St James Church

Churches and Chapels by Atticus (Contents)

There is a touch of smooth piety and elegance in the name of St. James. It sounds refined, serious, precise. Two of the quietest and most devoted pioneers of Christianity were christened James; the most fashionable quarters in London are St. James’s; the Spaniards have for ages recognised St. James as their patron saint; and on the whole whether referring to the “elder” or the “less” James, the name has a very good and Jamesly bearing. An old English poet says that “Saint James gives oysters” just as St. Swithin attends to the rain; but we are afraid that in these days he doesn’t look very minutely after the bivalve part of creation: if he does he is determined to charge us enough for ingurgitation, and that isn’t a very saintly thing. He may be an ichthyofagic benefactors only – we don’t see the oysters as often as we could like. Not many churches are called after St. James, and very few people swear by him. We have a church in Preston dedicated to the saint; but it got the name whilst it was a kind of chapel.

St. James’s church is situated between Knowsley and Berry-streets, and directly faces the National school in Avenham-lane. “Who erected the building?” said we one day to a churchman, and the curt reply, with a neatly curled lip, was, “A parcel of Dissenters.” Very few people seem to have a really correct knowledge of the history of the place, and, for the satisfaction of all and the singular, we will give an account of it, in the exact words of the gentleman who had most to do with the building originally. Mr. James Fielding deposeth:- St. James’s was erected by the Rev. James Fielding and his friends. The occasion of its erection was this – Vauxhall-road Chapel, in which Mr. Fielding had been preaching four or five years, had become too small for the accommodation of the congregation worshipping there, and it was thought advisable to open a subscription for a new and larger building. The first stone of St. James’s was laid by Mr. Fielding, May 24th, 1837, and the place was opened for divine worship in January, 1838, under the denomination of “The Primitive Episcopal Church,” [that beats the “Reformed Church,”-eh?] by the Rev. J. R. Matthews, of Bedford, who was a clergyman of the Established Church. The building was computed to seat about 1,300 people. The cost of the place was about £1,500. After the opening, Mr. Fielding commenced his ministry in the new church – the congregation removing from Vauxhall Chapel into that place of worship. Not long afterwards Mr. Fielding had a severe attack of illness, and was laid aside from his work. From this, together with the urgency of the contractors for the payment of their bills, it was thought advisable to sell the premises. The late vicar of Preston, Rev. Carus Wilson, in conjunction with his friends, offered £1,000 for the building. This was believed to be considerably under its real value, being £500 below the cost amount. However, under the circumstances it was decided to accept the offer. The transfer of the premises took place in April, 1838. Mr. Fielding continued his ministry in Preston in several other places for thirteen years after the erection of St. James’s.

The late John Addison, Esq., of this town, says, in a document written by himself, which we have before us, and which is entitled “Some account of St. James’s Church, in the parish of Preston” – “A body of Dissenters having erected a large building, capable of holding 1,100 persons, and having opened it for public worship under the name of St. James’s Church, but, being unable to pay the expenses, offered it for sale. The building being situated directly opposite the Central National School, and in the immediate neighbourhood of the infant school and Church Sunday schools, a few of the committee of the National school thought it desirable that the building should be purchased and made into a church for the accommodation of the children of the schools and of the neighbourhood.” And the result was the purchase of the Rev. James Fielding’s “Primitive Episcopal Church.”

The building is made mainly of brick, and looks very like a Dissenting place of worship. It is a tame, moderately tall, quadrangular edifice, flanked with stone buttresses, heavy enough to crush in its sides, fronted with a plain gable, pierced with a few prosaic windows, and surmounted with collateral turrets and a small bell fit for a school-house, and calculated to swivel whilst being worked quite as much as any other piece of sacred bell-metal in the Hundred of Amounderness. There is a small graveyard in front of the church containing a few flat tombstones and six young trees which have rather a struggling time of it in windy weather. The ground spaces at the sides of the church are decorated with ivy, thistles, chickweed, and a few venerable docks, The internal architecture of the building is as dull and modest as that of the exterior. The seats are stiff, between 30 and 40 inches high, and homely. Just at present they have a scraped care-worn look, as if they had been getting parish relief; but in time, when cash is more plentiful, their appearance will be improved. A considerable sum of money was once spent upon the cleaning and renovation of the church; but the paint which was put on during the work never suited; it was either brushed on too thickly or varnished too coarsely; it persisted in sticking to people rather too keenly at times; would hardly give way if struggled with; and taking into account its tenacity and ill-looks – it was finally decided to rub it off, make things easy with pumice stone, and agitate for fresh paint and varnish when the opportunity presented itself.

