The history of the church in Nayland takes us back over at least six centuries. There is a document signed at Nayland in 1303 in which Edward I proclaims the independence of his "King's Free-Chapel of Nayland" from any jurisdiction by the Bishop of Norwich. In 1333 Nayland was a chapel of ease to Stoke-by-Nayland, but it was not until the end of the 14th century that the flourishing wool and cloth trades brought importance and prosperity. It was around 1400 that the present church was built. During the 14th and 15th centuries there are many records of Nayland clothiers giving money and property to the church. Upheaval was created at the time of Henry VIII. The churchwardens in 1548, hearing that ecclesiastical visitation was to take place with the objective of removing "Popish" images and plate from the churches, converted the goods into money investing it in property. The Act of Uniformity under Elizabeth I appointed Commissioners for, "reforming and repressing all religious heresies and schisms". The sum of two shillings was paid for pulling down the rood loft and a further shilling for destroying the altar.
During the Civil War (1642-1658) St James's Church fell into the hands of the Parliamentarians and a record of 1643 states,
"Nayland Suffolk: We broke down 30 superstitious pictures [this probably included stained glass] and gave orders for taking down a cross from the steeple."
During this period engraved brasses were torn from gravestones, the indentations in the stone work can be clearly seen. These were difficult times but gradually, towards the beginning of the 18th century the importance of the "religious question" subsided.
Nayland was still a chapel of ease for the benefit of older members of the parish and it was not until 1747 that the first step towards ecclesiastical independence from Stoke-by-Nayland was established. In that year, during the ministry of the Rev. John White, the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty granted the sum of £400 to be laid in the purchase of lands for the "Perpetual Curacy of Nayland". In 1869 the title of the incumbent of St James's changed from "Perpetual Curate" to "Vicar". When the Rev. J. Hunnybun became the first to be called "Vicar of Nayland". Since that time there have been thirteen vicars serving at St James; their names are displayed on a board in the south aisle.
Mention must be made here of the Rev. William Jones, Curate of St. James from 1777 to 1800. An eminent author and musician, writer of "The Catholic Doctrine of the Trinity proved from Scripture"; and composer of "St Stephen" the well known hymn-tune still in use today. A prominent high-Anglican churchman of the day, the Rev. Jones was altogether an outstanding country parson instrumental in erecting the church organ and developing the choir.
St James's Church has played a central rôle in the life of the village over the years and continues to do so today.
Written by R. B. Evans, 1990. Revised by J. D Weston, 2003.
We hope that this brief tour will encourage you to visit our church and ask you to thank God for all His love and goodness and to pray for all those who have worshipped here over the centuries.
"We adore thee O Christ, and we bless Thee, both here and in all Thy Churches because by Thy Cross and Passion Thou has redeemed the world."
Prayer by St Francis of Assisi on entering a church.