The original St Marks Church had been constructed in 1876 on the junction of North Road and Whitchurch Road to serve the growing suburb of Maindy. The area of Maindy and Gabalfa continued to develop up to the Second World War as a busy suburb of Cardiff, but it was the development of a new approach to transport planning and the improvement of the national road network under the Macmillan government in the1950s and 60s that eventually necessitated the replacement of the original church with the present building.
The first plans for the construction of a new road interchange in the North Road / Whitchurch Road area intended to ease the increasingly developed and congested northern suburbs of Cardiff would have retained the church beside a new roundabout and new dual carriageway of Eastern Avenue. In the early 1960s however, (possibly as a result of the 1963 report ‘Traffic in Towns’ by Professor Colin Buchanan), more ambitious plans were developed for a comprehensive new road system that necessitated the removal of the church as well as surrounding housing and a theatre. The church continued in use until 1968 and was then demolished. By May 1969, a £4m project designed to ‘remove congestion in North Road and Western Avenue’ was under way: According to the South Wales Echo of May 14th it would carry North Road on a ‘graceful flyover’. It is now known as the Gabalfa Interchange.
As part of the redevelopment, land was provided for a new church further south along North Road and in1963, plans for a new church, hall and vicarage were drawn up by Lord Mottistone, partner at the London architects Seely and Paget. He was architect to St Paul’s Cathedral, St George’s chapel, Windsor, and Portsmouth Cathedral, and was responsible for repairing many buildings damaged during the Second World War, including Lambeth Palace, Eton College and many London churches.
The open layout and square shape of the site lent themselves to a new approach to planning, in line with ideas introduced by the Liturgical Movement: this advocated more compact planning and an open layout, fostering a more participatory style of worship.
The first plans for a new church survive in the church archives and show a hexagonal building with gabled sides and central lantern, a central tower on the west side and lower flanking structures housing chapel and other spaces. A rectangular hall adjoins on the south side. A separate vicarage is attached to the rear.
These first plans had to be modified when a large mains sewer bisecting the northern part of the site was discovered, and following the death of Lord Mottistone, new plans were drawn up in 1965 by his former assistant, Anthony New, also of Seely & Paget. One of his sketches for the design of the new church was accepted for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition of 1965. These plans retained many of the elements of the earlier design, including its elongated polygonal plan, west tower and chapel, but with changes to the orientation of the hall and the detailing of the roof.
Construction began on 1st December 1966. The foundation stone for the new church was laid by the Bishop of Llandaff during a ceremony on St Marks Day, Tuesday 25th April, 1967 and construction was completed the following year. The structural engineers were EJ Cook Co and the main contractors were E Turner and Sons, Penarth Road, Cardiff. The total cost was £95,433.
The church was consecrated on 1st May 1968 with Dr Glyn Simon, the Bishop of Llandaff, officiating at the ceremony. At its consecration the church was described by the first vicar, the Reverend GG Watkeys, as ‘Modern, but not ugly modern’ and as ‘a good compromise between the classic architecture of the original St Mark’s and the need of the new one to fit in with the landscape and needs of the modern community. Altogether it is a lovely church’.
The design is based around portal frames of laminated Douglas Fir which form the basic polygonal structure.The timber is glued together with Aerodux resorcinol-formaldehyde, an adhesive produced by John Blandand Co. Ltd. It is a type of glue introduced in 1943 and used largely for the manufacture of timber aircraft and boats and ideal for close fitting jointing. Laminated timber in this form had been used for construction from the nineteenth century but it was in the post war years that Britain was a world leader. The Festival of Britain featured a number of laminated timber structures, including parabolic entrance arches in Douglas Fir and casein glue. Its development and use in architecture is a transfer of knowledge and technology from wartime manufacturing, adapting the capabilities of the material to enable new forms of building.
The church was designed to seat 200 in an open lofty space with capacity for more. The chapel is a miniature version of the main church with seating for 60 for smaller weekday services. It was designed to be independent in order to minimise running costs but can be connected to the main church by folding doors.
The stone font and brass lectern were transferred from the old church but have since been disposed of. The pulpit was designed for the new church but has since been disposed of. The stained glass from the east and west windows, dedicated as war memorials were also relocated from the earlier church, as were the two accompanying brass plaques and a further plaque added to explain the relocation. The bell in the new west tower was cast in 1614 by John Draper of Thetford for the church of St Nicholas at Feltwell, Norfolk. It was sold to St Mark’s to raise funds for restoration works.
Alterations were first proposed to some of the ancillary spaces in 1983, with a faculty granted in 1991 and carried out in 1993. The main entrance was enclosed with a glazed timber screen with new entrance doors. The day-to-day entrance was relocated to the side door (and is still in use as this) with the former main entrance retained for emergency access and Sunday use. The former main entrance lobby became a meeting room for weekday use.
Alterations also carried out in 2017 to replace the cover of the flat roof of the single storey ancillary spaces with a synthetic rubber membrane, opening up of the entrance lobby and reception area and other works to the vestry corridor and hall stage.