|St James's Churchyard||Bexley|
St James's Church dates from at least the C12th, and was once the private chapel for North Cray Place, a number of whose owners were buried here. The church was substantially rebuilt in 1852 and enlarged in 1870. The small churchyard is surrounded by brick walls on 3 sides, its east wall once forming a boundary with the kitchen garden of North Cray Place. At the west end of the churchyard are handsome early C18th gates.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/02/2011
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St James's Church dates from Anglo Saxon times, serving the small parish of North Cray, with the first known reference to a vicar occurring in 1371. In 1575 the parish of Rokesley or Ruxley and that of North Cray were united. The present building dates from 1852; the chancel was later enlarged in 1870 in memory of the Western Wood family. It was once the private chapel for North Cray Place, a grand house demolished in 1962 but which had many illustrious owners. In the C19th it was the home of Lord Vansittart, former Ambassador in Berlin, whose funeral service filled the church. Other members of the family are buried in the churchyard. In 1771 the Revd William Hetherington, who was the Lord of the Manor, and his sister Elizabeth built five almshouses in the parish, three for the poor, and one each for the parish clerk and schoolmaster, which were situated opposite the Rectory on North Cray. In 1819 funds were raised for church repairs by selling pews to the principal landowners in the area, among them Lord Castlereagh of Loring Hall (q.v.). In 1852 the church roof was repaired and the present spire added, together with new church bells and the installation of a heating system, the cost met by public subscription. In 1865 the Revd Hugh Johnstone became vicar, who was responsible for extending the chancel in 1870.
The small churchyard surrounding the church is enclosed within high brick walls on three sides, the east wall possibly a remnant of the C18th kitchen garden walls of North Cray Place, which formed a boundary and had a bothy with a door to the churchyard. The kitchen garden was situated in a corner of the estate parkland. At the west end of the churchyard are handsome early C18th gates, with piers topped with stone pineapples and wrought iron gates, which were constructed by William Burcke for the Hetherington family in c.1745.They originally had the initials 'H H' above, now replaced by a cross. They were restored in 1973 and again in 2001and lead into Footscray Meadows (q.v.), all that remains as public open space of the former parkland of North Cray Place. Yews, ornamental trees and shrubs are planted in the churchyard and around the perimeter, with horse chestnuts and lime trees around the churchyard. At the east entrance stands a Celtic cross in memory of those who gave their lives in both world wars. Among the memorials in the churchyard is that of Honoria Edith Vansittart (1883-1962) in the south-west corner, and nearby are other members of that family, including Captain Robert Arnold Vansittart of the 7th Dragoon Guards (d.1939) and his wife Alice (d.1919). Two heraldic monuments commemorate members of the Frith family from 1701 onwards, the Revd Edward Cokayne Frith who was rector of North Cray, and Edward Moberley, his wife and son. A railed memorial commemorates members of the Holt family, who occupied a nearby Elizabethan house known as Mount Mascal. The church's connection to Ruxley is provided in the monument for the Bedell family, who were tenants of Ruxley Manor House and farm in the late C17th. The churchyard was closed by Order in Council on 29 May 2000 and is now maintained by LB Bexley. The churchyard extension was opened in Parsonage Lane in 1940, which covers approximately 2.5 acres and remains open for burials. Part is used as a memorial garden for interment of cremated remains.
The approach to the church from North Cray Road is also alongside a substantial wall of the former kitchen garden of North Cray Place, which has two unusual wooden arches. There is now residential development along St James's Way inside the original walls. A number of cedars have been retained. North Cray Road was once a tree-lined country lane leading from Ruxley Corner to Bexley but became a dual carriageway in the 1960s.
Cherry B and Pevsner N, The Buildings of England, London 2: South, 1983, p148 S. Gardner 'History of English Ironwork of the 17th & 18th centuries', 1911; LB Bexley Local Studies Centre, local notes and research guides. History on church website