Friends of

St. Mark's

Cheetham

A group formed with the intention of saving the graveyard of St Mark's church, record and catalogue the graves and transcribe their inscriptions.

Further details soon. In the meantime see Facebook Page 'Friends Of St. Mark's Cheetham'

I was told, recently about a local poet, Tony Connor, and that he had written a poem about St Mark's - Here it is.

ST MARK'S, CHEETHAM HILL

 

DESIGNED to dominate the district -

God being nothing if not large

and stern, melancholic from man's fall

(like Victoria widowed early)-

the church, its yard, were raised on a plateau

six feet above the surrounding green.

There weren't many houses then; Manchester

was a good walk away. I've seen

faded photographs: the church standing

amidst strolling gentry, as though

ready to sail for the Empire's farthest parts; -

the union jack at the tower's masthead

enough to quell upstart foreigners and natives.

But those were the early days. The city

began to gollop profits, burst

outward on all sides. Soon

miles of the cheapest brick swaddled landmarks, 

the church one. Chimes that had used to wake

workers in Whitefield, died in near streets.

From our house- part of the parish -

St. Mark's is a turn right, a turn left,

and straight down Coke Street past the 'Horseshoe'

The raised graveyard - full these many years - 

overlooks the junction of five streets;

pollarded plane trees round its edge,

the railings gone to fight Hitler.

Adam Murray of New Galloway,

'Who much improved the spinning mule',

needs but a step from his tomb to peer in

at somebody's glittering television;

Harriett Pratt 'a native of Derby',

might sate her judgement-hunger with chips

were she to rise and walk twenty yards.

The houses are that close. The church,

begrimed, an ugly irregular box.

squatting above those who once filled it

with faith and praise, looks smaller now

than in those old pictures. Subdued

by a raincoat factory's bulk, the Kosher

Slaughter House next door, its dignity

is rare weddings, the Co-op hearse,

and hired cars full of elderly mourners.

The congregations are tiny these days;

few folk could tell you whether it's 'High' or 'Low';

the vicar's name, the times of services,

is specialized knowledge. And fear has gone;

the damp, psalmed, God of my childhood has gone.

Perhaps a boy delivering papers

in winter darkness before the birds wake,

keeps to Chapel Street's far side, for fear

some corpse interred at his ankle's depth

might shove a hand through the crumbling wall

and grab him in passing; but not for fear

of black religion - the blurred bulk

of God in drizzle and dirty mist, 

or hooded with snow on his white throne

watching the sparrow fall. 

                                                Now, the graveyard,

its elegant wrought-ironwork wrenched,

carted away; its rhymed epitaphs,

urns of stone and ingenious scrolls,

chipped, tumbled, masked by weeds,

is used as a playground. Shouting children

Tiggy between the tombs.

                                                On Saturdays

I walk there sometimes - through the drift

of jazz from open doors, the tide

of frying fish, and the groups of women

gossiping on their brushes - to see the church,

its God decamped, or dead, or daft

to all but the shrill hosannas of children

whose prayers are laughter, playing such parts

in rowdy games, you'd think it built

for no greater purpose, think its past

one long term of imprisonment.

There's little survives Authority's cant

that's not forgotten, written-off,

or misunderstood. The Methodist Chapel's

been bought by the Jews for a synagogue;

Ukrainian Catholics have the Wesleyan's

sturdy structure built to outlast Rome -

which clings to its holy snowball down the street;

and men of the district say St. Mark's

is part of a clearance area. Soon

it will be down as low as rubble

from every house that squeezed it round

to bed a motorway and a new estate.

Or worse; repainted, pointed, primmed -

as becomes a unit in town planners'

clever dreams of a healthy community -

will prosper in dignity and difference,

the gardened centre of new horizons.

Rather than this , I'd see it smashed,

and picture the final splendours of decay:

Opposing gangs in wild 'Relievo',

rushing down aisles and dusty pews

at which the houses look straight in

past broken wall; and late-night drunkards

stumbling their usual short-cut home

across uneven eulogies, fumbling

difficult flies to pour discomfort out

in comfortable shadows, in a nave

they praise with founts, and moonlit blooms of steam.

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