From Church to Theatre
The square brick tower of the former Garrison Church of St Mark in Shorncliffe, near Folkestone, is a landmark for miles around. There were once several major Army units stationed all around, but gradually the Garrison shrank and finally became the home of one unit only – a Battalion of Gurkhas, who had small use for a Christian Church! By good fortune it stood at the edge of the barracks on a public road, so could be detached from MOD property by re-aligning a fence, and in 1998 the decision was taken to ‘alienate’; in civilian parlance, sell it.
It was built of brick, with gothic doors and windows in stone, with powerful concrete arches across the vault of the nave – altogether a fine piece of architecture, but an astonishing feat in 1941! Where did they find the bricks two years into the War, when even the re-building of bombed-out houses was already being restricted to ‘Utility Build Standards’? One would have thought too that the skilled builders would have gone off to fight; or was foreign prisoner labour used? In fact the building shows no sign of economy, and its size and provocative position on a hilltop, visible from NAZI occupied France, and a marker for every passing bomber raid, might well have been conceived as a statement of defiance – a one-finger gesture!
If so, it had the desired effect: within days, Lord Haw Haw’s mocking tones were heard announcing the newly completed Church at Shorncliffe was to be bombed, and allegedly an attempt was made two nights later, but it was unsuccessful. Curiously, military churches are not consecrated, but dedicated, and notice was taken of the threat, for when Archbishop Fisher arrived to perform the Service of Dedication to St Mark, he was (surely uniquely?) given an escort of Spitfires as overhead protection.
57 years later, the final moving service was held at the 11th hour of the 11th month of November – a significant moment to close a soldiers’ church. Afterwards the stained glass was relocated, the organ sold, the books and banners removed, and the Sale advertised. It was FHODS’s opportunity. The Society received the keys in 2001 and the planning (and fund-raising) began.