St James' Church

St James' Church was built in 1752-1753 and is a fine example of Georgian architecture. Situated on High Street, it has a commanding view of the town centre. St James’ has served the town and cared for all who have lived or worked within the parish since that time. The Parish of Whitehaven is central in its tradition and most services are eucharistic. St. James Church is mentioned in Simon Jenkins’ Book "England’s Best Thousand Churches". St James' is a Grade I listed building.

The church build was at a cost of £3,400 to a plan by Mr Carlisle Spedding- a mining engineer in charge of the Whitehaven Collieries of Sir James Lowther. The building known as St James' Chapel was consecrated on the feast of St. James on Wednesday 25th July 1753. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described the church as having "the finest Georgian church interior in the county".

Situated on High Street it has a commanding view down Queen Street towards the centre of the town. The tower of the Church accommodates a ring of twelve bells, two of which were recently cast. One of them is dedicated to the life and work of the late Rev. Russell  Rebert, who was part of the clergy team at St James, and the other to the Millennium. There is also a beautifully engraved inner door depicting associations with Russell's homeland of Sri Lanka.

It was decided in 1753 to install a clock and a bell in the tower so that they could be seen and heard from the town. As the church stood on high ground this would be the ideal place. The original clock cost 30 guineas and was in place until 1943 but was then replaced by a re-modelled one at a cost of £100.

The East end is an apse with Ionic pilasters. It houses a beautiful painting over the alter "The Transfiguration" by Guilio Proccacini (1548-1626). It was reputed to have been taken from the Escorial Palace, Madrid, by French soldiers during the Napoleonic invasion of Spain. It came to England, to the third Earl of Lonsdale, who presented the painting to the Church in 1869. It is thought to be the only work of this Italian artist in an English church.

Under the tower is a lobby with a staircase leading in two arms to the gallery. This arrangement is the same as St Andrew’s Church in Penrith, and St Mary’s Church at Wigton. The Church has galleries round three sides supported on Tuscan columns , and carrying unfluted ionic ones. The ceilings are flat, with two delightful stucco roundels said to have been designed by the Italian artists Artari and Bugatti. One represents the 'Annunciation', and the other the 'Ascension'.

The present organ, dedicated by the Bishop of Carlisle in 1909, is, for its size, unique and one of the finest organs in the North of England, lending itself to the excellent acoustics of the Church. It is thought to be one of three, the others being the organs of St Bees and St Nicholas (which was destroyed by fire in 1971).

All the ground floor windows are stained glass – the work of various companies – Shrigley and Hunt, Abbot and Co, and William Wailes. There is a modern window by L.C. Evetts, inserted in 1976.

In the Lady Chapel there is a large lump of coal, and hanging in the Chapel is a genuine miner’s lamp. This was presented to the Church as a memorial to the coal miners who lost their lives in the William Pit disaster of 15th August 1947.

St James Church Whitehaven
St James' Church


Whitehaven had been small harbour and fishing village from 13th century or earlier. Expansion began in mid-17th century with building of piers by Lowthers 1632-4 and 1679-81 and granting of market charter 1660. By the 1680s it had grown rapidly, expanding from village of c.30 households in early 17th century to a town of over 1,000 inhabitants by 1685, which more than doubled to 2,281 by 1696. Sir John Lowther had laid out grid of streets by 1680s, making Whitehaven the earliest planned new town in post-medieval Britain.

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