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Church of St. James, Stert

Church of St. James, Stert Date Photo Taken 2014
Uploaded 25/02/2015 15:40:12
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Map Latitude 51.33368515887937 : Longitude -1.95881187915802
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Original Media Location: Ben Skinner

Memorial to John Gale (d. 1824) of Stert Farm.

The church of St. James is built on the highest point of the small parish of Stert. Although what currently stands, there has been a place of worship at the same location for at least 750 years.

Originally, a chapel, mentioned in c.1232, was on the site of the church, granted by Reverend John de Brokensford, the rector of Urchfont, to support a vicar serving Urchfont church. Evidence shows that ever since, the church has remained a chapelry of Urchfont ever since and the rector was required to appoint a chaplain to serve Stert. Until the 16th century, it is known that due to the reformation, King Henry VIII ensured that any donations given to the church at that time went towards the conflict against Turkey. This affected this church in particular along with many others in the country.

It is believed that some time during the 17th century, there may have been a serious fire as it is recording that during one of the visitations from the Vicar of Salisbury, it was stated that the north side of the church is 'out of repair'. This is about the same time that the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer was written into the walls of the church for the congregation after the approval of the Chancellor of Devizes. Although these were written by the Vicar before the current St. James's Church was built, they are still intact in the present church. Any collected money from villagers at that time was believed to be paid out one penny at a time for anyone who could kill the sparrows who were apparently infesting the church roof.

In the early 19th century the church was in a dilapidated condition and needed repairs; it had inadequate seating for the size of the parish, being only 24 feet by 22 feet. It is possible that it was also damaged in a fire that affected the nearby manor house in 1845. It was decided that instead of extending the church, it was easier to demolish most of the church and build anew. The London based architect J.H. Hakewill was appointed for the work. After initial excavations, it was revealed that the original church in fact had Norman origins when underneath the old octagonal font an ancient shaft, with Norman mouldings at the base, supporting a shallow bowl was found. Unfortunately it was said to be in too dilapidated a state to be restored and a new font, in the late Norman style, was made by the curate, the Rev. J.F. Stuart.

The north aisle of the church was retained; this was in a mixture of Decorated and Perpendicular architecture, which is likely to have been the case in the rest of the old church, with perhaps some earlier work extant in places. The new nave and chancel were in the Decorated style with the nave extending a further eight and a half feet to the wet of the original nave. The provided an extra 50 seats and on Census Sunday in 1851 the service was attended by 104 people. It is estimated that the church cost approximately £170 to build. The parish registers, other than those in current use, from 1580 (with a few gaps in the mid 17th century) are held in the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre at Chippenham. The church is now used for services and for various religious and non-religious meetings and discussions.

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