History of our Churches
Background and History of All Saints’ and St James’ Churches
There is just one parish and one Anglican Vicar in Brightlingsea with two parish churches which serve a community of more than 8,000 people.
St James’ Church, which is set in the High Street in Brightlingsea is open throughout the day and is the centre for the majority of both Sunday and weekday worship. In recent years more use has been made of the building for school services, performances and concerts as it is the largest venue in the town with seating for up to 300. It has recently been upgraded with new disabled toilets, an office, a kitchen, new heating and lighting, a re-polished floor, new chairs and a re-vamped vestry.
St James’ Church is a Victorian grade 2 listed building in a conservation area in the centre of Brightlingsea. The main population of the town has always been where it is now: All Saints Church was built in Saxon times where it stands, a mile out of town, on the site of a Romano-British Mithraic Temple. This was common in Saxon times as a symbol of the new Christianity stamping out the old pagan religion. There was a clear need for a more convenient centre of worship. St James’ was consecrated by the Bishop of London in 1836 as a “Chapel of Ease”.
Built with Suffolk White bricks and topped with a roof of Welsh slate it was deemed to be cheaper to build than a similar sized chapel built in stone and provided “larger accommodation at less expense”. The galleries were added in 1866 due to increasing numbers in the congregation. The church is of Early English character and its (liturgically) western elevation is picturesque with the tower and Victorian Jubilee town clock.
With an ever-increasing population a new church was planned for land behind St James’ and a fund was set up for this in 1905. However, following the 1914-18 war the need for a larger centre of worship diminished as the congregation dwindled and with the depression interest in the re-building scheme waned. The remaining funds were then directed towards the new chancel and vestries. When work began in 1957 it was discovered St James’ was built on the site of a pond and the extension foundations were laid at a depth of sixteen feet below ground level to ensure a firm base. The work was completed and consecrated on October 11th 1958, 122 years to the day of the original consecration.
The recent modernisation and redecoration of the building has made it more accessible and to have provision for a variety of uses, whilst respecting its primary purpose as a place of worship.
St James is open daily from 8.00 a.m. until 2.00 p.m. and of course for advertised services outside these hours.. Coffee and tea are served on Wednesdays from 10.45 to 11.15 and Saturdays from 9.30 to 12.00. On the third Saturday of the month a full cooked English Breakfast is available at a very reasonable price.
All Saints’ Church is the older church. It is a grade 1 listed building dating back to the 12th century, though on the site of a much older Saxon church of which only one small arch remains. The tower is particularly splendid and visible for miles out to sea. It is set in a well-maintained six-acre churchyard. The church is well maintained and is the venue for the majority of weddings and funerals. A highlight of the year is the Christmas Tree Festival on the 2nd weekend of December. It is right on the borders of the parish and some distance from the majority of housing. It is featured in “England’s thousand best churches” by Simon Jenkins. This parish church is held in much affection by the townspeople and is used regularly for worship throughout the year.
All Saints’ is open from Mid-May to mid-September every afternoon from 2.50 to 4.30 – if someone wishes to visit at other times (Summer or Winter) they should telephone Janet Russell on 01206 305552 if possible at least two weeks beforehand.
Find out more about the history of All Saints by clicking on the links below.
Custodians at All Saints’ Church – The church will be open from mid-May onwards on each weekday afternoon except Saturdays. If you know of anyone who wishes to visit at other times, please let Janet Russell know on 305552.
A team of volunteers meets every Thursday morning at 10.00 until 12.30 (or when you’ve had enough) to mow and tend the churchyard – the 2nd largest in England. If you would like to join us it is great fun and you get coffee/tea and biscuits at half time! Contact Sheila Crow on 01206 30 65 74