As landmarks go, St Saviours Church on Markhouse Road is pretty unmissable. I live just around the corner from it and often use its prominent stone steeple as a visual point to gauge how far away from home I am. It’s a particularly welcome sight when I’ve been on a long run across the marsh, as the steeple gets closer and looms larger ahead of me, I know that my fridge and the breakfast it contains are almost within my reach. The steeple isn’t just visible from the marsh, I noticed a few weeks ago that if you know what you are looking for and peek between two certain trees, you can see the Church from the Stratford end of the Olympic Park. The fact that St Saviours stands out is no great surprise, this massive Gothic structure is pretty imposing. It rises from the green plot it occupies like a giant grey cliff, gazing at the happenings on Markhouse Road through it’s big dark eye like windows.
It’s one of those buildings that looks like it is under attack by modern Walthamstow, it once looked out on to Markhouse common but now it only sees buses and traffic, it is flanked by an invading army of modern flats and houses. This is probably why the Church looks more imposing than it’s builders intended, it once had space to breath, but now it’s hemmed in, contained and confined. On Sunday mornings though, it escapes the confines of its modern captors when its mighty bells ring out, filling the air with a sound that would be as familiar to the first residents of my house as it is me. The eight bells were cast in 1874 and still dominate the soundscape of Markhouse Road when they ring, blending in with the whine of buses and roar of engine, blending in but never being beaten. I often sit in the back garden with a cup of tea on Sunday mornings listening as the bells are rung, always feeling a slight sense of disappointment when the ringing stops.
St Saviours has a fascinating history, it was built as missionary Church to provide help to the very poor population of the Markhouse area. At one point its garden was home to a large metal shed which acted as a soup kitchen feeding those in need. I was once told that the Church, which is built of brick and clad in stone, was poorly and cheaply constructed, suffering structural problems in its early days and at times thought to be at risk of collapse. The building came under threat again in 1945 when a fire took hold and destroyed some of the roof, but thankfully the Church has so far survived everything that has been thrown at it.
For some, St Saviours is nothing more than a stop on the 158 bus route, for others it is their place of worship. For me, St Saviours is part of the story of Walthamstow, connected to countless families both past and present. When I’m out on the marsh or walking home and see the steeple, I can almost hear the stories and tales that this grand old building forms part of. Stories from the soup kitchen or Markhouse common, weddings, funerals and even events like yesterdays summer fete that we popped along to. This grey stone giant is an unmistakable part of our physical and social landscape, both a witness to and reminder of days past. Oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clements, but what secrets could the bells of St Saviours share?