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

The Tower

The Early Tower

St James, with its prominent position on the edge of an escarpment affording excellent views to the south of the Thames and the channel, certainly had a stone tower as early as the sixteenth century. The Walker survey of 1585 shows the church with a stone tower and pointed spire, and is described as being an important navigational feature for mariners upon the river (it is thought that such alignment marks – another was at Hawksbury hilltop in Fobbing – were used to steer vessels through the various shoals and mudbanks in the channel) (Ref 24).
Walker Survey 1585
The original tower collapsed in June 1711 (see Historic Events) and was replaced with a wooden framed tower and spire in 1712. The new “Flimsy Carpenters Gothic” was timber framed with the “Bell-cote” on the Nave ridge where the original “Ring of Five”  bells (see Antiquities) were re-hung and was topped by a simple wooden spire. The wooden framework was plastered externally and crenellated (see picture left). Henry King (Ref 18) on his visit of 1758 states that: “the carpentry seems durable and good with upright timbers at the angles and curved braces and cross pieces.” It certainly had to be as this simple construction was to remain in place for the next 170 years and by the time of the Victorian replacement (1883) was obviously in a poor state of repair. The tower originally had a west door which was to disappear on the remodelling.
Benton’s plan of the tower prior to the 1883 refurbishment

The Modern West Tower

The wooden church tower and spire was replaced in 1883 by a new 55 feet high stone tower, built with a brick core and faced in flint to match the older parts of the church. The roof parapet is topped by distinctive double stepped merlons, with some simple flushwork decoration A Gargoyle drainage water pipe is positioned on the south of the tower, to allow drainage from the towers flat roof.
Funding for the church tower was supplied by George R. Burness, the main land owner in West Tilbury at that time and was thought to have cost in the region of £1,000. At the base of the tower, below the west window, is a plaque dedicating the building of the tower to George’s father, James Burness
The new tower consists of three main stages, the lower stage having a three light west window, in place of the original west door (see page xx) with an additional narrow lancet window on the north wall. The middle stage has similar small lancet windows (two on the north wall with one each to the west and south) and contains the new turret clock mechanism (made by John Moore & Sons - see page xxx) with a the clock face to the North.
The Clock Face on the North Wall of the tower showing the twin lancet windows openings
The uppermost stage is slightly set back from the second stage and creates an internal bell room 12 feet square. The towers angled buttresses terminate below the 3rd stage, which has distinctive octagonal turrets at the angles. The four bell openings (one on each face of the tower) are made up of paired ogee-headed lights, with glass louvres, and are embellished with a single pointed quatrefoil for tracery. The original “ring-of-five” bells (see page xxx) having been re- hung in this new brick-lined belfry
The four octagonal turrets at the corners of the tower’s third stage. The four twin light windows in the Bell Room with glass louvres
A semi-octagonal spiral staircase leads from the base of the tower up 39 stone steps to the clock room with access to the bell room and leaded roof by means of a series of ladders and trap doors. Lighting for the staircase is supplied by three lancet windows, similar in design to those found in the towers second stage.