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St James's Parish Church

St James's Parish Church

St James's Church

In 1863 Fitzroy John Fitz Wygram arrived as the first vicar of St James’s Parish Church, in what was then called New Hampton, to shape a new community formed by the arrival of the railway.

The church was built in 1863, specifically to deal with various social problems in the area at the time. Only 13 children out of a population of 1,100 were receiving an education, and the railway building had brought rowdy, hard drinking labourers to the area. The 13 public houses were scenes of frequent violence.

Wilderness

The shacks in which these people lived were described as “a wilderness with a number of habitations of the most wretched kind, inhabited by a still more wretched class of people.”

St James’s Church was consecrated on 11 December 1863 by the Bishop of London, who reportedly said “It is a barn of a church and a wilderness of a place.” Fitz Wygram replied “If people are taught to say thanks to God, they must have something to say thanks for.”

Building schools

Fitz Wygram and his wife then spent their lives and a good deal of their own money on improving the unpleasant living conditions and poor prospects of the parishioners. Including the building of schools and campaigning for better social conditions.

A boys’ school was built where the Greenwood Centre stands today, and a girls’ and infants’ school stood opposite. Fitz Wygram stipulated that these were for the children of “labourers, manufacturing and other poorer classes”. The schools were funded mainly by church offertories and donations.

In its own way, St James’s has continued raising money to support charities at home and abroad with the same ideals of reducing poverty and helping the needy.

Photo of St James’s Church taken in 1890, from the John Sheaf Collection.

Reference: ‘New Hampton and Hampton Hill in Victorian and Edwardian Times’, edited by Richard Sharp, and ‘The Birth and Growth of Hampton Hill’, edited by Margery Orton.