hough the church of St James is only just over one hundred and sixty years old, it takes the name of the patron saint of Dudley’s priory, a Cistercian foundation that stood in a wooden glade between the church and the castle. The priory was founded in 1155-60 by Gervase Pagnel, Lord of the Manor on behalf of Queen Maud. The priory was a cell of Wenlock Abbey in Shropshire and fragments of it survive today as does some mediaeval floor tiling. The ruins, in the grounds of Priory Hall, are now set about by houses of a modern estate. In 1282 the priory became the subject of Papal Arbitration when a very forceful Bishop of Worcester, William Cantilupe, claimed that both the castle and priory should be within his diocese. The pope eventually agreed to a compromise, the castle and priory going to Lichfield diocese and the town and its churches to Worcester. This odd state of affairs existed through the centuries until 1928 when the whole area became part of Worcestershire.
By the mid 19th century Dudley had become industrially important and its population had grown to such an extent that the two existing churches of St Thomas and St Edmund were inadequate to meet the increased demand. New churches were needed and thus 1840 saw the dedication (on the same day, 27 July) of two churches, St James at Eve Hill to serve the growing areas to the west of Dudley’s castle and St John at Kates Hill to serve the houses spreading up the hills east of Dudley. The Bishop of Worcester served the consecration ceremony. The two churches were looked on as sister churches and were both, at first, chapels-of-ease to St Thomas. In 1844 St James was created a parish in its own right with the vicar of St Thomas as patron.
A substantial building, St James Church is in the early English style and had room for a congregation of several hundred (reduced in recent years). Externally, the main feature is the west tower, a lofty structure with an embattled top and with a pair of singularly tall lancet windows in each wall of its upper storey. At each corner are graceful buttresses and, on the west wall, a handsome window.
The church, consisting (in addition to the tower) of nave, aisles and chancel, is internally handsome and, again a reproduction of the early English style. The nave roof rises above those of the aisles though the clerestory is quite small. The chancel roof is, however, considerably lower than that of the nave. Of handsome and spacious proportions the nave has slender arcading and a well formed chancel arch.
The church is fitted with galleries, a feature added in the 1869 restorations. Adjacent to the chancel arch is the extremely handsome pulpit which was given to the church in 1869. Of Caen stone it stands on a single pedestal and portrays, in a series of ornate niches, various saints and biblical figures.
At the west end of the church is the font. This was another gift to the church, having been presented in 1869 in memory of Captain Magens J.C. Browne by his father the Rev. James Caulfield Browne, D.C.C., Vicar of Dudley.
Notable in the chancel is the triple light East window. Its stained glass depicts St James and various incidents in the life of our Lord. The glass is in memory of John Roberts, a noted surgeon, who died in 1850. The window was presented by his widow.
The original organ which was built for the new church in 1840 by Messrs Gray & Davison was rebuilt in 1869 and again in 1880 by Messrs E.J.Bossward and Sons. It was placed on the south side of the chancel. The cost of repair and upkeep of the pipe organ became prohibitive, however, and an electronic instrument is now used being sited in the main body of the church, mimicking the sound quality of the pipe organ very closely.
The church cost £3500 to build on land given by the Earl of Dudley, then Lord Ward. The architect was William Bourne and the builder, John Holland. The money was raised partly by private subscriptions and partly by donations from the Worcester Society for erecting churches and from the Church Commissioners. The 1868-9 restorations/improvements cost £1770, the money being partly raised by Dudley’s first-ever bazaar which brought in £400.
That the design of St James was not unduly impressive is shown by this account which appeared in “Curiosities of Dudley”. It said:
“The two unpretending and unmeaning-looking district churches of St John and St James were consecrated in 1840, the architect of both being Mr William Bourne. The site and burial ground, in both cases, were given by that very liberal church patron, Lord Ward. Both these churches have within the last few years undergone considerable alterations and attempts at restoration to what a church ought to represent when finished and much of their former barn-like features have thereby been obliterated, much to the comfort and satisfaction of the worshippers attending thereat. These extensive restorations were defrayed by public subscriptions.”
St James church is now a Grade II listed building.