St James 
West Tilbury, Essex    
© Nigel Anderson - St James Trust

19th Century

Church Restoration (1879 - 83)

A complete reconstruction of the church was carried out during 1879 which was funded by public subscription. The new building afforded 150 seats (Ref 25).  The reconstruction was carried out in two stages with the building of a new stone tower at the west end not being completed until 1883.
Early postcard image c.1910
From the time of the English Reformation onwards, apart from necessary repairs so that buildings might remain in use and the addition of occasional internal commemorative adornments, English churches underwent little building work and only piecemeal restoration. This situation lasted for about 250 years with the fabric of many churches and cathedrals suffering from neglect. St James was no different and even the rebuilding work of 1712 appeared to have been “….. accomplished in the meanest and most parsimonious manner” On visiting the church in 1857, Henry King is scathing as to the state of the church building and the restoration work that had been carried out (Ref 18) : “What a mean and contemptible edifice do we behold. Utterly unworthy to occupy the spot where stood the church of Cedd, Saint and Bishop” In 1871 Reverend William Palin adds a similar description (Ref 19) : “But a more dismal and unmeaning church it is hard to conceive….”
The Victorian Era (marked by increased prosperity and wealth created by the industrial revolution and the growth of the British Empire) saw a widespread and extensive refurbishment and rebuilding of Church of England churches during the nineteenth century. St James also benefited over this period, as the Orsett Deanery rebuilt the edifices of almost every parish church during the late part of the nineteenth century. The work and raising of the funds were left to the Rector James Bonamy Dobree (1871 – 1918).
 The Modern Church before deconsecration c.1979
On 1 March 1879, the Church Committee (made up of the Rector – Dobree and two church wardens – Joseph James and Henry Cole) petitioned the Bishop of St Albans (Ref 22) for a faculty to complete the following works: Strip the Roof Remove the gallery (erected for the use of soldiers at West Tilbury Fort) Remove all present internal fittings New pitch pine (or deal) benches in the nave New oak benches in the chancel New pulpit, reading desk, communion table and rails Remove present porch and wall to the west Rebuild wall in line with north wall Replaster the walls within Repoint the exterior The cost of the work was estimated at £1,000 of which £900 had already been paid by subscriptions. The remainder was to be raised in the same manner or from Diocese grants. The Faculty was granted a week later on 7 March 1879 (Ref 22).   William Benton (14 York Buildings, Adelphi, London) was appointed as the architect and a letter from him dated April 1879 gave a detailed brief as to the works to be carried out. In addition to the works detailed in the Faculty it was also intended to: Build a new chancel arch Present windows will be removed and reinstated with new Bath Stone jambs and mullions. Windows to be glassed           with Cathedral Glass New buttresses (as shown on plans) New flooring under the seats and new tile paving to the whole of the church Tower to be repaired and strengthened with the external parts above the roof covered with new oak feather           edged weather boarding Lightening conductor will be provided to the tower Stove heating system and chimney installed.
Architect William Bentonís Plans for the Chancel (1879)
The chancel plans above show the new works (coloured red), with two new buttresses to support the new chancel arch and the replacement of the window openings with new Bath Stone. Of interest is the fact that the current south east window (next to the piscine) remains blocked and is shown in the plans as a Sedilia (three seats to the south of the chancel used by the priests). Plans drawn up (see below) before the construction of the tower show the window in place, and this must have been a change made during the refurbishment.
Architect William Benton’s Plans for the Nave (1879)
The plans for the nave show the new north wall, built in line with the existing nave wall. This change appears not to have been made as the later plans again show the wall remaining in line with the porch creating the vestry space. The plans do show the new pulpit, font, and organ. The new heating system (stove) is now shown positioned at the back of the nave.
The initial renovation plan by William Benton in 1879 prior to the building of the stone tower in 1883
The first stage of the refurbishment was completed by the contractor Mr Middleton (of Gravesend) in early 1880 and the church was re-opened at a service held on Thursday 15 April 1880. The work had cost slightly above £1,200 (of which £1,129 had already been subscribed much of it by the Burgess family).
Church Plans after refurbishment but prior to the New Stone Tower (1880)
There was also a change to the chancel arch (the arch dividing the chancel at the east end of the church, from the nave) at this stage of the refurbishment. The simple rounded arch (as seen in the water colour picture – see page xxx) being replaced by a more elaborately moulded affair supported by two new stone columns and in a more traditionally Gothic (pointed) style, which was common during the Victorian restoration period. The introduction of the two supporting columns had the effect of reducing the width of the chance arch by some 4 feet.
Two more modern views c.1979 with the  modern  electric lighting and new organ.    Notice that t he original heating stove ha s  been removed .     Inside (facing east towards the chanc el) c.1930 showing the early   gas lamps prior to installation of the later electric lighting