St. James the Great

St. James the Great - south elevation
St. James the Great - south elevation
St. James the Great - north-west aspect
St. James the Great - north-west elevation
St. James the Great - north elevation
St. James the Great - north elevation

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There has been a church on the site of St. James the Great since Norman times. A chapel was probably built in South Leigh soon after the Norman Conquest, possibly by Richard de Camville, one of King Stephen's* barons. We know that Richard gave the patronage of the chapel to Reading Abbey in 1147. At the dissolution of Reading Abbey in 1536 the patronage went to the crown, but at the end of the 16th century it was given to the bishopric of Oxford. Meanwhile, through Richard's daughter Isabella, the chapel had become part of the Stanton Harcourt estate, and South Leigh remained a chapelry of Stanton Harcourt until 1869.

The first vicar of the separate Parish was Gerard Moultrie who, in his restoration of the church discovered the wall paintings under several coats of whitewash. Moultrie also built the early Victorian Italianate vicarage, now Glebe House, to the north-east of the church; and to the south, Holyrood House, which was to be a choir school (St. James' College). He is known too for his translation of the Greek 5th century 'Liturgy of St. James' into the English hymn 'Let all mortal flesh keep silence'.

The turret clock, which is mid-18th century, is said to have come from Gloucestershire, and to have been installed in 1905. Alterations on it resemble the work of Nicholas Paris of Warwick. The face is reported to have been painted by the Vicar (Rev. Arthur East, 1885-1912) and was last repainted in 2000 when the electric winding mechanism was fitted.

The beautiful old building is full of variety and interest. As you enter through the fine south doorway which is C. 13 you are confronted by an arcade of arches, possibly Tudor, separating the nave from the north aisle. Corbels on the north wall are decorated with stone heads.

* King Stephen's predecessor, Henry I of England had left no male heir and his nominated successor, his daughter Empress Matilda, was not to the liking of many powerful barons who preferred Stephen, the wealthiest man in England and nephew of Henry I. His grandfather was William the Conqueror.

The nave has an arcade of arches
Arches separate the nave from the north aisle.

The fine south doorway is C. 13

The fine C13 southern doorway
The fine south doorway is C. 13

The beautiful old building is full of variety and interest.

The wall paintings in the nave, like those elsewhere in the church, are 14th and 15th century. They have been restored many times, most recently in 1992. They are a dramatic and unique representation of an early church's teaching to village people who were unable to read and write.

The Virgin & St. Michael
The Virgin and St. Michael

The one to the east of the south doorway shows the Virgin and St. Michael. The archangel is wielding a large sword in one hand, and holds a balance in the other. The dead soul is kneeling in one scale pan; in the other is a devil who is summoning others to his support. A huge open-mouthed monster represents the jaws of hell. The Virgin Mary is dropping beads from her rosary into the scale pan of the dead soul so that the balance is weighted in his favour.

There are two wall paintings here, one on top of the other, probably painted about a hundred years apart. The older painting is smaller, and its frame can be seen in the lower left-hand part of the more recent painting. A smaller shadowy Virgin appears on the fold of Mary's robe, and the original St. Michael is visible between the two larger figures. A fashionable devil with a beard and tunic blowing a horn can just be seen.

Just inside the right-hand frame of the smaller picture, and about three-quarters of the way down, are two rather mysterious joined circles. Perhaps the painter was thinking of the medieval mystery plays, when the monstrous jaws of hell would have to be trundled onto the wooden stage on wheels. Also, St. Michael’s wings are linked above his head by a thin gold line. Maybe this is a medieval actor’s answer to the problem of keeping large and dramatic wings upright.

