A Brief History of St James's Church

The FONT Just inside the north door and to the right stands the stone font that is either of 19th century origin or has been totally re-carved. The panels beneath the bowl are deeply carved with evangelistic symbols set within rays of light, together with two shields and two large chalices. The 1940s oak-cover is in memory of Canon Clift and made by R. Y. Gooden with flat gabled segments and a central finial.

THE 'KEMPE TOWER' AND WEST WINDOW is found behind the font; its mellow colours (circa 1908) depict the figures of the Blessed Virgin, St. John and St. Luke accompanied by six small angels holding the background drapery aloft on ribbons. Tower’s symbols of a wheat sheaf and a castle can be seen low down on the left-hand-side.

THE ORGAN is accommodated in the plain but stylish 18th century gallery at the west end of the church. Beneath the gallery can be seen remnants of the 16th century rood screen with its three wide lights blanked-off. Installed at the time of the Rev. William Jones, the organ is noteworthy as it was built by Samuel Green of Isleworth, London, organ maker to George III. Many of the organ-pipes are of great historical significance having come originally from Canterbury Cathedral. In 1865 the organ was cleaned and restored by Henry Jones & Son, Brompton. Some 30 years later it was moved to the present St. Francis chapel in the north aisle returning to its original location in 1968 when it was dismantled and re-built by Cedric Arnold, organ-builders, Thaxted. Over the years finding suitable organists has been difficult as may be seen in a vestry minute (April 17th 1863). “Mr. Atkins appointed (organist) and to receive lessons.” Today, St James's Church is fortunate in having three qualified and distinguished organists who share the services of this busy church.

BENEATH THE ORGAN LOFT at the west-end of the main aisle there stands a plaque:

This vault was made at the Expenfe of SAMUEL ALSTON of this parifh Attorney at Law For the Ufage of his family

The Alstons lived in Alston Court, the large late 13th century mediaeval house in Court Street. The family also enjoyed the facility of a private pew. The vault, situated near the southwest porch, was bricked-up in the 20th century.

THE CENTRE AISLE Standing here one can see the full effect of the beautiful interior, wide and open with simple, elegant piers in a six-bay arcade. The Perpendicular shafts rise above them dividing the clerestory into pairs, this 'wall-of-glass' effect continuing over the chancel. The roof of the nave is almost flat and alternate tie-beams are braced with carved spandrels. There are centre bosses and one of these, to the west of the pulpit is the head of a‘Green Man’. There is also another ‘Green Man’ in the southwest porch – a stone carving thought to be 19th century. On the pillar on the south side and to the east of the pulpit is this plaque marking the position of the rood-screen separating the nave from the chancel.

THE NORTH AISLE Here can be found the Chapel of St. Francis, created in 1968 when the organ was moved back to its present position. Most of the gifts here have been given in memory of and are by Donald Simpson, the Suffolk wood carver. The Jacobean altar was ‘rescued’ from misuse and all the pieces follow the style of Franciscan simplicity. The figure of St. Francis is from Assisi in Italy. The east wall of the aisle has a high-level window and the recessed ledge behind this altar was probably fitted with a retable - a frame enclosing painted or decorated panels. To the right is the 14th century piscina or stone basin found in pre-Reformation churches used for draining water used in the Mass. The roll moulding to the arch with the curious recess above may have been used as an alternative credence shelf.

THE SOUTH AISLE at the eastern end houses the Lady Chapel. Close to the Lady Altar are eight painted panels from the old rood screen. These are (from left to right) St. Cuthbert with the head of St. Oswald, St. Edward the Confessor – the best preserved shown with the ring supposedly given to St. John disguised as a beggar – a king who may be the Emperor Charlemagne, another unidentified king and an archbishop thought to be St. Thomas of Canterbury. Nearby is the door to the rood loft stairs and from the position of its upper opening you can see that the loft spanned the whole of the church. In the south aisle there is a wooden plaque with the names of the Vicars of Nayland from 1204 to the present day.

STATIONS OF THE CROSS along both the north and south aisles were added in 1987. Sculpted by Bette Curtis – a church member – they were commissioned in memory of Dr. Cloudsley-Smith.

THE CHANCEL AND THE ALTAR Behind the altar set in the centre of an 18th century reredos is a painting of Christ by Constable. The east window is believed to have been designed and painted by George Mayer (1822-1884) and erected by Tomas Baillie & Co., London. To the right of the altar is a heavily cupped piscina. On the opposite side four steps lead up to the vestry door. Note the headstops on the hood mould boast luxuriant moustaches! Further along a tabernacle for the Blessed Sacraments is set within what was originally a ‘squint’ proving that the vestry beyond was once a chapel.

PAINTING OF CHRIST BY JOHN CONSTABLE "Christ Blessing the Bread and Wine of the Last Supper" a rare portrait of Christ commissioned in 1809 by John Constable's aunt who at that time was living in Nayland. The painting was stolen in 1985 but was swiftly recovered and has since been enclosed behind glass with a special security system. Two further paintings of Christ by Constable hung in All Saints' Church, Feering, Essex and in the parish church, Brantham, near Flatford Mill, Suffolk. “The Ascension” can be seen at St. Mary's, Dedham.

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