Robert Cruickshank was born in the West Indies in the year 1787
Robert Cruickshank’s father owned the Prospect Estate on Tobago and introduced the ‘metayer system’ whereby free labourers worked for a share of the produce instead of wages. Young Robert was sent to Canada to study law at an early age but by the time he was nineteen years old he had arrived in England. Within six years of his arrival in the country this human dynamo of a man was Secretary of the company that constructed the Market House near to Gosport Hard.
Cruickshank then embarked on various projects around Gosport. He formed companies and raised capital to fund his ideas which were many and varied. Several bore fruit, and they include the first Haslar Toll Bridge, the floating bridge that ran across the harbour between Gosport and Portsmouth, and the Crescent. The Crescent was part of his idea to create Angleseyville, a Spa to rival Bath.
Cruickshank wanted his Spa to have a church and after much argument with church authorities he got his way. He then built the ‘chapel of ease’ in 1853 and named it St Mark’s Church. The red brick building had two towers and stood in its own churchyard in St Marks Road. However, it was never popular with the church authorities at St Mary’s and after a span of 58 years it became unsafe and was demolished in 1911.
The foundations are still visible today and the churchyard has continued to be used as a graveyard. Where there were once pews there are now ranks of graves. By 2003 the churchyard was in poor condition. Regular maintenance had long since ceased and the whole area had become unkempt and overgrown. However, local residents banded together to form the Friends of St Mark’s and since then the churchyard has gradually returned to a manageable state. Part of the work done has been repairing headstones and cataloguing the graves and the headstones of the rich and famous can once again be seen. The graves include thos e of six generals, eight admirals and two baronets and several church dignitaries. Relatives of Nelson, Earl Jellicoe, W.G. Grace, Lord Denman, and prime minister Spencer Percival lie close to other great names. Bonham-Carter, Churchill, Dowding, Hordern and a host of Gosport and Hampshire families whose relatives still visit from time to time.
The Friends of St Mark’s now number around seventy and include people from the UK and around the World. We have Friends in USA, Australia and New Zealand and keep in touch with them through our News Letter. Until recently we were supported by St Mary’s PCC and by donations only but we have now also received a grant from Gosport Borough Council. Hopefully our funds will enable us to continue to keep St Mark’s in good condition so that an important part of Gosport’s heritage can be preserved.