Friday, 2 June 2017

111 St James' Church

111 St James’ Church
During the second half of the nineteenth century Swansea had a spate of building Anglican churches (as well as several nonconformist chapels).  Prior to 1867 the town centre had two Anglican churches - St Mary’s and Holy Trinity, in Alexandra Road where the Breast Clinic is now, with two more in the suburbs – in Sketty, St Paul’s, built by the Vivians, and in Cockett, St Peter’s.  As the St Mary’s congregation grew, so the need for another building became acute.
In 1863 James Walters of Penlan (now Oakleigh House School), after whom Walters Road was named (though it is often called Walter Road), offered a site for a church almost opposite St Mary’s vicarage, which then stood where the Belgrave Court flats are.  Walters Road was a residential rather than a commercial area, and a committee was formed of such prominent citizens such as banker Robert Eaton, John Crow Richardson of Pantygwydr, barque owner Charles Bath and James Walters.  A Hereford architect made a drawing of a proposed building costing around £2,500, with the option of a further £1,000 if a tower and spire were added over the south porch. 
With the efforts of Rev. Edward Squire the new church was built, and consecrated by the Bishop of St David’s 150 years ago, on 21 June 1867.  Over refreshments on the vicarage lawn opposite, the vicar of St Mary’s stated that the new church was “chiefly for the use of the more respectable parishioners”, though such an opinion stands at variance with Christ Jesus, who stated that he came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.  Rev. Squire did mention the needs of the “poorer brethren”, having plans to build in the Sandfields Christ Church, which opened five years later.
Even without a tower, St James’ did have one bell - from the Jesuit Cathedral in Santiago, which had been destroyed by fire in 1863.  Likewise All Saints, Oystermouth, had received three bells, which were returned to Chile in 2010. 
Finance, as was customary in those days, was augmented by pew rents, with the charges graded so that dearer pews had the best acoustics and the clearest view of the pulpit.  This system at least gave members of the congregation a vested interest in the church.
St James’ was not a separate parish, but a chapel-of-ease to St Mary’s, whose vicar and curates would take the services, until its own curate-in-charge was appointed from 1894.  It only became a separate parish in 1985, with a vicarage in Eaton Crescent.
In May 1905 the church hall was opened in the grounds.  The outside world did intrude – with memorials to trooper S.M. Evans, killed in South Africa during the Boer War in 1901, seaman Thomas James, lost at sea during the First World War, and churchwarden Lieut-Col. G.T. Gregor, killed in France in 1917.
During the Second World War aerial bombardment caused damage to St James’, but unlike St Mary’s, which was gutted in February 1941 during the intense “Three Nights Blitz”, the building remained in use.  With Holy Trinity Church also gutted, St James’ was used as Swansea’s parish church from 1941 until 1959, when the rebuilt St Mary’s was opened.  During the war the church hall was requisitioned by the ambulance service.
Bomb damage had caused the church glass to be replaced by plain glass, but in peacetime two stained glass windows designed by Gerald Smith were installed.  In 1954 the east window was installed with the theme from the Te Deum, “Thou art the King of glory, O Christ”, followed by the west window, which depicts the church as a ship carrying pilgrims to the holy city. 
In recent years the land around the church has been utilised sensitively with appropriate housing, so that as it celebrates its 150th anniversary St James’ stands in a residential area - as did St Mary’s prior to the 1941 bombardment.            

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