1. History of St James’ Church

Nikolaus Pevsner in his Buildings of England series describes St James’ as being the best Perpendicular work in Colchester.

Architectural evidence shows that the church was founded by the 12th century or earlier. From 1328 or earlier until the Dissolution St Botolph’s priory was patron, presenting regularly except on two occasions in 1469 when Coggeshall abbey presented.

The living was poor, but not the poorest Colchester living, and vacancies were usually filled. One of the Rectors in 1406 was accused of keeping a concubine and Edmund Coningsburgh, Rector for under a year in 1470, was employed by Edward IV as an envoy to the pope in 1471 and became archbishop of Armagh in 1477.

St James' from a 1741 engraving

St James’ from a 1741 engraving

The living was vacant from 1554 or earlier until 1586. In 1575 as many as 11 people were fined for repeated absence from church. Robert Holmes, Rector 1586-92, was accused in 1585 of ‘slack administration’ of the communion, and in 1588 he described the wearing of the surplice as superstitious. In 1595 Thomas Farrar, Rector 1591-1610, was accused of serving two cures in the same day; in 1616 his successor Samuel Crick was non-resident and his curate unlicensed.

William Shelton, Rector 1670-99 was a staunch defender of the Church of England, and opposed papists, Quakers, and other dissenters.

In 1723 there were two Sunday services and monthly communion. By 1738, services at St James’ had been reduced to one on most Sundays. John Milton, Rector 1743-67, held only one Sunday service in 1747 when he also served Lexden. By 1766 Milton, then also vicar of Fingringhoe, was in poor health and employed one curate to perform the Sunday service and another to say prayers on Wednesdays and Fridays; monthly communion was administered to 60-70 communicants.

In 1810 the resident Rector John Dakins provided an evening lecture as well as one full service on Sundays, and communion eight times a year for 50-60 communicants, a number little changed since 1778. By 1815, he increased the Sunday services at St James’s to two.

St James' from a 1824 engraving

St James’ from a 1824 engraving

In 1841 three quarters of the population of 1,439 were said to belong to the church, but on Census Sunday 1851, out of a population of 1,845, only 270 in the morning and 370 in the afternoon, including 70 Sunday school children on each occasion, attended church.

By 1902 there were four Sunday services and two each weekday at St. James’s, reflecting the Catholic Churchmanship of Fr CC Naters, Rector 1895-1918, who introduced incense, vestments, processions, lights, and holy pictures, into the church.

When in 1914, without a faculty, he erected a rood loft and screen, and an altar in the south chapel which obscured the monument to the philanthropist Arthur Winsley, a case was brought against him in the consistory court. Fr Naters was ordered to remove the rood loft and some of the candlesticks and pictures. When a further judgement compelled him to replace the altar with a small Jacobean table to reveal Winsley’s monument, he complied, but with solemn ceremonial and a defiant sermon against state interference in religion.

The Catholic tradition has been maintained by Fr Naters’s successors and today the church continues to be a focus for catholic faith and worship in Colchester.

Statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Lady Chapel

Statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Lady Chapel 

The church of St James, the largest in Colchester, stands in a commanding position just inside the former east gate at the top of East Hill. It is built of rubble with ashlar dressings, and comprises an aisled chancel with north-east vestry, aisled and clerestoried nave with north porch, and west tower. The Roman brick north western quoins of an unaisled nave survive and the later medieval development suggests that in the 12th century the church may have been cruciform.

The lower stages of the tower are late 12th or early 13th century, and the upper stage is 14th century. The presumed transepts were extended as aisles c. 1300 when the two eastern bays of the arcades were built. Money for a new aisle was being collected in 1403. The church underwent a major reconstruction in the late 15th century; new work was done on the chancel in 1464 and in 1490 money for the enlargement and enrichment of the church was raised by an entertainment in the street outside the church. The two western bays of the arcades were built and the arches of the eastern bays were reshaped to match them. The aisles were extended and the older parts refenestrated.

The chancel and its chapels and vestry were built or rebuilt, as was the chancel arch and the matching arches between the chapels and the nave aisles. The tower was remodelled and given diagonal buttresses.

The tower was said to be decayed in 1633.The church was in reasonably good order in 1835 except for the north wall, but by 1870 was so dilapidated that services were no longer being held there. Restoration work was carried out in 1871-2 under Fr SS Teulon. The north porch and tower arch were rebuilt, and all the roofs were renewed except for those of the chancel aisles.

The Organ from St Nicholas' Church

The Organ from St Nicholas’ Church

A new organ was installed in the north chapel in 1890, and screens to designs by TG Jackson were erected in the south chapel in 1899-1900. In 1951 the 19th century choir stalls were removed from the chancel and the floor was lowered. In 1954 the north chapel was restored, and the existing organ removed and replaced by the organ from St Nicholas’ Church. The organ console was moved to the west end of the church in the 1970s.

