History of St James’
A brief history of St James’ with St Peter, Islington
The original Church of St James’ nestled close to the old Roman London Wall in Monkwell Street and the crypt had Saxon and Norman remains. An early record describes how a new Hermitage had been built in the reign of Henry III but the patronage changed hands on several occasions, from the crown to the Lord Mayor of London and eventually to the Cistercian Abbey at Girondon in Leicestershire. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the chapel of St James in the Wall was acquired by William Lamb, a gentleman of the Chapel Royal, for the sum of £632.17.1d. In medieval times, the land on which our church stands was owned by the Canons of St Paul’s Cathedral – reflected in the names of surrounding streets, Prebend Street, St Paul Street, Canon Street, Rectory Street and Bishop Street.
Lamb became Master of the Clothworkers in 1569 and on his death at the age of 85 in 1580, he bequeathed the Chapel to the Company on the understanding that his former colleagues would attend one service a year, robed in their livery gowns. On that occasion shoes for 12 poor men and 12 poor women were also to be distributed.
In 1820 the Company made the decision to close Lamb’s chapel (as it had become known) and it was demolished, along with the attached almshouses. Both were rebuilt on Clothworkers’ land in the emerging suburb of Islington. The foundation stone of the new Church, designed in Early English style by the Company architect, FD Porter, was laid on 25th July 1873. The Clothworkers’ Company had acquired the land during the reign of Henry VIII. Above the internal west door to the Church you will see a small effigy of William Lambe. St James’ owes much to him and his Company.
In his speech the Master, John Bazley White said the building of a new Church was not for ambition or grandeur but so that ‘the pure and undefiled gospel could be preached until we and our children are no more’.
The limited size of the building plot was not the only constraint on the construction of St James’. Built by Dove Brothers of Islington for the sum of £8,400, funds were limited and the original baptistery was never completed. Unable to afford an organ, the congregation were accompanied by a harmonium. The original ring of six bells was the personal gift of Baroness Burdett-Coutts.
On 5th May 1875 St James’ Prebend Street was consecrated by the Bishop of London, John Jackson. The external walls were dressed in Kentish rag stone and the plain Bath stone interior was relieved by limestone columns. The octagonal east wall was decorated with earth coloured polychrome bricks and featured the Creed and the Ten Commandments.