History of St James' the Great, Harvington

 

The Grade I-listed parish church is dedicated to St James the Great, one of the twelve apostles. Together with his brother John, James was one of the first disciples to join Jesus. He is also traditionally believed to be the first apostle martyred for his faith. One of the sons of Zebedee, James is known as "James the Great" (or "James the Greater") to distinguish him from another of the disciples, James, son of Alphaeus.

St James' is one of the churches within the ARCH Benefice that contains examples of stained glass by the Victorian architect Frederick Preedy, and is included in the Evesham Preedy trail. The church is also known in the surrounding area for its unusual, and very distinctive, green spire.

Click here to see information about the parish registers.

Images of St James the Great, Harvington

The earliest portions of the current building date from the 12th century, but the west wall of the nave shows clear traces of a very high, narrow nave which may indicate the existence of an earlier stone-built Saxon church. The tower and its doorway into the nave are the only remnants of the 12th century building that can be seen today.

During the 14th century the church was rebuilt and enlarged: the width of the nave was increased and windows were inserted in the nave and chancel. In 1855 a major restoration took place, at a cost of about £1,750 (worth more than £100,000 today) during which, amongst other work, the church was re-roofed and the 14th century East window was replaced with one designed by Frederick Preedy. The East window and two of the nave windows were restored in 2008.

The bells and Valentine Abill

An inventory of church property taken in 1552 includes "iii [3] bells in the steple". Little is known about these bells, but in 1854 the tower contained three bells bearing the following inscriptions:

  1. JESUS BE OUR SPED 1625
  2. SOLI GLORIA PAX HOMINIBUS
    JOHN BALBROCK VALENTINE ABILL CW
    (probably cast around 1650)
  3. JOHN RUDHALL GLOUCESTER FECIT 1805

Could the Valentine Abill, churchwarden, commemorated on the 2nd bell, be the same Valentine Abele or Abell of Harvington who, according to documents at the Worcestershire Records Office, appeared before the magistrate Sir John Rous in 1634 and again in 1640 to vouch for fellow villagers, and who died in the summer of 1683 and was "buried in wool" as the law demanded?

Restoration work

As part of the work in 1855 the spire was added, the clock was installed and the bells were replaced by a new peal of six "rung by machinery". Initially the spire was clad in oak shingles; in 1947 these were replaced with copper sheeting, which has weathered to give the spire its current, distinctive appearance. At the same time the six bells were recast by John Taylor and Co. of Loughborough but on their restoration to the tower they were still hung "dead" and rung by a chiming mechanism. In 1998 a new bell frame was installed and the bells re-hung for full-circle ringing in time for the Millenium.

Church quiz

Click here to open a copy of the church quiz (opens in a new tab). To view the quiz you will need a copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader - follow this link to download a copy of Acrobat Reader.