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Church of St. James, Trowbridge

Church of St. James, Trowbridge Date Photo Taken 1870s
Uploaded 11/10/2009 22:56:40
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Map Latitude 51.32140950593033 : Longitude -2.2074955701828003
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham

The first Saxon church in the town was probably a wooden one on higher ground overlooking the river and was replaced by the first stone church. This had a nave of 12 metres by 7 metres and a chancel 6 metres in width but of uncertain length as when excavated part of it lies under the present Salvation Army citadel. This church, of finely cut stone was probably built in the mid 10th century. When the 12th century castle was built the church was contained within it and several Norman tombstone from the graveyard have been found. Some are in Trowbridge Museum while one is in the porch of the present parish church.

The parish church of St. James was built outside the castle, around 1200, to serve to serve the growing town. The earlier church was demolished and the site levelled. This church was nearly as long as the present one and the dedication to St. James seems original as a fair, granted to the town in 1200, was to be held on the vigil, feast and morrow of St. James. Alterations and additions were made in the 14th century and these comprise most of the earliest work visible today. A spire was also added to the tower and John of Gaunt, the lord of the manor, may have rebuilt the chancel. Around 1450 the nave and chapels were demolished and the church rebuilt on grander lines in the contemporary Perpendicular style. This probably took 30 years and made the church much as we see it today. Only the tower, spire and chancel of the old church remained. The present Wyke Chapel was probably set aside for the Brotherhood of Corpus Christi (suppressed at the Reformation) who were in the church. In 1484 the wealthy clothier James Terumber put all his lands in trust to pay for a chantry priest; the chantry has not survived.

In the time of Elizabeth I the chancel was given an elaborate ribbed plaster ceiling and in 1540 John Leland described the church as 'lightsome and fair'. The 17th and 18th centuries saw much non- conformist activity in the town and the parish church suffered periods of neglect with many of the wealthier townspeople being Dissenters.This led to the building being in very bad condition by the mid 19th century with the spire out of the perpendicular and held together by iron bands, pieces of masonry falling off and with dangerous columns and arches.
The subsequent restoration was due to the energies of the Rev. J. D. Hastings and was completed in 1848. He also tidied up the churchyard and gave some of the land for the widening of Church (formerly Back) Street and the graveyard was closed in 1856. In the church itself there are only 18 monuments that pre-date the restoration. Between 1926 and 1930 battlements, pinnacles and the top of the spire were repaired while in 1953 the Duke (south) chapel was restored to its original purpose as a Lady Chapel.

In May 1986 the roof of the nave caught fire and there was substantial water and smoke damage. Restoration costs were £200,000. Worse happened on 25th January 1990 when, just after midday the town was hit by a strong gale that blew off the top of the spire, which fell through the previously undamaged part of the nave and ceiling. Fortunately no one was injured and the church was restored at a cost of £400,000. The best known rector was the poet George Crabbe, who was here from 1814 until his death in 1832. The parish registers, dating from 1539, are held in the Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office, apart from those in current use.

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