The Parish Church


St James 

the Great


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Norman Origins



St. James' Church has been a place of Christian worship for many centuries. An early entry of Cradley as `Credelaie' (meaning 'Creoda's clearing') in Domesday Book in 1086 mentions a priest with half a hide (60 acres) of land, although no church is specifically indicated.  Even before the Norman Conquest, Hereford and Worcester existed as fortified Saxon towns with Bishops' seats. Leominster had a Saxon nunnery and Saxon churches were established at Deerhurst (near Tewkesbury), near Bromyard and also in Shropshire. It is quite possible, therefore, that a church existed here in Cradley before the Normans came. There is no concrete evidence of this although it has been suggested that the carved Saxon stone on the outside north wall of the tower could have been part of a 'becun' or monument which missionaries would erect to indicate a Christian meeting place, before a church was built.


The lower tower has an ‘inner wall’ although the theory that this unusual structure with its beams and plaster (pictured below), are part of an earlier church, is considered by many experts to be unlikely.  However there is clear evidence of a Norman church in the well-preserved south doorway with its chevron decoration (visible above the door as viewed from inside the porch) and also in the lower part of the tower. The upper part of the tower is later and dates from the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century, with windows of that period, with trefoiled lights and vertical tracery. The tower is finished externally with an embattled parapet. 


The columns of the archway inside the church between the nave and the tower probably date from the late twelfth century.


The Bell Tower



The six bells were cast at the Gloucester foundry of Abraham Rudhall in 1724 and were overhauled and re-hung in 1884 by Taylor's of Loughborough. They were hung in an oak frame, part of which dates from the seventeenth century and incorporates earlier beams thought to be mediaeval. The inscriptions on the bells read:



Peace and Good Neighbourhood. (5cwt.0.0)


Let us ring for Church and King. (5cwt.2.2)


Prosperity for the Church of England. (6cwt.2.0)


Abraham Rudhall cast us all. (7cwt.2.0.)


William Kent, the Heath House, churchwarden. (9cwt.3.0.)


Thomas Bisse, D.D., Rector. (14cwt. 1.13.)


An interesting entry in the parish records of 1756 states that the parish meeting asked Thomas Watkins to "find a goode harte of oak stocke for the sixth bell and a new wheel for the same", so running repairs were needed from time to time. The work was to be done "within the space of three weeks" and cost £2.7s.  This frame became unsafe for ringing and in celebration of the year 2000 millennium the six bells were re-tuned and two new bells were cast which all hang on a new metal frame placed in the chamber below the oak frame which remains in the top of the tower.


An eighteenth-century board (pictured left) hangs in the tower with a list of bell-ringers' rules and penalties for breaking them ! The bells are rung by an active bell-ringing group.



Victorian Restoration



In 1864 the original church, a simple oblong of chancel, nave and tower, was much in need of repair, but far more than repairs were envisaged by the Rector, the Rev. Renn Hampden. He commissioned Sir Gilbert Scott to produce plans, and Collins and Collins of Tewkesbury to do a virtual re-building of the chancel, and paid for it himself. The neighbouring gentry and parishioners were then inspired to contribute to the re-building of the nave and a list of subscriptions for this purpose, ranging from one penny to one hundred pounds, can be seen in the parish records.


In 1868 – 70 an oak roof and chancel arch were put in and stalls and screen restored. Scott has been criticised for the zeal with which he ‘restored’ ancient churches so that many of their original features were ‘lost’. Some of the bench-ends of the choir stalls are in fact late fifteenth or early sixteenth century, and the lower part of the screen is fifteenth century in date, so these could have been part of the earlier church.


Much of the old materials were re-used in this rebuilding and also local sandstone from Ombersley and some Cradley stone, according to records from the time. Under the direction of Worcester architect Mr A.E.Perkins, the opportunity was taken to provide more seating by adding the north aisle to the nave (now the Lady Chapel). 


The original fourteenth-century windows were inserted in the ‘new’ north wall and at the same time the roof was raised, new seats added and the pulpit altered. But many features were lost, including the gallery at the west end, the box pews and an old wooden porch, similar in style to the lychgate, so possibly sixteenth century in origin. (A new porch was added in 1893 as a memorial to the Rev. Edward Renn Hampden). Heating was also installed at around this time. 


Following this extensive re-building, a fine organ (pictured left), built by John Nicholson of Worcester, was presented by the Rector, and installed in 1874 (replacing the harmonium placed in the chancel at the time of the restorations).



The Clock



The clock in the church tower, funded by public subscription, was installed in the tower as a memorial to those who died in the 1st World War. It is wound by hand with the main clock and the chiming mechanism being wound separately. The clock chime strikes the tenor bell, making it necessary to disengage the clock-chiming hammer before the bells can be rung.



Memorials and objects inside the church



The memorials inside the church are mostly of Rectors, notable local families and benefactors of the poor, but a doctor and schoolmaster can be found among them. In the chancel are two early seventeenth century tablets.


One (pictured left) to Margaret Smith daughter of Richard Pichard, who died in 1613, and whose family, one of the oldest in Herefordshire, had settled in Cradley as early as 1496.


The other is a brass tablet remembering Morgan Powell D.D., Rector, who died in 1621. He was one of the signatories of an interesting 1607 document, a glebe `terrier', or survey, of church land and property, in Cradley.


A brass to John Brooks is also in the chancel. He was schoolmaster for seventeen years and died at Church Cottage, opposite the church in 1891, aged forty-three years.


Rev Dr Thomas Bisse, referred to in an inscription on the tenor bell was Rector of Cradley between 1713 and 1724. The font, dated 1722, also bears his name. He was brother of the Bishop of Hereford, a great music lover and was instrumental in inaugurating the Three Choirs Festival

Opposite the entrance to the tower stands a mediaeval oak chest of unusual length, with three locks. The two Churchwardens and the Rector would each have a key, so that it could only be opened when all were present.



External Features



The lych-gate is partly sixteenth century with restoration work carried out in 1988.


The yew tree in the churchyard is certified as being over 1200 years old.


The sundial was constructed from part of a churchyard cross of tufa stone and restored to celebrate Queen Victoria's Jubilee.


Some external walls have moulded stones inset and head masks and corbels from the twelfth century. On the south wall of the church is a tablet recording the burial of Richard Nokes (1608) who left a stock of ten pounds from Pitlocke Farm to benefit the poor.


An audit of the memorials and tombstones was carried out in 2000 and Baptisms, Marriages and Burials Registers date from the year 1560.


Through the old rectory gate near the tower of the Church the Georgian Rectory replaced an earlier one, referred to in 1607 as having parkland, coppice-woods and meadows.

Cradley Village hall (pictured left) was for generations the village Boys’ School (until it was amalgmated with the Girls’ School in 1909. (The sister of the Very Rev Charles Scott Luxmoore organised a school for forty girls in an upper room in an old hop kiln and later a cow shed in the Rectory Garden, although the building of a proper school in the 1850s made this school redundant.) 

The building precedes by some two hundred years the will of James Turner which makes no reference to building, buying or establishing a boys’ school, but does make provision for money to be paid to an able and careful schoolmaster, so it may be assumed that the school was already in existence at this time. This schoolmaster was appointed for three years at a time by the Rector and Churchwardens (or failing this by the Bishop of Hereford). A parish minute book of 1774 suggests that the school was not a free school and its benefits limited to those parents who could pay. Although the building is thought to date from at least the 15th century its early history is not clear.



Copyright: Cradley Parochial Church Council, 2017
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