The Virgin & St. Michael
Doom painting over the chancel arch

Over the chancel arch is a wonderfully vigorous Doom painting, or Last Judgement. Two angels blow the last trump. The dead rise from their graves, among them a king, a queen, a mitred bishop and a merchant. On the north wall of the nave is St. Peter with his key receiving the saved, and angels blow a welcoming fanfare from the ramparts of the heavenly city. On the south side of the arch are the damned, who rise weeping from their graves. A group (with a startling mismatch of legs and torsos) is being dragged away by devils; they are bound together by a spiked lashing, and among them are a queen, a nobleman, a monk and a bishop. Other, devils goad the damned with prongs, and Satan is represented by a serpent. Flames burn on the south wall of the nave, while a devil stands tauntingly astride a monster’s jaws at the entrance to hell.

A scroll is inscribed ‘Venite benedicti patris mei’ (Come ye blessed of my father); ‘Discedite maledicti' (Depart ye cursed) (Matthew 25, verses 31-46). No Judge appears in the picture; the rood screen below would have carried the symbol of Christ as Judge.

Beneath the painting, on either side of the chancel arch, is a pattern of birds and leaves. This had been thought to be Victorian, but during the recent restoration, traces of medieval work were found beneath the 19th century paint.

The Virgin & St. Michael
Doom painting over the chancel arch - east side
Doom painting north cheek
Doom painting - north cheek
Doom painting north cheek
Doom painting - south cheek

The pulpit is Jacobean. John Wesley preached his first sermon here in 1725 at the invitation of the rector of Stanton Harcourt; he preached again at South Leigh in 1771, but was not allowed in the church. The steps leading up to the pulpit probably originally led to a rood loft by the chancel arch which was used by musicians accompanying the services.

The pulpit
The pulpit
The pulpit
The pulpit plaque

The chancel rood screen incorporates 15th century tracery with Victorian additions. The second screen to the north is 15th century. It has two book rests, and above them, two hagioscopes, which would have given a view of the side chapel altar. In the north wall there is a Norman window.

Doom painting south cheek
North chancel rood screen

The chancel is the earliest part of the church. The doorway in the south wall is Norman and the pillar piscina and ambry south of the altar are Early English.

Doom painting south cheek
South door (Norman)
Pillar piscina and ambry (closed)
Pillar piscina and ambry (open)

On the east wall of the chancel to the south of the altar, there is a wall painting of the Virgin Mary. She holds a lily, and above her is a dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit. She would almost certainly have been partnered by the Angel Gabriel to the north of the altar, completing an Annunciation scene.

Doom painting south cheek
The Virgin Mary

The windows of the north aisle also have some very old glass, with what is probably the Yorkist sun in the roundels.

Doom painting south cheek
East window
Doom painting south cheek
Yorkist sun glass in a north window
Saint Clement of Rome
St. Clement of Rome

Beside the easternmost window stands St. Clement of Rome. He was an early pope who worked to convert the heathen in Asia Minor. This displeased the Roman emperor Trajan, who threw him into the Black Sea. Clement carries the symbol of his martyrdom, an anchor.

Seven Deadly Sins
Seven Deadly Sins

At the western end of the north aisle is a wall painting of the Seven Deadly Sins. Out of the mouth of hell rises a many-headed monster. Each head holds in its mouth a figure representing one of the seven deadly sins. Very little of the original painting has survived, and it is so indistinct that at one time it was thought to be a tree of heaven.

Tower staircase door
Tower staircase door

A small door leads to the tower staircase. It is probably very old; it is mended with clenched nails, a technique used in Anglo-Saxon times.

The organ case and font
The organ case and font
William Secoll brass
William Secoll brass

The organ case is by Sebastian Comper, who also designed the font cover. The font itself is 15th century. On the south wall of the nave is a brass commemorating William Secoll (1557), which came from a tomb in the north aisle.

The west window is now in the ringing chamber at the foot of the tower. It has some fragments of 15th century glass including an angel’s head and canopies. Also in the ringing chamber is a little squint-like window, which can be seen from the outside. It gives the bell ringers a view of the church path as wedding and funeral parties arrive or leave. The bells are a fine peal of eight which incorporate metal from three ancient bells. There is a ninth consecration bell which is 14th century.