There is a large gallery in the church; but, like everything else, it is plain, The only striking ornament in the building is a sixteen-spoked circular window (at the chancel end), and until made to turn round it will never be popularly attractive. In 1846 the chancel, which isn’t anything very prepossessing, was added to the church. The pulpit is high and rather elegant in design; the reading desk is a gothicised fabric, and, with its open sides, reminds one more of a genteel open gangway on which everything can be seen, than of a snug high box, like those in which old-fashioned clerks used to sup gin and go to sleep during the intervals. Until recently there were two wooden gas stands at the sides of the reading desk. They looked like candlesticks, and short-sighted people, with thin theological cuticles, and a horror of Puseyism, disliked them. Eventually the wood was gilded, and, seeing this, as well as knowing that candles were never gilded, and that, therefore, the stands couldn’t be candles, the dissatisfied ones were appeased. There are about 400 free sittings in the church; but few people appear to care much for them. These seats are situated on each side of the building, at the rear, and in the gallery; and they will be dying of inanition by and bye if somebody doesn’t come to the rescue. People don’t seem to care about having a thing for nothing in the region of St. James’s church. They would probably flock in greater numbers to the edifice if there were an abundance of those oysters which it is said “Saint James gives;” but they appear to have a sacred dread of free seats.

Very recently we were at the church, and on the side we noticed seventeen free pews. How many people do you think there were in them? Just one delicious old woman, who wore a brightly-coloured old shawl, and a finely-spreading old bonnet, which in its weight and amplitude of trimmings seemed to frown into evanescence the sprightly half-ounce head gearing of today. Paying for what they get and giving a good price for it when they have a chance is evidently an axiom with the believers in St. James’s. There is at present a demand for seats worth from 7s. to 10s. each; but those which can be obtained for 1s. are not much thought of, and nobody will look on one side at the pews which are offered for nothing. That which is not charged for is never cared for; and further, in respect to free pews, patronage of them is an indication of poverty, and people, as a rule, don’t like to show the white feather in that department.

The congregation is thin, but select – is constituted of substantial burgeois people, and a few individuals who are comparatively wealthy. There is a smart elegance about the bonnets and toilettes of some of the females, and a studied precision in respect to the linen, vests, and gloves of several of the males. Nothing gloomy, nor acetose, nor piously-angular can be observed in them; nothing pre-eminently lustrous is seen in the halo of the respective worshippers; yet there is a finish about them which indicates that they have no connection with the canaille, and that they are in some instances approaching, and in others directly associated with, the “higher middle class.”

There are only two services a week – morning and evening, on a Sunday – at St. James’s. Formerly there were more – one on a Sunday afternoon, and another on a Thursday evening; but as the former was only attended by about 30, and the latter by eight or ten, and as the fund for maintaining a curate who had the management of them was withdrawn, it was decided some time ago to drop the services. The Sunday congregation, although it does not on many occasions half fill the church, is gradually increasing, and it is hoped that during the next twenty-years it will swell into pretty large proportions. The choral performances form the main item of attraction in the services. Without them, the business would be tame and flavourless. They give a warmth and charm to the proceedings. The members of the choir sit in collateral rows in the chancel; they are all surpliced; all very virtuous and clerical in look; seldom put their hands into their pockets whilst singing; and, whatever quantity of “linen” may be got out by them they invariably endeavour to obviate violence of expression. Their appearance reminds one of cathedral choristers. In precision and harmony they are good; and, as a body, they manage all their work – responses, psalm-singing, &c. – in a very satisfactory style. For their services they receive nothing, except, perhaps, an annual treat in the shape of a country trip or social supper. They wouldn’t have money if it were offered to them. St. James’s is the only Preston church in which surpliced choristers sing, and we believe they have tended materially to increase the congregation. The choral system now followed at St. James’s was inaugurated in 1865, Originally, the choir consisted of 12 boys and 10 men, but, if anything, parties who are under the painful necessity of shaving now preponderate. In one corner at the chancel end there is a moderately well-made organ; but it is not an A1 affair, although it is played with ability by a gentleman who is perhaps second to none hereabouts in his knowledge of ecclesiastical music. Like the singers, the organist resolves his services into what may be termed a “labour of love.” In other ways much may be fish which cometh to his net; but he is, organically, of a philanthropic turn of mind. The necessary expenses of the choir amount to about £25 a-year, and they are met by private subscriptions from the congregation. The lessons are read in the church by Mr. Gardner, who comes up to the lectern undismayed, with a calm, military cast of countenance, and goes through his articulative duties in a clear, distinct style, saying nothing to anybody near him which is not contained in the book before him, and making neither incidental comment nor studied criticism upon any of the verses be reads.

