, p.23-24).
- John Matthew Smith (1815-1898) Solicitor and Councillor who gave approximately 2 acres of land for the benefit of St Mark’s Church. The land was located with street frontages of Rose St, Smith St, Leicester St and Gore St. (St. Luke’s Church of England, North Fitzroy, St. Mark’s Church of England, Fitzroy, by Deborah McColl, 1967, p.80)
Image held by Fitzroy Library. Photo of a man/woman and child at a wedding outside St. Mark’s Church, Fitzroy. c.1940
Fitzroy’s Fairy Windows
Within the Community Centre which is adjacent to the church are four fairy windows which were ordered by the Reverend Reginald G Nicholas in April 1927 from glass painters Melbourne’s Brooks, Robinson & Co. He was energising the church, congregation and community since his appointment in 1922 and these windows were for a special little children’s library in the brick building designed in 1923 by architects Gawler & Drummond, which opened in 1926. Each window is a double-hung sash and tells a different story. The watercolour designs come from Ida Rentoul Outhwaite (1888-1960) and illustrate verses from her older sister Annie Rentoul (1882-1978) who wrote children’s books with themes that wove together themes of children’s fairy tales within an Australian bush setting. Two of the images come from Elves and Fairies by T C Lothian in 1916. (Windows on History: Fitzroy’s Fairy Windows, by Bronwyn Hughes, History News, Royal History Society Newsletter, October 2021).
In 1996, Helen Lardner Conservation & Design, conducted an analysis and management plan of the Church. The following have been extracted from that plan: