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Featured Church -The Church and Parish of St James, Clacton 1907-2007

The Church and Parish of St James, Clacton 1907-2007The development of Clacton as the seaside town we know today started around 1871, thanks to an entrepreneur called Peter Bruff. Mr Bruff was the chief engineer of the Colchester to Walton railway and had engineering interests along the Essex coast.  With the fashion for taking a sea side holiday coming into vogue, Mr Bruff could see the potential for Clacton’s sandy coastline.  Before 1870, much of what is now central Clacton, around Station and Rosemary Roads, was Sea Side House Farm held in trust by Mr and Mrs William Watson. With the death of Mr Watson in 1864, the trust expired and Mr Bruff bought the land in order to realise his dream.

He applied to Parliament to extend his railway into Clacton, with a station 50 yards from the sea and to build a pier for paddle steamers. Parliament granted his request in 1866, with the permission to last five years. With his capital tied up elsewhere four of the five years passed until he was able to build the pier. However, on 18th July, 1871, the steamer Queen of the Orwell called at Clacton Pier for the first time on her way to Ipswich.  As a result, central Clacton developed with a street plan drawn up by Peter Bruff and by the mid 1880s Clacton was a busy seaside resort.

The Royal Hotel appeared in 1872, the Public Hall in Pier Avenue in 1877, and inevitably shops and housing spread out from here. The Church of St John, Great Clacton, was too far away for easy access, so on 2nd October, 1874, the foundation stone for St Paul was laid by Mr J. H. Round, MP, who donated the land. With the rapid expansion of the town to the West, St Paul’s Church was in the centre of the parish but not in the centre of the town, and it was felt that yet another church was needed for Clacton. The Bishop of St Albans was not in favour of this because, although a staggering 327,451 visitors had paid to go on the Pier in one year, the town had fewer than 4000 permanent residents.

The Church and Parish of St James, Clacton 1907-2007Eventually the decision was taken to form a second parish and, on 12th July, 1907, by decree of King Edward VII, the new parish of St James, Clacton came into being.
A new temporary church was already being built of wood and iron and on the 25th July, 1907, it was dedicated by the Bishop of Colchester, the Right Reverend Henry Frank Johnson. It was an impressive building, costing £1500 to erect and seating 8000 worshippers in its naves and side aisles.

Very soon it was evident that a larger, permanent building would be needed and in December, 1911, the eminent architect Temple Lushington Moore was asked to submit designs for the new church, which were quickly accepted. Moore had become a nationally respected architect, having had the future Sir Gilbert Scott articled to him in 1899 for three years. On the 7th August, 1912, work on the present church was started.

Geoffrey Brandwood, in his book ‘Temple Moore’ says of St James, the building has a monumental quality which depends on height, utter simplicity of detail and fine, bold proportions.  Outside it is a spacious essentially perpendicular fragment; inside its character changes totally to something more likely in the year 1150.

The Church and Parish of St James, Clacton 1907-2007The chancel is asymmetrical, on the north side there are three pointed arches to the aisle, and above, a separate tier of six pointed arches for a triforium. However, on the south side the arches are round, with three aisle arches below and three triforium arches above, the three pairs forming super-arches. All the internal arches have red bricks set voussoir-wise in their heads which makes a profound difference to their appearance.

The church was never completed. There should have been two more bays and a low tower with the main doors at the west end. If you look carefully you can see that the inside back wall and two pillars are actually brick covered with boarding, ready to carry on building when the time is right.

The centre nave gives a wonderful view of the chancel and reredos. There are fifteen steps up to the altar placing it in a grand position, lit from above by the large windows left and right. This light falling on the roughly hewn white stone of the arches reflects and lights up the whole space.

The north aisle has brick walls with stone cladding higher up. Along the top of the brick wall and hidden from view are large heating pipes. Temple Moore did not want any heating to be visible. The hot air rose and kept the roof warm while the congregation remained cold! Later on ‘hospital’ radiators were installed in the chancel and modern ones at the back.

St James Clacton is striking from both inside and out, and there are many events during July 2007 to commemorate the 100 years of St James Parish and the church.

Friday 13th – A Flower Festival

Saturday 14th – The Chelmsford Male Voice Choir.

Thursday 19th  - ‘St James Church and its Architect Temple Moore’, a talk by Jo Ellis.

Full details can be obtained from: Dr R. Farrow, 01255 421149,