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St. James’ Church

The oldest Anglican church in the Southern Hemisphere

You can’t trample infidels when you’re a tortoise. I mean, all you could do is give them a meaningful look.
Terry Pratchett, Small Gods{3}

Built in 1774 St. James’ Church is the oldest Anglican church in the Southern Hemisphere  

St. James Church

St. James’ is one of our many interesting historic churches.

Exploring our churches and other built heritage is one of our Top Twenty things to do during a visit to St Helena.

Below: Tower / Spire / Neither / Spire • Organ • Clock • Other views • Altar Puzzles • All creatures, great and small • Why was St. Paul’s the Cathedral? • Read More

Please note: this website does not promote or advocate any faith or religious belief. Religious buildings are described below solely in terms of their interest as historic buildings or examples of more modern architecture.

St. James’ sign

St. James’ Church is situated in Jamestown and is the oldest Anglican Church in the southern hemisphere; the present building was put up in 1774

The current structure replaced an earlier building dating from 1671, sited where Nos. 1, 2 and 3 Main Street now stand, that had fallen into disrepair. In the Records:

30th September 1678: Damage caused to The Church (St. James’ Church) by extreme heat is assessed for the cost of repairs. The repair bill is to be paid by the island’s inhabitants - subject to a limit of 12 pence (£0.05) per year.

The repairs evidently worked, but only for a few years. 33 years later there is further mention of the Church:

7th April 1711: Churchwardens petition that the Churchyard at the fort needs to be enlarged. Told they should instead repair the Church or it will tumble down in a little time.

In 1714 it is noted that a Mr Tomlinson has contributed £150 towards a new Church but nothing happened and the following year the structure was described as worse in appearance than a poor man’s Barn. Still nothing was done and in a 1732 Vestry Report:

30th September 1732: Vestry meeting discusses the ruinous condition of both the Chappel in the Country and the Chappel at the Fort, the latter being so much out of repair that it is shameful for a place set apart for the celebration of divine service and in the open view of all strangers especially of foreign nations.

Building of the replacement began in October 1772. The accounts for the construction show the usual entries - salaries, materials - and also 10 gallons of Arrack for the workmen! It was reported almost complete on 4th April 1774. It opened later in the year.

It seems the new Church was doomed to the same neglect that was suffered by its predecessor. On 4th October 1862 the roof fell in, probably due to the action of White Ants and the church was closed until July 1866.

The clock was first installed in 1787 and is no longer reliable. The organ dates from the early 20th Century and was restored in 2009.

The church was rendered in the 19th Century, but by the early 20th Century the render was beginning to detach from the soft red stone beneath. Piecemeal repairs were carried out at various times until the 1980s (when the first spire was removed). In 2012 the entire building was again restored, including replacing the asbestos roof with iron coated sheets, and repainted (light grey) in 2012{4}.

Hear the bell of St. James’ Church

Click here to hear this audio file

Click To listen

In February 1950 a new 6cwt bell, cast by John Taylor of Loughborough and costing £200, was installed in memory of the Royal visit of 1947 (listen, right).

St. James’ is designated as a Grade I listed building and was one of the 2008 Seven Wonders of St Helena (but not one of the 2018 set). Maintenance is a continual problem - there has been a ‘Restoration Fund’ since at least the 1980s (and probably for some time before that!) - see the article below.

You can download a leaflet about St. James’ and also one about the bells and clock{a}

The Crallan Report has:

‘Hall’ plan, tower & spire (added) over projecting N. Porch. 1774 design ‘Gothick’ - gothicised 1843. Repaired with minor alterations 1869.

End and original tower of St. James Church, 1798
End and original tower of St. James’ Church, 1798{b}

There is a tablet on the wall of the church which reads: In memory of GEORGE SINGER who met his death by being accidentally precipitated from off Egg Island when faithfully serving his employers by whom this tablet is erected as a mark of respect to a worthy good servant. The tablet is undated but we presume Mr Singer was manning Cockburn’s Battery when the incident occurred and that his employers were The East India Company.

Tower / Spire / Neither / Spire

The 1774 building had a square tower, which was declared unsafe by G.W. Melliss{5} in 1835 and taken down in 1843. It was replaced by a shortened tower with a spire, repaired in September 1893, but this spire too eventually became unsafe and was taken down at the end of March 1980.

Stone from Spire Taken to Ruperts
Last Friday, 21st November, the stone from the demolished spire that had been laying in front of St. James’ Church for months was removed by the Public Works Department to the crusher site at Ruperts. The amount removed is estimated in the region of 55 tons. It is hoped that this stone will form the basis for erecting a small church at Ruperts Valley.{c}

The actual church built at Ruperts in 1995 is made of concrete blocks (as are most modern houses on St Helena); only the Foundation Stone is actually from the old spire. Some of the spire-stone was also used to fabricate the Walcott Memorial in the church garden; more was used in the conversion of the old Power House to accommodate the Museum of St Helena.

