Created By: Cheltenham Local History Society
St James' Church was built in 1825-30 on the proprietary system, whereby funds were raised by selling shares. Each shareholder (or ‘proprietor’) received pews in the church according to their shareholding and could rent these out to other residents or visitors to the town.
Built largely of limestone, the architectural style is ‘Regency Gothic’ and, apart from some external pinnacles, it has a restraint and simplicity in ornamentation in contrast to many later Victorian churches. The site was donated by James Fisher, the developer of Suffolk Square, and the architect was Edward Jenkins, a local man.
The foundation stone was laid in November 1825 during an economic boom but this was followed in December by a financial crisis, which led to the collapse of two of the largest banks in Cheltenham. The difficulty in finding subscribers for the project - and concerns about the load-bearing strength of the columns supporting the gallery - caused delays in the work. Jenkins was eventually replaced by J.B. Papworth, a London architect, who included cast iron pillars to support the roof.
The church was completed in 1829 but not consecrated until October 1830 due to a dispute between Reverend Bonner, the first Minister, and the proprietors over the number of pews he had been allocated. The church was successful however and by 1840 the congregation was described as “the most affluent and fashionable of any in Cheltenham”.
St James’ finally closed as a place of worship in 1976 and became St Philip & St James’ parish hall. In about 2004 it was sold by the Church and converted into a branch of the restaurant chain Zizzi.
Walk south along Suffolk Parade until you come to The Daffodil on the left.
This point of interest is part of the tour: A Walk on the South Side - from Cheltenham to The Suffolks