Two brasses of the late 16th century to Alice and John Maynard survive. A large marble statue of Arthur Winsley was erected in 1738 at the east end of the Lady Chapel. It was moved to the west end of the north aisle in 1923 when the south chapel was restored.

Detail from The Adoration of the Shepherds

Detail from The Adoration of the Shepherds

A painting, the Adoration of the Shepherds, presented by the painter George Carter in 1778 as an altarpiece, hangs above the north door of the nave.

Detail from the Last Supper

Detail from the Last Supper

A painting of the Last Supper by Sir William Archer of 1855 is located in the Sanctuary to the left of the High Altar.

2. History of St Paul’s Church

St Paul’s church, formerly a chapel of ease to Lexden, became a parish in its own right in 1879 when it was created from part of the north-east of Lexden parish.

The bishop became the patron at the request of J. Papillon, Rector of Lexden. By 1937 there was a vicarage house at Braiswick; the diocese sold it in 1956 to the retiring incumbent and bought a house in North Station Road.

St Paul's Main Entrance in 1997

St Paul’s Main Entrance in 1997

The construction in 1933 of the Colchester bypass south of the church and in 1980 of Westway to the north isolated the church from many of its parishioners.

The first stage of the church in Belle Vue Road, consisting of a chancel and nave, was built in 1869 as a result of the arrival of the railway.The building was completed in 1879 by the addition of a south aisle, choir vestry, and south porch designed by J. Clarke.

St Paul's - Easter 1968

St Paul’s – Easter 1968

The well-known Dr Turner who established Turner Village had a strong connection with the church. He and many of his family were buried in the churchyard.

St Paul’s was united with St James’ in 1995 The church had been damaged in the Colchester earthquake of 1884 and was declared structurally unsafe in 1999.

As a result of the church had to be demolished and worship moved to the St Paul’s Centre.

The Chapel at the St Paul Centre

The Chapel at the St Paul Centre

3. History of St James’ Organ

Most of the organ that you see today dates from the latter decades of the 19th Century. Little of the pipework has any distinctive marking; some of the pipes were new at the last rebuilding and other pipes were purchased second-hand and then added.

In 1945, the organ was transferred from the redundant church of St Nicholas’, Colchester. The organ was built and installed by Morten & Taylor in 1876 and then received major attention in 1912 from a small Northern company, Vincent of Sunderland. In its final year in St Nicholas’ Church, the organ had three manuals and 35 stops. One of the two original organ cases survives as the single case now seen at St. James, and was by the architect J. Oldrid Scott who also designed the rather grander cases of St John’s College, Cambridge (1889), Lichfield Cathedral (1907), St Alban’s Abbey (1908), and Selby Abbey (1909).

In the 1950s there were some internal reordering at St. James; the former organ was removed from its chamber in the North-east corner, and apparently went to a church near Basildon, Essex. This instrument was a three-manual of 28 stops, built by Peter Conacher & Company of Huddersfield.

The old organ from St. Nicholas was rearranged at the West end, in the space under the tower, and was rebuilt as a substantial two-manual organ with electro-pneumatic action. This work was undertaken by J. W. Walker & Sons, and was completed in 1954.

The original Great and Swell were at first comparatively little-altered, and the Pedal department was enlarged by octave extension. Most of the electrical and mechanical components installed by Walker are in use unchanged today. In 1970 the organ was cleaned and some tonal alterations were carried out by the Thaxted firm of Arnold, Williamson and Hyatt. They provided a new Pedal Mixture and Trombone, a Krummhorn and upperwork in the Swell, a Seventeenth and revisions to the Mixture on the Great, and other minor changes. The organ appears to have been little changed since that work was completed.

The Organ Console

The Organ Console

The console is of the stop-tab design popular for smaller organs at that time, and was very handsomely made in oak. The console was either a standard design that served also for three-manual organs, or the possibility of expanding to a three-manual design here was envisaged, because it very evidently allows room for the addition of a third keyboard. This makes the desk both higher and further away than convenient to the player.

Within the organ chamber, the large Swell division takes up the most of the space, with the Great Organ in front, projecting into the casework, and the Pedal chests to either side and behind the Swell. The Trumpet has its own chest mounted between the Swell and Great; the Trombone, Pedal Mixture, and Pedal Flutes are close to ground level.

The visible Organ Pipes

The visible Organ Pipes

The work of 1970 was carried out at the same time when the previous rebuild was only 16 years old, and quite reasonably did not include any significant attention to the mechanism. Most of the mechanism is now approaching 50 years old, and much of it is attached to components more than twice that age so……….

In June 2012 it was agreed that the refurbishment of the organ should go ahead and a faculty was gained for this work in November with work on the Organ Blower, re-wiring, casing re-decoration and pipe cleaning starting in December of the same year. Work was completed in April 2013 and has ensured that a pipe-organ will continue to be heard in this beautiful church of St. James the Great for many years to come!