Architectural Development of St James' Church, Little Paxton
The original 12th century stone church, now the chancel, measures nearly 7.70 x 4.26 metres (22 x 14 ft) (shaded black in Fig 1) and has been carefully integrated into an extended worship base.
Fig. 1 - Plan of St James' Church
The chancel window apertures have been re-modelled at various dates and diagonal buttresses were added to the north-east and south-east corners for support in the 14th century. The east window is modern, copied from the earlier three light window of the 14th century. Even though the windows have been modified, traces of the originals are still visible.
To the south of the altar table is a small projecting Piscina, probably of the 13th century, for draining away water used in washing the sacred Holy Communion vessels. Three of the four chancel windows retain 14th century masonry surrounds and the one in the south-west is from the 15th century and contains some glass fragments of that period.
The west wall of the chancel was removed during the later expansion of the church. The chancel doorway, used originally by the priest but not used now, is opposite the choir stalls. The original stonework door and 12th century Tympanum now grace the main entrance to the Church through a modern porch and provides an interesting tableau of times past.
The next oldest-surviving part of the church is the late 14th early 15th century west tower, an imposing structure about 3.35 metres square (about 11 ft square). It has three stages surmounted by an embattled parapet that has grotesque human and beast gargoyles to discharge the rain water clear of the structure. It also has a diagonal buttress at the north-west corner and a large semi-octagonal stair turret at the south-west corner. The windows have been much altered in later centuries with the west window and the door below being of the 19th century. Since 2011 there are six bells hung in a new steel frame.
The nave, about 15.25 x 6.10 metres (50 x 20 ft), was presumably built between the 12th and 14th centuries, but retains very little of this original structure because of at least two major rebuilding projects. The first expansion occurred in the early 16th century when the 2.29 metres (7ft 6in) wide south aisle was added and an arcade of octagonal piers built to provide four bays. It is interesting to note that the aisle walls are slightly offset to the main church for no apparent reason. At this time, the 12th century Tympanum and original south door were re-sited to their present position.
The whole north wall was rebuilt in the 17th Century after severe damage during the Civil War when some Royalist troops sheltered in the Church after fleeing the Battle of St. Neots. However, the Church had major restoration and alterations in 1849 and the north wall was again rebuilt with completely different two-light windows replacing the old ones.
Piscina at St James Church, Little Paxton
The 14th century north doorway, with moulded stones at the side, was reset on the outside and a new porch with a modern arch was added to make space for a harmonium. Some 12th century stones were used in the lower part of this north wall and can be seen from the outside. Some of these have been identified as two pieces of arch ornamented with billet shape - a Norman style of short cylinders with spaces in between – with pieces of jamb-stones from the side of a doorway and several drum-stones from a small column. The north porch is now used as a boiler room.
The nave roof was rebuilt at the same
time and heightened by a few feet to the level of the
previously prominent gable wall at the chancel end. The
outcrop of this gable has disappeared and the angle
removed. Now the roof is higher up the buttresses of the
tower and the wall higher above the tops of those on the
nave wall. The buttresses on the south side of the
church, which support the south aisle, also appear to
have been added or rebuilt as part of these 1849
alterations. This is logical as the porch is rather
crammed in between the buttresses and, if they had been
built at the same time, it would have made more sense to
have made the porch wider and integrated the two.
At this time, the rood screen and some fine old seating were probably removed. An auction for the disposal of these materials in June 1849 included a carved pulpit and other items.
Before the work described in the introduction, the most recent major work to take place was the construction of the south porch in 1998. This provides much needed storage space, a small servery and accessible toilet.
Yard Sale in the Churchyard at Little Paxton