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Church of St James, Royal Tunbridge Wells

Description: Church of St James

Grade: II
Date Listed: 7 June 1974
English Heritage Building ID: 168158

OS Grid Reference: TQ5915439826
OS Grid Coordinates: 559154, 139826
Latitude/Longitude: 51.1356, 0.2735

Location: St James' Road, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN1 2NP

Locality: Royal Tunbridge Wells
Local Authority: Tunbridge Wells Borough Council
County: Kent
Country: England
Postcode: TN1 2NP

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Listing Text

872/10/313 ST JAMES ROAD

1860-2 by Ewan Christian. 1880 N aisle and vestry added by J O Scott. N vestry 1912 by C M Oldrid Scott.

MATERIALS: Roughly dressed, coursed Jackwood and Wadhurst sandstone. Clay tile roofs

PLAN: Nave, short, lower chancel with five-sided apse, N and S aisles, SW steeple, SE chapel, N vestry and organ chamber.

EXTERIOR: St James's church is built in a Gothic Revival style using features from C13 architecture, notably the rich Geometrical tracery in the principal windows. The dominant feature is the SW steeple which doubles as an entrance porch, having a large S doorway with a moulded and foliage-carved head, nook shafts and a richly traceried glazed triangle set in the tympanum. It also has the very unusual device of a cast-iron trumeau (or central mullion) between the pair of wooden doors. The three-stage tower has diagonal buttresses and a demi-octagonal stair-turret on the W face with a demi-octagonal cap rising to just below the belfry stage. The belfry windows are small, shafted, have shouldered heads and punched star decoration above these. The spire has tall broaches, a tier of lucarnes in the principal directions, and a decorated band two-thirds of the way up. The W window is of five-lights with a fine, elaborately detailed traceried wheel in the head. Geometrical wheel designs also appear in the heads of the three-light aisle windows. At the E end the fenestration consists of a single-light window in each of the faces of the apse. The aisles are set under their own gables. N of the church is a large modern extension providing a hall, meeting rooms etc.

INTERIOR: Inside, the church the walls are plastered and whitened throughout and the nave and aisles are wide creating a spacious feel to the building modern skylights add to the sense of lightness: there are three such lights on either side of the nave. The nave is of four bays and has arcades with circular piers, moulded bases and very deeply carved foliage capitals typical of the 1860s. The arches are double chamfered. The chancel arch is similar but has short walls shafts to the inner order with scalloped corbels. The nave roof is of plain hammerbeam construction. In the chancel the ribs of the apse meet at a central point. The NE vestry of 1912 has a striking interior with a fine roof and is Arts and Crafts in character.

PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: The chancel has been refitted in recent times but the original pewing scheme largely survives in the nave and aisles with shaped ends which still retain their Victorian umbrella holders and drip-trays. At the W end there is a gallery, carried on moulded timber brackets with x-framed fonts. The wooden pulpit is mounted on a corbelled stone base and has panels with delicate fleuron ornament. The font is one of many copies of the famous example of 1823 by Bertel Thorwaldsen in Copenhagen Cathedral and which was very popular for churches in the early 1900s, and depicts a kneeling angel holding a giant clam.

HISTORY: St James's church was built in the early 1860s to provide a place of worship in this expanding area of Tunbridge Wells. The town was noted for its strong Low Church inclinations and the architecture of St James's, with a wide nave and small chancel, clearly reflects such a tradition.

The designer, Ewan Christian (1814-95), was a prolific architect whose speciality was church work. He was schooled at Christ's Hospital until 1829 when he was articled to Matthew Habershon. He broadened his education with travel on the continent in 1834 and the following year assisted one of the entrants in the New Palace of Westminster competition with the drawings. He worked in the offices of William Railton in London and then John Brown in Norwich. He commenced practice in 1842 and was appointed architect to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1851. He gained a reputation for efficiency and bringing jobs in on time and on budget. His work, however, does not generally enjoy a high reputation but it is usually very competent, as here. His very best churches, notably St Mark, Leicester, and Holy Trinity, Folkestone, can stand comparison with the better churches of the C19.

C L Eastlake, A History of the Gothic Revival, 1872, appendix entry no 185.
John Newman, The Buildings of England: West Kent and the Weald, 1980 p 578.

The church of St James, Tunbridge Wells is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* It is a church of the early 1860s in the Gothic Revival style by a well-known church architect for Low Church patrons.
* It retains a number of fittings from the C19 and early C20.
* The use of local stone contributes to the picturesque exterior.
* The detailing embodies High Victorian exuberance.

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.