There seem to be different opinions about the architectural merits of the old church. William Morris, in his Swindon Fifty Years Ago, More or Less says of it (writing in 1885): "Fifty years ago, the parish church of Swindon was the plainest and most insignificant ecclesiastical building in the whole neighbourhood. With one very trifling exception, it positively had no architectural feature about it...". On the other hand, Frank R. Heath in his Methuen Little Guide "Wiltshire", says (writing in 1911) after praising the new church that it "almost reconciles us to the loss of the older edifice, of which the chancel, containing some memorable monuments, is still standing". Pigot's Directories of Wiltshire in 1830 and 1842 say it "is a small plain structure, with a low tower; the interior is fitted up with great neatness".
I believe the chancel is in fact still in occasional use for services - certainly they were annual in 1979. In the mid-late 1940s, however, it was in a sorry state, with broken windows, and with smashed monuments lying over the floor (presumably the same monuments referred to by Heath). This is from my own observation at that time. During World War 2 the mansion and surrounding parkland, including the chancel, were occupied by the military, first British and later Americans, but whether they or intruders were responsible for the damage I do not know. I know even a nine-year old, totally unreligious, boy found the wanton destruction of beautiful carvings disturbing.
There appear to be differences also as to the dedication of the old church. Peter Sheldon, in his: "Swindon in Camera" (published 1979) refers to it as Holy Rood Church, as do the Pigot's Direcotries of 1830 and 1842, whereas Morris says: "whether the church was large or small, the only thing certain about it is that it was originally dedicated to Holy Rood, and, for some reason which does not appear, it was afterwards - and some time prior to 1302 - rededicated to St. Mary". Maybe it changed as Morris says but later reverted to the original dedication, but it is surprising that he did not mention the fact if that is so.
This church was designed by Sir Gilbert Scott to replace the old church, and opened for use in 1851.
The new church is described by Heath as "a very handsome building, with accommodation for nearly 1,000 people, and with its western tower and lofty spire, and its ample and well-designed proportions ...". Its prominent position on top of one of the steepest parts of the hill means that it is visible for many miles. The five bells of the old church, all dated 1741, were moved to the new and joined by a new one immediately, followed by two more in 1883.
Like Christ Church, St. Mark's was designed by Sir Gilbert Scott. It was opened a little earlier, in 1846.
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