As the Royal Docks developed at a rapid pace on marshland which for centuries had been occupied mostly by grazing cattle, S W Silver opened a factory and built houses for its workers. The area became known as Silvertown.
As the area became more industrialised the people of Silvertown lived in terrible conditions outside the legislation of the Metropolitan Borough. Following a severe outbreak of cholera, an appeal was placed in The Times to raise funds for a church to serve the beleaguered community. Enough money was raised to commission the leading architect of the day, Samuel Teulon.
The powerful Gothic revival design of St. Mark’s, described as ‘a triumph of decorative brickwork’, provided a proud new landmark and became the focus of community life, with a rectory and a school.
During World War 1 the local Brunner Mond chemical factory was used for making TNT explosives. In January 1917 a freak explosion completely demolished the factory and devastated a substantial part of Silvertown. The sound of the explosion was heard 100 miles away in Southampton. Still standing, St Mark’s was used as temporary digs for many of those rendered homeless.
St Mark’s continued to serve the Silvertown community, as the population continued to grow and thrive.
Silvertown bore substantial losses and damage during World War II. Sunday School continued in the church and some services took place in bomb shelters. During the Blitz the neighbouring vicarage was reduced to rubble. The area where it stood was subsequently turned into allotments.
St Mark’s Church played a valiant role in supporting the community right through to 1974, when with the decline of the Docklands industries, it finally closed its doors, much of the population of Silvertown and North Woolwich having relocated to the greener pastures of Kent and Essex.
Suffering from neglect vandalism, the building caught fire and could have been destroyed, had it not been for the accumulation of pigeon-muck which fell through the collapsing roof and extinguished the flames.
The fire insurance money was put towards a major restoration of brickwork and stonework and the reconstruction of the hammer beam roof. Reclaimed iron fixings were used and the large timbers for the trusses were brought up from the bed of the Thames.
Though ear-marked for conversion to a museum, the required funding was not forthcoming. Samuel Teulon’s tremendous masterpiece was again left prey to vandalism and neglect through the 1990s.
St Mark’s is offered as a new home for Brick Lane Music Hall and a major transformation of the interior ensues.
Brick Lane Music Hall, Silvertown, opens its doors in February 2004. The interiors are completely refurbished with removable partitions which honour the building’s structural features and showcase the magnificent hammer beam roof. The Music Hall atmosphere is created by cheery memorabilia and the work of two artists, Chris Floyd and Brian Walker. Chris Floyd created stylish tented areas around the theatre, as well as murals that depict a lively Victorian music hall crowd around the walls of the building. Brian Walker is a specialist sign writer adding touches of humour in signage in every corner.
The War Memorial in the grounds is fully restored and once again forms a focus for remembrance. Chris Floyd created a mural that graces the high wall behind the memorial, depicting the streets of Victorian Silvertown.
Brick Lane Music Hall acquires a licence to hold marriage and civil partnerships in the former church.
Because of the success of the conversion, which it found curiously fitting to the architect’s original vision, English Heritage awarded St Mark’s a Grade II*, paying tribute to this use of the building and acknowledging the care and consideration taken by Brick Lane Music Hall to preserve the integrity of the building.
The War Memorial was honoured with its own Grade II listing.