History of St James Church
The foundation stones for St. James were laid on Saturday 13th May 1905 in, according to accounts written at the time, “brilliant weather”. Two foundation stones were actually laid by Henry Seymour Hoare (patron of the living of Turton) and Colonel Sir Lee Knowles Bart MP, both of whom were presented with a silver trowel and silver-mounted ebony mallet. Although the subsequent structure was constructed of local Black Hills bricks, the two foundation stones – clearly visible today – were Yorkshire stone! Behind each of the foundation stones were placed a bottle containing copies of the Bolton Evening News and the Darwen Newspaper together with a selection of coins of the day. At the end of the short service the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation” was sung and this hymn is still sung today at the end of Celebration Sunday held at St. James annually on the second Sunday in May.
This was the culmination of a plan which had been a long time in the making and was thought essential to meet the needs of the local population. For some years prior to the building of the church a congregation met in the old Hob Lane School. A site was donated for the building of a mission church around about time that this congregation was established in the late 1880s, however nothing was done with this land until 1903 when the original site near to the White Horse was swapped for the site where the church now stands. This was not without difficulty as it involved that perennial nightmare for all developers – the diversion of a footpath!
On that sunny day in May 1905 the Hob Lane Mission Church did not have a name – five months later a vote was taken as to the name with St. James preferred to St Michael. The first service in the building, which cost the princely some of £1,406 6s 9d, took place on Friday 17th November a crowded church witnessed the Bishop of Manchester dedicate the building. As with all construction projects there were teething problems and the original architect was called back in February 1906 to address damp problems – which are still ongoing over 111 years later!
The church building was immediately an integral part of the community and in its 112 year history most of the local population have been involved worship and activity there.
One of the highlights of the year from 1906 and which survives in a different form today is a celebration of the churches anniversary on the second Sunday in May. Today the congregations of St. Anne and St. James join together for a service and a “Jacob’s join” lunch, but earlier years saw different activities. The first anniversary in 1906 was marked with two services, one at 3.00 pm and one at 6.30 pm. According to reports from the time both services were well attended and the preacher was Rev Goodacre – Curate of Atherton. In addition the collections at both services of £30.5s.7d was a record amount!
In subsequent years the anniversary became known as Sermons Sunday. The congregation would meet in the morning for a short service in church followed by a walk of witness around the area. The procession was traditionally led by the children including the “little singers”. These were traditionally little girls from the Sunday School who would be taught to sing two hymns, one for the afternoon service held after the walk and the other for Evensong. They were all dressed in white dresses and wore veils. There are a few older ladies in the village who have been little singers!
Other events included the choir and Sunday School picnic, a children’s party and prize giving held annually in January, an annual congregational party and a particular highlight – the New Years Eve Dance. Tickets for this dance were in huge demand with traditional ballroom dancing being the order of the day. In recent years the Harvest Supper and Hoe Down had been a particular favourite as have recent ladies afternoon teas and the annual picnic and games afternoon at Witton Country Park, held after the last Children Church before the summer holidays. To celebrate the Queens diamond jubilee Children’s Church decorated a float for the parade from Turton Tower to the Barlow Institute with our own “Queen” in pouring rain. The last couple of years has also seen the initiation of parish breakfast on the fifth Sunday in the month and the commencement of the Palm Sunday walk of witness from St. James to St. Annes fuelled by bacon or sausage sandwiches and accompanied by Roly the donkey.
Over the years many different groups have met at St. James including the Men’s Club, Brownies, Guides, Beavers, Cubs and Scouts, the Young Farmers and Scallywag’s play group. For whatever reason, many people passed through the doors of St. James.
There was little investment in the building until the 1980s when this really started to show. There followed a period of some improvements including moving the staircase. Around 2000 a consented effort to improve the structure began and various grants were obtained to replace windows, improve the roof, renew electrics and overhaul the kitchen facilities.. Around the centenary in 2005 an appeal was launched to fund a disabled access ramp to the front and this was followed by the replacement of the original chairs – which were second hand from a church in Chorlton-cum-Hardy – and were actually sold on to a restaurant.
The centenary of St. James in 2005 culminated in a series events held around the second weekend in May. On the 11th of May a tea dance was held for the older members of the parish, echoing the dances held in years gone by. On the 13th May the hall at St James was again filled with music and dancing with a barn dance and barbecue. On Sunday 15th May there was a joint service of celebration followed by lunch at which the newly replaced chancel window was dedicated having been donated in memory of Annie and Henry Oddie. In the evening there was a service of holy communion and thanksgiving for St. James.
Since the centenary St. James has continued to flourish as an integral part of parish of St. Anne, Turton and the village community.