FROM TEA PARTIES TO FIRE BOMBS
In 1928, with Britain in the throes of the Depression, the incumbency of Hugh Stuckey began. He was to oversee not only something of a Golden Age, but also experience the near financial ruin and destruction of his beloved church in 1940 . It is almost entirely due to the unceasing efforts of Stuckey that we have the St. Mark’s we know today.
Stuckey was also something of an innovator and moderniser. In 1930 he had the original idea of opening up the church gardens for tea parties on the Summer Bank Holiday Mondays for visitors to London Zoo. Starting on August Bank Holiday, the parties were an instantaneous success. “But there was more to it than tea”, to quote Hugh Stuckey. The parties made substantial sums of money and aroused the interest of the Press, so that St. Mark’s became known as “The Zoo Church”. After tea the visitors were shown around the church, and some would stay for an organ recital before setting off home.
Another source of revenue was the parish magazine which continued until 1967. In spite of these revenue-raising schemes hardship was never far away and Stuckey predicted near financial ruin in the 1939 edition of the parish magazine. However, the beautification of the church was never compromised and one of the most beautiful modern altar-pieces in London was created by Sir Ninian Comper in 1938.
When disaster did finally strike it took a different form. On 21 September 1940, at the height of the Battle of Britain, St. Mark’s was set alight by incendiary bombs. Much damage was wrought including the destruction of the Comper reredos, although one parishioner described how the church clock went on striking the hours. Five nights later the church was again hit, this time by a high explosive bomb which fell in the chancel, “and the ruin was complete”.
The destruction of the fabric of the building did not mean that worship ceased. Within eight hours of the first bombing the usual Sunday morning Communion was held at Turner House in Chalcot Square, a Church Army home for blind women. St. Mark’s was allowed to use the chapel for three services each Sunday and four weekday services until July 1941, at which time the ruined church porch was used, followed by the still standing vestry. By 1943 a ‘hut’ chapel was constructed in the grounds which, despite discomfort, served the congregation until 1957.
The Second World War saw the destruction or damage of some fourteen thousand churches. St. Mark’s was the first Anglican church in London to be completely rebuilt. But this was not achieved overnight. Seventeen weary years were to be struggled through before the church was restored. In true form Hugh Stuckey wasted no time in opening an appeal fund. By 1946 progress in the planning of the new church had advanced to the point where an architect was required and Arthur Knapp-Fisher was appointed. However, another 11 laborious years were to pass for him and Stuckey
before the church was consecrated on 5 October 1957.
From contemporary reports we get some idea of the occasion. “The church was packed to capacity, more than fifty of the clergy took part in the ceremony, which was performed by the Bishop of London. Although over 93, Sir Ninian Comper attended and took part in the procession.” His new High Altar reredos was to be completed two years later. It was due to the fine taste and the tenacity of Hugh Stuckey that St. Mark’s arose out of the ashes of Thomas Little’s original building. The new church is his monument.