Wednesday, August 05, 2020


The Apostle Saint James

The church is dedicated to the apostle St James, known as 'the Great', although the dedication in the fourteenth century seems to have been jointly with his brother St John. The first known mention of the church was in a will dated around 1100.

According to tradition, St James preached the Gospel in Spain and, following his martyrdom in the year 44, his body was taken to Santiago de Compostella in the northwest of the country, where it remained undiscovered for almost 800 years. The cathedral built to house his remains was second only to Rome as a place of pilgrimage, and the scallop shell which pilgrims took home became the emblem of the saint and can be seen throughout this church.

The church building

The name of the church is derived from the word 'hythe', a Saxon word for a landing place or jetty. The stretch of river close by St James' was London's most important hythe since Saxon, or possibly Roman, times. Garlic, a vital preservative and medicine in the Middle Ages, was unloaded here and probably traded on Garlick Hill, where the church now stands.

St James Garlickhythe church, which possibly dates back to the late Saxon period, stands in the Ward of Vintry. It was rebuilt in the fourteenth century by Richard de Rothing and his son John, both Vintners. A religious guild for men and women, from which the Joiners' Company traces its origin, was founded in 1375, and a number of chantries were established. Priests serving these were provided with quarters which came to be known as 'St James Commons'. Six mediæval mayors buried in St James's are commemorated by plaques on the north wall of the Church.

After the Great Fire of 1666, Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt the Church at a cost of £5,357 .10s/ 10½d. The foundation stone was laid in 1676 and the re-opening took place on 10 December 1682, although the tower was not completed until 1717.

The exterior of the church is deceptively simple, however the steeple is one of the City’s most beautiful and ornate. It has a belfry storey with louvre windows, a pierced parapet with urns and the spire proper is an elaborate three stage lantern with diagonally projecting columns. The spire on top of the West tower is entirely characteristic of Wren's work. The baroque influence can be seen once again here, where complex details are used in ascending tiers which diminish in cross section approaching the top. This is said to resemble an ornate wedding cake, an image emphasised by the pure whiteness of the Portland stone, brought by sea from Weymouth in Dorset.

St James Garlickhythe suffered less than most City churches during World War II. A 500 lb bomb buried itself in the south-east corner, fortunately without exploding, and the loss of the Victorian stained glass was, perhaps, a blessing in disguise. In 1954, however, minor repairs led to the discovery of death-watch beetle in the roof timbers, and the Church was closed until 1963.

The tower clock surmounted by a figure of St James, destroyed by bombing on 11 January 1941, was restored in 1988, largely through the generosity of the Vintners' Livery Company. They are one of the ten Livery Companies who use the Church regularly and who have contributed greatly to its restoration and maintenance.

Within the Church

The gallery with its handsome double staircase was added to accommodate the organ, which was installed in 1718 by Johann Knoppell, though it is believed to have been originally built by Bernhard Schmidt known as 'Father Smith'.

Apart from St Paul's, the forty foot high ceiling is the highest in the City and Wren was so successful at introducing natural light into the church that it became known as 'Wren's Lantern'. In the early nineteenth century, the great east window was found to be causing a structural weakness and was replaced in 1815 by a painting of the Ascension by Andrew Geddes, ARA. This was given to the Church by the Revd Dr Thomas Burnet, then assistant curate, who was to spend his entire ministry in the Parish. The present frame is a gift of the Joiners and Ceilers Company.


St James's is unusual among City churches in having a structurally separate chancel, which was enlarged in 1876 to take the pulpit, with its wig peg, and the choirstalls, which came from St Michael Queenhithe. The finely carved and painted Stuart coat of arms on the south wall is also from St Michael's, while St James' Georgian arms are displayed on the north wall.

The original woodwork includes the altar table carved with doves, the font cover and the churchwardens' pews at the west end. The font is of marble with carved cherubs' heads.  

The original ironwork includes the mayoral swordrest with lion and unicorn supporters on the south side. Those on the north side are from St Michael Queenhithe, as are the hatchments - two royal on silk, commemorating King George III and Princess Charlotte Augusta, daughter of King George IV, and two private on canvas.

The Church's collection of Plate is also notable and includes two rare Edward VI Chalices: of 1549 (the year the Book of Common Prayer was first presented to him) and of 1552; as well as a 1575 Chalice and Paten of All Hallows the Great. A dozen other pieces survived the Great Fire, including a 1639 Chalice of St Michael Queenhithe inscribed "ex dono Leonardi Hamond. For a Fine not Sarvin Churchwarden". There are also two loving cups, from St Michael Queenhithe and St Martin Vintry, and the City's only silver font bowl for private Baptisms.

Rectors of St James Garlickhythe since the 13th century.

Our church records list 66 Rectors up to and including the present day.

The first was a Peter del Gannock - 13th August in the year 1259.

 In the 16th century one Rector had two aliases in addition to his accepted name!

Seven Rectors then spanned the 20th century, namely:

1893 Henry D. Macnamara

1914 B. Saunders Lloyd, BA

1923 E.T.R. Johnston, MA

1939 Maurice F. Foxwell, MA

1964 Roy McKay, MA

1971 Donald W. C. Mossman, OBE

1986 John Paul, BA Th.L

2001 Dr Alan Griffin MA.

2011- 2015 Revd Guy Treweek

2017 - ? The Revd Fr Tim Handley SSC

Recent History

In 1991, a bizarre accident with the counterweight of a crane on a nearby building site left the rose window in the south transept smashed, the chandelier in fragments and the congregational pews reduced to matchwood. In the restoration, the fragments of Victorian stained glass in the rose window were replaced by plain glass; the chandelier, given to the Church in 1967 by the Glass Sellers' Company, was restored from the original drawings and, once again donated by the Glass Sellers' Company. The pews, originally in deal, were rebuilt in oak to match the choir stalls.