Religion > Churches, Mosques, and Temples

Grain, St James


A copy of the said view by Petrie c.1809 for those interested in seeing what the church looked like before having its north and south aisles, and south porch, removed in 1815 and without the addition of the southwest tower of 1903-5.


St James Church, Isle of Grain       TQ 8887 7680
Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1990's
LOCATION: An isolated site on the north-east side of the Isle of Grain at c. 35 feet above O.D. overlooking the confluence of the Thames and Medway estuaries. Sheerness is not far to the south-east and Southend (Essex) is 5 miles to the north.

DESCRIPTION: Unfortunately the north and south aisles and the south porch of this quite large and isolated church were demolished in 1815, and in 1903-5, the church was reconstructed in its present form with a new S.W. tower and N.E. vestry over a boiler house. There is, however, a view of the church from the south-west in 1809 by Petrie, showing the church complete. The aisles were under shed-roofs (a continuation of the pitch of the main nave roof), and there was small western bell-turret (referred to by Glynne in 1871), and presumably surviving until c. 1903).

The earliest part of the building is the nave (and probably the western part of the chancel), which must date from the mid-12th century at least. The jambs of the chancel arch have mid-12th century small scalloped capitals above chevroned imposts on the nave side. Two 12th century (now blocked) windows can be seen over the south arcade on the inside. The Purbeck marble font bowl is also c. 12th century. Externally there is part of the original tufa-block quoining to the south-east corner of the nave. At the very end of the 12th century, aisles were added to the north and south sides of the nave, and four bays of arching were created on either side with simple square piers and plain pointed arches. In the extreme S.W. corner of the nave (in modern 'vestry') there is just visible a simple scalloped capital for the first bay of arcading. There is also a very worn Reigate stone window in the west gable of the nave. The outer walls of the aisles were apparently found by probing (see E.L. Nichol inf) and it seems that they continued eastwards to include chapels on either side of the chancel. These may be a little later, but they also have plain pointed arches into the chancel; that on the north was reopened in c. 1903 (for new vestry) and its jambs can be seen. At the external south-east corner of the nave, one can just make out externally the springing for an arch between the south aisle and S.E. chapel. Also further east on the south side of the chancel, the scar for the east wall of this chapel can be seen where it abuts the chancel.

Later in the 13th century (possibly when the north-east and south-east chapels were first created) the chancel was extended eastwards and given new triple lancets in the east wall, and flanking north and south lancets. Externally all these lancets have been, very recently, renewed in Portland stone, except that on the north which still retains its Reigate-stone jambs (covered in cement). This lancet has an internal rear-arch, and the eastern lancets have fine moulded rear-arches, moulded capitals and shafts, all suggesting a date in the later 13th century. The eastern part of the chancel also has a wealth of internal wall niches (piscina on north and south, aumbries, ? credence and sedilia) some with trefoil heads.

At about the same time, the round chancel arch was replaced with the present pointed one, but leaving the earlier jambs in tact. On either side of the chancel arch and facing into the nave small pointed-headed niches were put in. These are of Reigate stone and have bar-stops, and are covered with a painted 5-petalled flower decoration. In the southern niche, the painted figure of a bishop can just be seen.

The only surviving evidence for later medieval work is a 15th century west doorway of Ragstone (there is an angel with a shield on the south side of this) and a reset south door and doorway (above the south doorway is a reset corbelled gargoyle head with sticking tongue and forked beard). The south door itself, with its hinges, is a fine later medieval one. There was a ? late Medieval porch projecting from the middle of the south aisle (see Petrie drawing). The south door and doorway were no doubt originally situated behind this. The Petrie drawing also shows some ? late medieval windows and added buttresses on the south aisle wall. Finally there is evidence for the entry into the late Medieval rood loft in the N.E. corner of the nave.

As we have seen the aisles were removed in 1815, and a rough brick new south porch was built. On the keystone over the porch doorway is written: THIS PORCH WAS BUILT/AND THE CHURCH/REPAIRED IN THE YEAR/OF OUR LORD 1815/JOHN SMITH/CHURCHWARDEN. Rough buttresses were then built up against the outsides of the arcade piers.

In 1903-5, the church was 'restored' and a tiny south-west tower and a north-east vestry (over a boiler house) was built. New three-light Bathstone windows were put into the eastern two bays of the nave, as well as a 2-light window on the south side of the chancel.

BUILDING MATERIALS: The original church was probably built of Ragstone rubble (with some flint, ironstone, and septarian nodules), and with Tufa quoins. There was also some use of Caen stone. From the later 12th century Reigate stone was used for most jambs, quoins etc. with some Ragstone dressings for late Medieval doorways. Also some chalk above the arcade arches.

Brick and Rag rubble is used for the 1815 porch, while the 1903-5 tower is of Ragstone Random rubble. All the dressings of this date are in Bathstone. More recently hard ugly Fletton bricks have been used for the eastern chancel buttresses, and Portland stone was used for renewing the external jambs of the lancets. For fine 13th century painted decoration at E. end of nave, see above.

Size & Shape: Rectangular area around church with extension, in use down hill to E. New cremation are recently made to the north of the nave.

Condition: Good

Boundary walls: 19th cent. brick wall to W.

adjacent: Large earthwork for fort (demolished 1962).

Ecological potential: ? Good - sea-shore not far north-east.

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: ? 13th century

Late med. status: Vicarage - Within the archbishop's peculiar deanery of Shoreham.

Patron: The Nunnery at Minster-in-Sheppey till 1536, then to the crown and various lay hands.

Other documentary sources: Hasted IV (1798), 256-8.

Reused materials: Some Perpendicular windows fragments reused in the 1903-5 west tower.

Inside present church: ? Good

Outside present church: ? Good - no recent graves have been dug into the sites of the demolished aisles.

To structure: The external jambs of the three eastern lancets and the south-east chancel lancet have been entirely replaced recently in Portland stone.

Quinquennial inspection (date\architect): 1993 P.M.T.

The church and churchyard: A quite large 12th and 13th century church which was unfortunately mutilated by the removal of its aisles in 1815, and by the poor additions of 1903-5. The aisles could no doubt be excavated one day, and should be left undisturbed (a new cremation cemetery has been made just to the north).

The wider context: The large aisles, etc. no doubt reflect the large increase in population in the area in the late 12th and 13th centuries.
Kent Archaeology Society

The church is C12 with C13, C15 and C19 alterations, see the Historic England listing below.  The church did not have a tower until 1902 when the unusually low tower was built.  Prior to that a bell had been hung in a wooden turret on the church from at least 1725.  The 1725 bell was replaced in 1897 by one with the inscription "Presented by the 2nd Middlesex Volunteer Artillery to Grayne [sic] Church in commemoration of the 60th year of the reign of Queen Victoria 20th June 1897".  The King (Edward VII) along with others paid for the erection of the tower and four bells were hung therein.  The inscriptions are unusual, but fitting for a church in that location:
* Day by day we magnify thee
* Thus evermore shall rise to thee glad hymns of praise from land and sea
* May this bell for ever be, a tuneful voice o'er land and sea, to call thy people unto thee
* Ad Majorem Dei gloriam.  This bell was given by some members of the clergy rating federation to H.O.R. MacPherson, M.A. priest and vicar.  Founder & Hon: sec: C.R.F. in memory of the passing of the tithe act 1899. A.D. 1904


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