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Ordnance survey map of ST JAMES CHURCH
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Taunton Deane (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
ST 22855 24843


744/9/2 ST JAMES STREET 04-JUN-52 (North side) St James Church (Formerly listed as: ST JAMES STREET Church of St James)

II* C15 north aisle, nave and chancel. South aisle widened by Richard Carver of Taunton, 1837-8. Tower rebuilt (almost in replica) 1871-5 by J. Houghton Spencer. Chancel lengthened and a south chapel added 1883-4 by George Webber, architect. Restored 1902-7.

MATERIALS: Tower of Williton red sandstone, the rest of grey-brown rubble. Ham stone dressings, slate roofs. (The medieval tower was reportedly of limestone.)

PLAN: West tower, five-bay nave without clerestorey, north and south aisles. Three-bay chancel with organ loft and vestries (north), two bay chapel on the south.

EXTERIOR: The grand four-stage Perpendicular tower dominates the church and the district; it would be more celebrated but for the even more magnificent tower of St Mary Magdalene over the rooftops to the south. Fine four-centred west door in a square frame with foliate spandrels, and flanking niches. The big west window has six lights, one transom, and two mullions reaching to the head of the arch. The tower's angle buttresses have diagonal braces in the outer angles, and a square shaft rising in the angle between them, making them look like setback buttresses. They have their own system of subsidiary pinnacles at each stage, and end with paired diagonal pinnacles at the bell stage (cf. Mendip towers such as Shepton Mallet). The second and third stages have one window in each face, with ogee lights, square labels and diamond stop bars, i.e. c. 1440-90. The third stage has flanking statuary niches on the south face only. Twin bell openings of three lights each with one transom, and framing pilaster-pinnacles. Parapet with quatrefoil frieze and pierced arcaded merlons, triple angle pinnacles and a subsidiary pinnacle in the centre of each side; the pinnacle arrangements did not follow the original in the rebuilding of 1871-5. The tower design is closest to that of Bishop's Lydeard, and has clear relationships with many other West Somerset towers. The south aisle faces the street. It has a gabled porch (largely remodelled 1837) and four big Perpendicular windows. To the east the chapel and projecting chancel, all with elaborate neo-Perpendicular windows, 1883-4. A small Tudor door survives at the east end of the south aisle. There is an open timber cloister walk between the door and the street, perhaps 1880s. The north side is screened from view: its west window has four ogee lights, in a four-centred head; perhaps as late as the 1530s. The north and east windows of the aisle suggest a mid-C15 construction date.

INTERIOR: An impressively spacious interior, entered through the tower which has a good C15 fan vault. The tall tower arch has two wave mouldings separated by a a deep curved hollow. Five-bay nave arcades, of the usual Somerset pattern - four hollows and four shafts, with capitals to the shafts only. The eastern arches are much broader, that on the north an original C15 feature no doubt to access a large north aisle chapel, that on the south altered to correspond in the C19. The north aisle east window has five lights with subreticulated tracery: its sill was dropped to floor level in 1883-4 and tracery added to form an open screen to the organ loft. Barrel vaults with tie-beams throughout, C19 or early C20.

PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: Oak pulpit dated 1633, the upper frieze with writhing mermaids and suns, two tiers of panels decorated with lozenges and separated by a band of scrolling foliage. Repaired and altered 1884. The octagonal stone font is `one of the most adorned of C15 fonts in the county' (Pevsner); this in a county abounding with them. The thick base is C19, and has a large foliated quatrefoil on each side. The bowl is straight, with on each face three standing figures under cusped arches. One face has instead a Crucifixion. Heavily over-restored in the mid-C19. Neo-Perpendicular south aisle screen by W.D. Caröe, 1925. Stained glass: exceptionally good east window in the style of Clayton & Bell, c. 1861-2. In the south chapel, some C18 armorial glass, reset here 1951. The south aisle has glass c. 1885-91, one signed Swaine Bourne, Birmingham. Highly coloured west window, perhaps also by Clayton & Bell. One notable black and white marble tablet with standing soldiers and military standards (to Col. Yea, d. 1855 at Sebastopol), by Thomas Gaffin of London. Minor early C19 tablets in the north aisle and chancel. The east end was cleared and carpeted in 1981, and the nave floor renewed and pews replaced by chairs, 2000-1, to suit an Evangelical worship style.

HISTORY: In existence by 1175-86, St James was associated with an Augustinian Priory just outside the medieval defences. It was enlarged in the C15, and again in the C19, when it was virtually rebuilt. It gained parish status in 1539. A medieval rood screen removed in 1812 is now in the County Museum, Taunton. Enlargements began c. 1836 with a plan for a gallery over the north aisle only. This was soon revised to include a wider south aisle also with a gallery, creating about 300 extra seats. Galleries removed, 1883. Richard Carver (c.1792 -1862), was an active local architect, as was J. Houghton Spencer (d.1914), who rebuilt the tower.

SOURCES: Faculties at Somerset Record Office Harvey, J, Somerset Perpendicular: The Church Towers and the Dating Evidence, (1984) Lambeth Palace Library, Incorporated Church Building Society (ICBS) Archive, ( file ref. 01227 Pevsner, N, Buildings of England: South and West Somerset, (1958)

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: St James Church, St James Street, Taunton, is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * The surviving C15 fabric forms an important element in the development of the Somerset Perpendicular style. The successive restorations and enlargements, although sufficient to prevent it gaining the highest designation grade, are in themselves indicators of changing liturgical needs * The handsome tower forms, with St Mary Magdalene tower, a fine dual landmark for the town, and shows Victorian concerns to replicate medieval fabric * The excellent quality of the fittings, most notably the pulpit, font, south chapel screen, and the fine east window


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This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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Date: 01 Oct 2006
Reference: IOE01/15881/34
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Michael Perry. Source Historic England Archive
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