Tower staircase door
Tower staircase door
Tower staircase door
Tower staircase door
Tower staircase door
Tower staircase door
Tower staircase door
Tower staircase door
The Bells

St. James’ ‘sweetly-toned full peel of eight bells’ dates from 1907 when the bells were dedicated by the Bishop of Oxford. They were preceded by a ring of three bells from the 16th and 17th centuries, probably cast in Woodstock, of which the original clappers still hang in the tower. The then Vicar reported that, ‘the casting of the original three bells was very unsatisfactory, the metal being false, so they were melted down to help to found a new peal. That was a very costly matter, and if they included the new hanging and fixing, the present peal involved an outlay of £410’.

The eight bells were made by Mears and Stainbank, from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. They have ‘Doncaster’ pattern heads and hang with gear, type B, in quite a rare wrought iron side-pattern frame made by Webb and Bennett, Kidlington.

There is also a Sanctus Bell from c. 1399, hung for chiming in a separate frame above the ring. Unfortunately, it bears no inscription or founders’ marks.

In 2020-21, a realignment of the rope guides much improved the ringing circle and a complete refurbishment of the ringing chamber was undertaken. The boxes were stained and carpeted, the brass work polished and lacquered and the pictures, certificates, notice board and blackboard re-framed, gilded and re-hung. A handsome, early 20th century drop-dial pendulum wall clock (converted to an electric movement for accuracy and ease of maintenance!) and a new rope warmer were also added.

In both 2021 and 2023, the bell tower achieved a Gold Award by the Oxfordshire Diocesan Guild of Bellringers Maintenace Award scheme for the bells and the tower. Each award lasts for two years. Only four other towers out of over 400 in the Oxfordshire Diocesan Guild have in recent years held a Gold Award.

Details and inscriptions of the bells

All by Mears and Stainbank - 1907

TREBLE (G):
3 cwt 2 qrs 24 lbs.
Gloria in Excelsis Deo
(Glory to God in the highest)

2 (F♯):
3-2-27 cwt
Et in terra pax hominibus
(And on earth peace to all men)

3 (E): 4-0-16 cwt
Laudamus Te
(We praise you)

4 (D): 5-0-4 cwt
Benedicimus Te
(We thank you)

5 (C): 5-2-27 cwt
Adoramus Te
(We adore you)

6 (B): 5-3-21 cwt
Glorificamus Te
(We glorify you)

7 (A): 7-3-0 cwt
Gratias agimus Tibi
(We give thee thanks)

Tenor (G): 10-1-23 cwt in the key of G
Agnus Dei Qui tollis peccata mundi miserere nobis
(Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us)

Tower staircase door
The new peal (1907)
Tower staircase door
The bell chamber
Tower staircase door
The bell chamber showing the Sanctus Bell
The fine C13 southern doorway
The south doorway
The nave has an arcade of arches
An arcade of arches, possibly Tudor, separates the nave from the north aisle.
The Virgin & St. Michael
The Virgin and St. Michael

The wall paintings in the nave, like those elsewhere in the church, are 14th and 15th century. They have been restored many times, most recently in 1992. They are a dramatic and unique representation of an early church's teaching to village people who were unable to read and write.

The one to the east of the south doorway shows the Virgin and St. Michael. The archangel is wielding a large sword in one hand, and holds a balance in the other. The dead soul is kneeling in one scale pan; in the other is a devil who is summoning others to his support. A huge open-mouthed monster represents the jaws of hell. The Virgin Mary is dropping beads from her rosary into the scale pan of the dead soul so that the balance is weighted in his favour.

There are two wall paintings here, one on top of the other, probably painted about a hundred years apart. The older painting is smaller, and its frame can be seen in the lower left-hand part of the more recent painting. A smaller shadowy Virgin appears on the fold of Mary's robe, and the original St. Michael is visible between the two larger figures. A fashionable devil with a beard and tunic blowing a horn can just be seen.