The Rev. John Wilson, son-in-law of the present vicar of Preston, is the incumbent of St. James’s. He is the seventh minister who has been at the place since its transference from the Primitive Episcopalians. The first of the seven was the Rev. W. Harrison; the next was the Rev. P. W. Copeman; afterwards came the Rev. W. Wailing, who was succeeded by the Rev. Mr. Betts, whose mantle fell upon the Rev. J. Cousins. Then came the Rev A. T. Armstrong, and he was followed by the present incumbent. During the reign of Mr. Cousins there was a rupture at the place, and many combative letters were written with reference to it. Up to and for some time after his appointment the Sunday schools of the Parish and St. James’s Churches were amalgamated – were considered as one lot; but through some misunderstanding a separation ensued. Mr. Cousins, who had no locus standi as to the possession of the schools, took with him some scholars, drilled them after his own fashion for a time, and eventually the present day and Sunday schools in Knowsley-street were built and opened on behalf of St. James’s. The day school is at present in excellent condition, and has an average attendance, boys and girls included, of 400; the Sunday school has an average attendance of something like 200, the generality of the children being of a respectable, well-dressed character, although no more disposed, at times, than other juveniles, to be docile and peaceful. The Rev. J. Wilson has been at St. James’s upwards of 15 years. He was curate of the Parish Church from 1847 to 1850.

In the latter year he left in order to take the sole charge of a parish in Norfolk. In 1854 he gravitated to Preston again, and in the course of a year was made incumbent of St. James’s. For some time he had much to contend with in the district; and he has had up-hill work all along. He was one of the original agitators for an alteration of the Parish Church, and in one sense it may be said that the move he primarily made in the matter eventuated in the restoration of that building. The creation of St. Saviour’s Church is also largely due to him, and owing to the building being in St. James’s district, which is a “Blandsford parish,” and the only one of the kind in Preston we may remark, he has the right of presentation to it. Mr. Wilson is a calm, middle-sized, rather eccentric looking gentleman, tasteful in big hirsute arrangements, and biased towards a small curl in the front of his forehead. He is light on his feet, has a forward bend in his walk, as if trying to find something but never able to get at it; has a passion for an umbrella, which he carries both in fine and wet weather; likes a dark, thin, closely-buttoned overcoat, and used to love a down-easter wide-awake hat. He is a frank, independent, educated man; has no sham in him; is liberal is far as his means will allow; works hard; has an odd, go-ahead way with him; cares little about bowing and scraping to people; often passes folk (unintentionally) without nodding; and has nothing of a polemically virulent character in his disposition. There is something genuine, honest, gentlemanly, and unreadable in him. He almost reminds one of Elia’s inexplicable cousin. He has a special fondness for architecture; plans, specifications, &c., have a charm for him; he is a sort of clerical Inigo Jones; and ought to have been an architect. He is a rather polished reader; but he holds his teeth too tightly together, and there is a tremulousness in his voice which makes the utterances thereof rather too unctuous. As a preacher he is clear, calm, and methodical. His sermons, all written, are scholarly in style cool in tone, short, and, in the orthodox sense, practical. In their delivery he does not make much stir, he goes on evenly and rapidly, looking little to either the right hand or the left, broiling none, and foaming never. Occasionally, but it is quite an exception, he forgets his sermons – leaves them at home – and this is somewhat awkward when the mistake is only found out just before the preaching should be gone on with. But the company are kept serene by a little extra singing, or something of that kind, and in the meantime a rapid rush is made to the parsonage, and the missing manuscript is secured, conveyed to the church either in a basket or a pocket, taken into the pulpit, looked at rather fiercely, shook a little, and then read through. How would it be if the manuscript could not be found?

Long official life appears to be the rule at St. James’s. Mr. Wm. Relph, who died last year, was a churchwarden at the place for 21 years; Mr. Bannister has been in office as churchwarden for nearly as long; the person who was beadle up to last year had officiated in that capacity for nearly eleven years; the organist has been at the church above 15 years; the mistress of the school belonging the church has been at her post about as long; and the schoolmaster has been in office 13 or 14 years. If long service speaks well for a place, the facts we have given are creditable alike to the church and the officials. Mr. Wilson, who gets about £300 a year, is well-respected by all; he manages to keep down unpleasant feuds; regulates the district peacefully, if slowly, deserves a handsomer church, and would be quite willing, we believe, to be its architect if one were ordered.