Silvertown, London

St. Mark's Church, Silvertown, London

Silvertown was always one of the poorest of the poor areas in East London. For many centuries it was a place you only went if you had absolutely no alternative! The area was an “island district” between the Thames and Roding rivers and was, essentially poorly drained marsh. When London exploded with industry Silvertown became a massive industrial wasteland filled with slums and brothels.

A terrible outbreak of cholera lead an investigation into the living conditions of the people of Hallsville (as it then was called – the name Silvertown did not come about until after 1852 when the sugar company Winkworths (now Tate and Lyle) opened – it’s owned was Samuel Winkworth Silver). An appeal was launched in The Times for funds to build a church – a typical Victorian response to an issue which would hardly be solved by constructing a place of worship.

The site was donated by the London Dock Company and the eminent architect Samuel Sanders Teulon was employed to do the design (it is one of only three London churches he designed which have survived).

The church opened in 1862, survived the 1917 Silvertown explosion (one of the largest ever in England) and was thriving until post-World War II Britain when the Docks and the areas surrounding them sank into decline. By 1965 the congregation was described as “four old ladies at evensong”.

The church finally closed in 1974 and in 1981 a fire tore through the structure and it stood derelict for many years – the only thing which stopped the complete destruction of the church in the fire was the weight of pigeon poop on the roof which melted and helped put out the flames! As recently as the 1990s plans were afoot to demolish St. Mark’s, but continuous protest managed to stave off demolition until the Brick Lane Music Hall decided to relocate here in 2003 - today it is a thriving theatre which has given this rather unlucky and benighted church a new lease of life beyond anything that might have been hoped for!

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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and Shaun Runham
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