Just inside the right-hand frame of the smaller picture, and about three-quarters of the way down, are two rather mysterious joined circles. Perhaps the painter was thinking of the medieval mystery plays, when the monstrous jaws of hell would have to be trundled onto the wooden stage on wheels. Also, St. Michael’s wings are linked above his head by a thin gold line. Maybe this is a medieval actor’s answer to the problem of keeping large and dramatic wings upright.

Doom painting over the chancel arch
Doom painting over the chancel arch

Over the chancel arch is a wonderfully vigorous Doom painting, or Last Judgement. Two angels blow the last trump. The dead rise from their graves, among them a king, a queen, a mitred bishop and a merchant. On the north wall of the nave is St. Peter with his key receiving the saved, and angels blow a welcoming fanfare from the ramparts of the heavenly city. On the south side of the arch are the damned, who rise weeping from their graves. A group (with a startling mismatch of legs and torsos) is being dragged away by devils; they are bound together by a spiked lashing, and among them are a queen, a nobleman, a monk and a bishop. Other, devils goad the damned with prongs, and Satan is represented by a serpent. Flames burn on the south wall of the nave, while a devil stands tauntingly astride a monster’s jaws at the entrance to hell.

A scroll is inscribed ‘Venite benedicti patris mei’ (Come ye blessed of my father); ‘Discedite maledicti' (Depart ye cursed) (Matthew 25, verses 31-46). No Judge appears in the picture; the rood screen below would have carried the symbol of Christ as Judge.

Beneath the painting, on either side of the chancel arch, is a pattern of birds and leaves. This had been thought to be Victorian, but during the recent restoration, traces of medieval work were found beneath the 19th century paint.

Doom painting north cheek
Doom painting - north cheek
Doom painting over the chancel arch - east side
Doom painting over the chancel arch - east side
Doom painting north cheek
Doom painting - south cheek
The pulpit
The pulpit
The pulpit plaque
North chancel screen
Rood screen
Doom painting south cheek
East window

The pulpit is Jacobean. John Wesley preached his first sermon here in 1725 at the invitation of the rector of Stanton Harcourt; he preached again at South Leigh in 1771, but was not allowed in the church. The steps leading up to the pulpit probably originally led to a rood loft by the chancel arch which was used by musicians accompanying the services.

The chancel rood screen incorporates 15th century tracery with Victorian additions. The second screen to the north is 15th century. It has two book rests, and above them, two hagioscopes, which would have given a view of the side chapel altar. In the north wall there is a Norman window.

The chancel is the earliest part of the church. The doorway in the south wall is Norman and the pillar piscina and ambry south of the altar are Early English.

On the east wall of the chancel to the south of the altar, there is a wall painting of the Virgin Mary. She holds a lily, and above her is a dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit. She would almost certainly have been partnered by the Angel Gabriel to the north of the altar, completing an Annunciation scene.

The north aisle extends east beside the chancel to form a chapel. The east window here has some haphazard fragments of 15th century glass, which is said to have come from the chancel when a storm destroyed the east window there during the 19th century. The head of St. James the Great, wearing his pilgrim’s hat, can be seen; so can the heads of Christ and Mary, and the incomplete figure of an angel. In the traceries, a shield hangs from a tree, and there are a number of small birds. In the two central tracery lights are parts of the figures of Adam and Eve, he digging and she spinning. Above are Tudor and Yorkist roses.

The windows of the north aisle also have some very old glass, with what is probably the Yorkist sun in the roundels. Beside the easternmost window stands St. Clement of Rome. He was an early pope who worked to convert the heathen in Asia Minor. This displeased the Roman emperor Trajan, who threw him into the Black Sea. Clement carries the symbol of his martyrdom, an anchor.

At the western end of the north aisle is a wall painting of the Seven Deadly Sins. Out of the mouth of hell rises a many-headed monster. Each head holds in its mouth a figure representing one of the seven deadly sins. Very little of the original painting has survived, and it is so indistinct that at one time it was thought to be a tree of heaven.