A replacement spire, constructed to reduce weight to 5.5 tonnes with an aluminium frame faced with plywood and stainless steel sheeting on the exterior, was expected to be fitted in December 2014, but planning permission was not granted until November 2015; erection took place on 4th September 2016. The spire is 16.3m high{6} with a lightning-protected weather vane on top{7}. The main photo (above) shows the church with its new spire, which will be floodlit for special occasions.

The original tower

1815 drawing
1815 drawing

Watercolour, 1815
Watercolour, 1815{d}

1815 painting
1815 painting{e}

Sainson, c.1840s
Sainson, c.1840s

 

The first spire

The ‘Rollers’ of 1846, showing the spire
The ‘Rollers’ of 1846, showing the spire

c.1890
c.1890

1942 {1}
1942{1}

1962
1962

1963 {2}
1963{2}

Removal, 1980
Removal, 1980

 

The current spire, erected September 2016

Erection
{f}

Erection
{g}

Close-up

Full
{h}

From The Briars

 

The Organ

The organ at St. James’ is worthy of note. Known to have been installed by Canon Walcott in 1914, it was constructed by the Positive Organ Company for a price of £205 and dedicated by Bishop Holbech on 21st October 1914. Today it is probably the oldest functioning pipe organ of its type in tropical and sub-tropical climes, its leather and wooden construction being particularly vulnerable to hot climates.

Although the air required is now electrically pumped, the organ was originally manually pumped. A pump operator sat behind the organ, and when the organist wished to begin playing a pedal was pressed which caused a flag to be raised at the back, signalling that pumping should begin. It is said that one pump operator fell asleep at his post and was concussed by the raising of the flag!

The organ underwent a major refurbishment in July 2009 at a cost of around £3,000, and at the time of writing fund-raising is in progress for another refurbishment. Creative St Helena organised a concert on 16th July 2017, featuring visiting Belgian organist Jérôme Giersé and local performers.

Organ, 2005
Organ, 2005

Organ stripped for restoration, July 2009
Organ stripped for restoration, July 2009

Restored, end-July 2009
Restored, end-July 2009

 

The Clock

If you want to know the time you probably should not use the clock on St. James’ Church…

Bishop Rushton interviewed by Natasha Clingham for Radio St Helena, 1994

Click here to hear this audio file

Click To listen

Possibly because of it being years old it is not reliable. The editor of this website has a personal recollection from 2007 of hearing it strike thirteen; it was, at the time, twenty past five… The clock was serviced in January 2017 by the St Helena Heritage Society and this has resulted in some improvement, but it is still far from a reliable time source. In 2018 it was heard to strike two at about ten past eleven… You can hear Bishop Rushton being interviewed in 1994 on Radio St Helena about repairs being carried out then (right).

Funded by The East India Company and manufactured in 1786 by Aynesworth Thwaites of Clerkenwell, London, the clock was brought here the following year and originally installed in the church’s original tower. In 1834 it was moved to the Courthouse, just across the road, but exactly why is not clear - it might have been something to do with the replacement of the original tower with the first spire, or it might be that The East India Company, who had funded the purchase of the clock, had some dispute with the Anglican Church and demanded that ‘their’ clock be re-located onto an East India Company building. It remained in the Courthouse until 1845, when it was re-located back to the church - in the tower beneath the (new) first spire, where it has remained ever since. It has only one face, facing the Grand Parade.

The clock caused problems in the 1930s. Occasionally one of the massive weights which govern the movements would detach itself and crash through the floor above into the porch below. This was addressed in 1933 but, strangely, the solution found was not the obvious one - to better secure the weights. Instead heavy baulks of timber were placed across the floor above the porch to catch the falling weights before they fell into the porch! Cannan notes: Fortunately for the Church the clock was Government property{8} so the Dioscese didn’t need to meet the cost of the repairs.

