At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mark, Oulton Broad, Lowestoft

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Oulton Broad St Mark
St Mark


The Oulton Broad area of Lowestoft has an idyllic name, but much of it consists of the 19th century terraces which spread along the Lowestoft ring road, and the 1960s infill estate between here and Kirkley. Any sense of being in a village is long gone - actually, there never really was a village, and until the 19th century this place was in the parish of Corton Colville.

This area was built to house the workers in Sir Morton Peto's new Lowestoft docks. St Mark is slap on the ring road, which must simply be one of the most awful roads in Suffolk. It carries the A12 from London to Yarmouth through the suburbs of Lowestoft, and at this point is a single lane in each direction, squeezing through the terraces. Here, it converges with other roads for Mutford Bridge, one of only two crossings over the Lothing between North and South Lowestoft; the road on the north side is newer, and wider, but here it was designed for 19th century horse-drawn vehicles. No wonder that most traffic prefers to plough on regardless through central Lowestoft, although not enough to make this a pleasant place. It isn't often I get off my bike and push it, but here I did.

St Mark is sandwiched between the river crossing and a narrow railway bridge over the Lowestoft to Ipswich line. The church was built by local architects Roberts, Green and Richards in 1884, with none of the grandeur and finesse which characterise that decade. It consists of a simple nave and chacel, with a little bellcote at the west end. The whole thing is made out of Woolpit brick, Not always the best material for a building in an industrial area,

The building has a clerestory of lancets, and a red brick arcade of lancets below it, as though designed to have aisles added at a later date. This never happened, but a transept-like organ chamber and vestry were built on, and in 1990 the substantial parish rooms to the north of the building were opened and dedicated by the Bishop of Norwich. So this is clearly a busy parish. I am afraid that the original entry for St Mark on this website was not terribly well-received by the parish, not least because I grumbled about the locked doors.

I came back here on Historic Churches Bike Ride day 2009, fairly certain of being able to see inside. I had to wait for a wedding to finish, but when I came back the people on duty in the porch were very welcoming. They were happy for me to see inside, although they had to unlock the church for me to do it, which tells you a lot. I stepped into the rather curious interior. You can see straight away that aisles were originally intended, because the arcades were actually built. Still filled in, with smaller windows in some of them, they thoroughly dominate the interior, making the building seem much narrower than it is, and drawing the eye towards the east and the large, open chancel. Here, there is a huge surprise, a fabulous east window of about 1960 by Abbot & Co, depicting the Blessed Virgin and Child. I thought it was magnificent, although perhaps a little surprised by the choice of subject for what was obviously such a thorough-going evangelical faith community.

However, as I turned to look around the rest of the building I was thrown a little on my own resources, despite just having read Sam Mortlock's account of his visit here, because the building has been thoroughly reordered since his time, with most of the nineteenth century furnishings removed, and replaced with comfy purple chairs and a blue carpet.

Walking back westwards, I was struck by how the clerestories, the dimness of the roof and those sulking blank arcades conspired together to create the effect of a tall, grand and yet rather anonymous building. The reticulated tracery in the west-window dominated the view, and reminded me for a moment of the big churches built in northern France to replace those destroyed in the First World War.

Perhaps it was the sheer modernity of the fixtures and fittings. Maybe I pined perversely for dusty tiled floors, pitch-pine benches and a smell of gas. Regular users of this site will know that I am a fan of Victorian churches, but even in a better setting this church would be nothing but functional; and yet it has survived, and thrives, when so many of Lowestoft's 19th century churches have not.

  Blessed Virgin and Child

Simon Knott, November 2009

looking east looking west chancel
arcade Great is his Faithfulness east window font



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