A small door leads to the tower staircase. It is probably very old; it is mended with clenched nails, a technique used in Anglo-Saxon times.

The organ case is by Sebastian Comper, who also designed the font cover. The font itself is 15th century. On the south wall of the nave is a brass commemorating William Secoll (1557), which came from a tomb in the north aisle.

The west window is now in the ringing chamber at the foot of the tower. It has some fragments of 15th century glass including an angel’s head and canopies. Also in the ringing chamber is a little squint-like window, which can be seen from the outside. It gives the bell ringers a view of the church path as wedding and funeral parties arrive or leave. The bells are a fine peal of eight which incorporate metal from three ancient bells. There is a ninth consecration bell which is 14th century.

Pulpit plaque
The pillar piscina and closed ambrey
Pillar piscina and ambry (closed)
The pillar piscina and open ambrey
Pillar piscina and ambry (open)
The Norman south door
South door (Norman)
The Virgin Mary
The Virgin Mary
Yorkist sun in old glass
Yorkist sun glass in a north window
Saint Clement of Rome
St. Clement of Rome
Seven Deadly Sins
Seven Deadly Sins
William Secoll brass
William Secoll brass
The organ case and font
The organ case and font
Tower staircase door
Tower staircase door
Tower staircase door
Tower staircase door
Tower staircase door
Tower staircase door
Tower staircase door
Tower staircase door
Tower staircase door
Tower staircase door
The Bells

St. James’ ‘sweetly-toned full peel of eight bells’ dates from 1907 when the bells were dedicated by the Bishop of Oxford. They were preceded by a ring of three bells from the 16th and 17th centuries, probably cast in Woodstock, of which the original clappers still hang in the tower. The then Vicar reported that, ‘the casting of the original three bells was very unsatisfactory, the metal being false, so they were melted down to help to found a new peal. That was a very costly matter, and if they included the new hanging and fixing, the present peal involved an outlay of £410’.

The eight bells were made by Mears and Stainbank, from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. They have ‘Doncaster’ pattern heads and hang with gear, type B, in quite a rare wrought iron side-pattern frame made by Webb and Bennett, Kidlington.

There is also a Sanctus Bell from c. 1399, hung for chiming in a separate frame above the ring. Unfortunately, it bears no inscription or founders’ marks.

In 2020-21, a realignment of the rope guides much improved the ringing circle and a complete refurbishment of the ringing chamber was undertaken. The boxes were stained and carpeted, the brass work polished and lacquered and the pictures, certificates, notice board and blackboard re-framed, gilded and re-hung. A handsome, early 20th century drop-dial pendulum wall clock (converted to an electric movement for accuracy and ease of maintenance!) and a new rope warmer were also added.

In both 2021 and 2023, the bell tower achieved a Gold Award by the Oxfordshire Diocesan Guild of Bellringers Maintenace Award scheme for the bells and the tower. Each award lasts for two years. Only four other towers out of over 400 in the Oxfordshire Diocesan Guild have in recent years held a Gold Award.

Details and inscriptions of the bells

All by Mears and Stainbank - 1907

TREBLE (G):
3 cwt 2 qrs 24 lbs.
Gloria in Excelsis Deo
(Glory to God in the highest)

2 (F♯):
3-2-27 cwt
Et in terra pax hominibus
(And on earth peace to all men)

3 (E): 4-0-16 cwt
Laudamus Te
(We praise you)

4 (D): 5-0-4 cwt
Benedicimus Te
(We thank you)

5 (C): 5-2-27 cwt
Adoramus Te
(We adore you)

6 (B): 5-3-21 cwt
Glorificamus Te
(We glorify you)

7 (A): 7-3-0 cwt
Gratias agimus Tibi
(We give thee thanks)

Tenor (G): 10-1-23 cwt in the key of G
Agnus Dei Qui tollis peccata mundi miserere nobis
(Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us)

Tower staircase door
The new peal (1907)
Tower staircase door
The bell chamber
Tower staircase door
The bell chamber showing the Sanctus Bell