The clock face
The clock face

Closeup
Closeup

Winding the clock
Winding the clock

 

The Church of St. James forms the southern boundary of the square, and is a plain, unpretentious building.
‘St Helena, The Historic Island, From Its Discovery To The Present Date’, by E. L. Jackson, published in 1905

Other views

Windows, renovated in 2003/4
Windows, renovated in 2003/4

Interior view, 2005
Interior view, 2005

External view, 2005
External view, 2005

Postage Stamp
Postage Stamp

Close-up, 2017
Close-up, 2017

 

St. James’ Church Altar

Altar Puzzles

We were initially puzzled as to why the 6th word in the altar inscription (picture, right) is spelt in what today would be considered the American way: ‘honor’. Apparently the answer is that the word originated in the Anglo-Norman word ‘onour’, which itself came from the latin honor, repute or esteem. Older English included the h but allowed both spellings, with and without u. For a time up to around the end if the 18th Century it was considered more fashionanble to use the spelling ‘honor’. The altar is probably original and therefore dates, like the rest of the church, from 1774, hence the spelling. The spelling ‘honour’ became fashionable in England from the beginning of the 19th Century and remains the correct spelling today, but America (by then independent) retained the old spelling.

Also, the symbol in the middle of the golden fan is, apparently, Hebrew text for God’s Holy Name that can be said out loud only in prayer or teaching. And why is it here? We don’t know. It seems that in the late 18th Century there was a small Jewish community living in Jamestown. There is no indication that they built their own place of worship and it is theorised that they might have worshiped in St. James’ Church. This inscription, along with the Star of David in the stained glass window above the Altar, it is suggested, may be a reflection of this. It’s an interesting theory, but we question that the Anglican Church would have not only accepted non-Christians but also made changes to accommodate them. Their very public rejection of the first Baptists, arriving in 1854, and their refusal 50-or-so years later to bury Boer PoWs (1900-1902) because they were Heathens does not suggest an attitude of religious tolerance. We think it more likely that there is another explanation, possibly related to the fact that Christianity was founded in Judaism. If you can explain please contact us.

All creatures, great and small

On 23rd June 1861 a service at St. James’ was interrupted when hundreds of White Ants were found eating through a desk - and then the Bible.

Why was St. Paul’s the Cathedral?

It is often asked why St. Paul’s was designated the Cathedral, and not the older and more prominent St. James’ Church. The answer lies in a letter written by Bishop Gray in 1866:

As to the Cathedral: It was because it was the generally expressed wish of the habitants that the Country Church should be made so, that it was named. My view would have been to have made St. James'; but I yielded to a general wish.

Read More

Article: Surprise Package

By Cathy Hopkins, published in the St Helena Herald 1st March 2002{9}

How often do we get ‘late’ Christmas cards or is it that our friends are ‘early’ for this year? We can be sure that the mail will bring someone a surprise package and that certainly was the case for the St. James’ Church Restoration funds when a letter containing a donation from the parish of St. James The Great, Thorley, Bishops Stortford in the UK arrived in the last mail. The Tithing Committee of this church has sent £250 towards the Restoration project and Mrs Cathy Hopkins, Secretary of the St. James’ Church Restoration Action Group, has sent an Em message to the committee thanking them for their generosity and will be sending them some material about the church and the island in the next post.

A Parish newsletter from the church of St. James the Great is displayed in the porch of our church of St. James.

So what’s the connection between the two churches? We don’t know! Was it a Saint living there who mentioned the restoration project to the congregation? Or was it a cruise ship passenger returning home? We’d love to know of how they heard about our appeal for funds! Can anyone help??

Meanwhile at ‘home’, the Sponsored Scrabble on 19 February, was a very successful evening with 28 addicts enjoying a game or two. The first game was scored and, by kindness of the organisers, two dishes of fresh fruit were given to the top scorers of the evening. Following the games a bottle of wine was presented to Mrs Di Roberts as a thank you to her for her wonderful efforts in raising £135 in sponsorship.

All participants are requested to collect their money as soon as possible and hand it to Mrs Muriel Gardner or Mrs Dot Fagan. The total is expected to top £600! Thanks are extended to all everyone who supported this event.

Laugh at funny St. James Church humour - LOL

See All creatures, great and small (above)

Credits:
{a} From ‘The Ringing World’ Magazine, the Official Journal of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, No. 4874 24th September 2004 used with permission{9}{b} Hubert Cornish{c} St Helena News Review, November 1980{9}{d} Denzil Ibbetson{e} G H Bellasis, 1815{f} Andy Simpson{g} Channelle Marais{h} Tourist Office

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Footnotes:
{1} Also shows the monument to Dr. W. J. J. Arnold.{2} With some Classic Cars!{3} Read the book - all will be made clear!{4} The church was last painted in 1981, a smoky white. The light colour proved to be unsuitable as it highlighted dust and pollution from the streets and traffic.{5} Father of John Melliss.{6} Visibly shorter than the original. The original spire was 69ft high.{7} Lightning is very rare on St Helena, but is not unknown.{8} The Government of St Helena inherited all The East India Company’s assets when it took over the island in 1834.{9} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.

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