St James' Church: a short historical note

Drawing of proposed Church of St James, late 1830s
Copyright Gloucestershire Archives

By 1840 Gloucester was experiencing a rapid expansion.  This reflected the impact of the Gloucester and Berkeley Canal and the development of rail links across the country.  The opportunity to transport and receive a wide range of goods encouraged the City’s development as an important industrial centre.  The 1851 census shows over 5,600 men and 2,800 women employed in trades in the City.

This workforce required homes and facilities to support it.  Pictures of Barton Street in the early 19th Century give the impression of a village street.  But from the mid-1830s both Barton Street and the area around it were quickly developed, largely with 2-storied terraced housing for the working class.  Conditions were fairly grim, with basic requirements such as adequate sanitation initially lacking.

It was recognised that this developing community needed a church to provide its spiritual care.  Work on St James’ Church in Upton Street started in 1837, and it was consecrated in 1841.  The Barton and Tredworth website ( displays maps from 1842 of the area that the parish originally covered.  Both these maps and this drawing of the proposed Church, by architect Sampson Kempthorne, are held at Gloucestershire Archives.  The Archives’ reference number for the drawing is P154/8/SP2, and accompanying it are plans showing the proposed layout of the Church.  St James’ was basically constructed to the design of the plans, although developments and alterations have occurred since.  For instance, the pews, which are shown in the plans, were removed some years ago and replaced by portable chairs.  St James’ Church has been active within its community ever since its opening, and the portable chairs allow flexibility to create a larger open space within the Church.

The Church has always had a close relationship with its community, and this comes across clearly in the memories of local residents.  Joyce recalls first attending the Church: “We stayed because it was very friendly; the atmosphere was good.  I was there for a month and [was ill and received] a card from St James’ wishing me get well soon and I thought ‘This is great!’ “.  Hazel says “I can’t remember when I didn’t go to St James.  I go to meet my friends.  Recently we’ve had a lady who did some training with us from Czechoslovakia and it was wonderful to hear how she worships [there].  We have been so privileged to know so many people”.

These and other memories are now being collected as part of a Heritage Lottery funded project led by the Vicar and PCC in partnership with Gloucestershire Archives.  You can find out more about the project, the Church and its relationship with the parish School of St James by attending a Memory Fair at the Church in Upton Street today between 1pm and 3pm.  All are welcome and there is no charge for admission.  Alternatively, if you’d be interested in sharing memories of the Church, the School, or the Barton and Tredworth area, then please contact the project co-ordinator Huw Thomas ( or (01452) 528546). 

 You can click on the image to see a larger version of it.

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