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

The Church

Early History

In the early medieval period the extensive Saxon estate of Tilbury had already been divided into two parishes (East and West) separated by the tidal creek of Low Street. The date of the initial construction of the church of St James is unknown, although it must have been present before 1202 AD. Situated northeast of the Norman timber-built West Tilbury Hall and within the Saxon defensive ditch of Tiliberia, the church was dedicated to the Roman Martyr St James the Great, son of Zebedee.
Map showing position of St James circa 1777 SEAX Survey of 1584 showing St James positioned to the east of West Tilbury Hall  Initially successive manor Lords had been patron of their own church, appointing clergy to the gift of the parsonage house and the profits of their “Glebe” lands.   By 1279 however the patronage had been taken into royal hands with all future parsons being appointees of the Crown (the first recorded incumbent being William de Hareworth).   The parish remained in the Diocese of London until 1846, when it was transferred to the See of Rochester (in the Archdeaconry of Essex).

The Early Church

Little is known regarding the look of the church prior to 1700, but essentially St James seems to be of Norman design with a nave and chancel, made up of Grey Kentish Rag and dressed with local gravel flints. The original church had been much extended during the fourteenth century and certainly had a stone tower and spire on the west end (Ref 16 & 17), which due to its prominent position overlooking the Thames, was used as a vital navigation aid on the busy river link to London around this time.
West Tilbury is best known for the visit of Queen Elizabeth I and the famous Armada speech in 1588 (see Historic Events). The church tower, being the most prominent building in the surrounding area with views over much of the estuary, would certainly have been used as a signalling point for the defences. Much damage appears to have been done by the troops over this period with both stone walls and wooden benches destroyed.
In the late spring of 1648 the church was again desecrated by Fairfax’s troops on their famous march to Colchester (see Historic Events) and it is thought that many of the original fixtures and fittings of the church may have been destroyed at this time. The Great Storm of 1703 (see Historic Events) ravaged much of the south east of England and with its lofty position at the top of the escarpment over looking the Thames, it is probable that St James suffered similar damage as that recorded to other buildings in the area. It is probable that water had percolated into the rubble fillings of the walls and due to neglect over the years following the great tempest, this may well have been the precursor to the collapse of the tower and north wall. Certainly few local churches stood so exposed to the gale force winds as St James. 
St James and the village of West Tilbury (1950)