Early in Auckland’s history, the garrison church of St Paul at Fort Britomart was able to serve the town, but the growing farming communities were without an accessible place to worship. Bishop Selwyn, the first Bishop of New Zealand, had established St John’s College in Meadowbank to train clergy and teachers for the church. Selwyn decided to establish a number of “chapelries” to serve the rural communities and the growing number of Anglican families living in them. The idea was to acquire sites within walking distance of the college, so that staff and students could conduct worship on Sundays. Within a few years, Selwyn had established seven of these chapelries, including one at Remuera dedicated to St Mark.
The first church, prefabricated at St John’s College, was erected on the site and opened for worship on 30 May 1847. A decade later that building was deemed to be too small, and it was removed from the site to allow for the building of the present church which dates from 1860. The nave and a small chancel were erected first. In 1871, 2 small transepts were added, and these were extended in 1878 and 1879. The tower was built in 1883 to house the bell and a new organ. The church has remained much as it was then, except for additions to the Vestry room and the porch, and the extension of the sanctuary in 1953 following a fire.
In the early years there was no full-time Vicar at St Mark’s. Worship was conducted by students at St John’s College, as well as visiting clergy. The first more permanent incumbent was Mr. H.W. St Hill, a local schoolmaster who took up duties as a lay reader at St Mark’s in 1851, and was ordained in 1853. A number of other clergy held temporary appointments including The Revd John Kinder who as well as being a priest, is better known for his work as a photographer and painter. He served at St Mark’s in the early 1860s. The first Vicar to serve the parish was The Revd E.H. Heywood who took up his duties in November 1863.
The development of the building over these early years reflected the developing community that was growing in the Remuera/Newmarket area. A choir was formed, a Sunday School was started, and arrangements were made for services to be conducted in other parts of Remuera to serve parishioners living too remote from St Mark’s. The parish hall was built in 1897 to accommodate some of these needs. In 1905, a further church was built several kilometres to the east of St Mark’s, and dedicated to St Aidan. A separate parish was formed around that church in 1913. To the south of St Mark’s, in Ranfurly Rd Epsom, a further church was built in 1916 and dedicated to St George. This likewise became a separate parish in 1926. Through the first 80 years of its life, the parish had grown to the point where it had reduced its geographical responsibility by establishing 2 further parishes along the way.
St Mark’s was now well-established with responsibility for the western part of Remuera, the northern end of Epsom, and the borough of Newmarket. What had begun as a rural chapelry was now very much a city-fringe, suburban parish. Strong links with the local church schools were developed, with St Mark’s Church being used for school chapel services and the parish clergy serving in chaplaincy roles in the schools.
Another feature of St Mark’s history is its graveyard. The first burial was in 1849, and the last in 1963. The names of many well-known early Aucklanders appear here, including James Dilworth. In 1968 the decaying and illegible headstones were removed from the churchyard, and the surviving ones placed together behind the church. A roll of honour has been placed in the south transept behind the organ console to record the names of all those buried within the grounds.
St Mark's Church is open every day, and you are welcome to visit and to enjoy the sense of history that surrounds it, and the presence of God who continues to dwell there.
The Windows of St Mark's
A book detailing the history and meaning of our stained glass has been published and is available for sale. It contains a colour photograph of every window. Click here for more details.