St. James’s Church – A Fashionable Place to Marry During the Regency Era

Not too long ago, I traveled to London to celebrate the release of An Unsuitable Duchess. It seemed an appropriate place to celebrate since my Secret Lives of the Ton series takes place there during the Regency era. While in London I had fun searching out locations to include in the third book of the series entitled An Unexpected Countess, which will be released June 1, 2017.

Whenever possible, I like to use locations for my stories that still exist today so readers can visit them if they have the opportunity. I knew I needed a church for this story, and most Regency romances that I’ve read use St. George’s Hanover Square in Mayfair. I wanted to find a unique location and knew there had to be other churches from that time period that members of the British aristocracy would have gone to. I just needed to find one. My search led me to St. James’s Church on Piccadilly in the exclusive area of St. James’s, and I thought I’d give you an armchair trip to see it with me.

img_4387

The Piccadilly entrance to St. James’s Church.

When St. James’s Square and the area around it began to be developed in the 17th century, it created a need for an extra church to accommodate the additional parishioners of St. Martin in the Fields. Henry Jermyn, the 1st Earl of St. Albans, gave some of his land for an additional church and churchyard. In 1672 he hired noted architect Christopher Wren to design an Anglican church. It was finished in 1684, and in 1685 the separate parish of St. James was created.

Wren designed the church to be built of red brick with Portland stone dressings. Grinling Gibbons, who was a noted sculpture and woodcarver of the day, made the carved marble font and limewood altarpiece.

 

img_4355

According to the church’s website, “accounts by visitors to St. James’s during the eighteenth century stress the fashionable element in the congregation. John Evelyn remarked that a sermon which he had heard elsewhere on the subject of costly apparel would have been more appropriately delivered at St. James’s or some other of the theatrical churches in London, where the ladies and women were so richly and wantonly dressed and full of jewels. James Macky complained that a stranger had to pay for a convenient seat so that it cost one almost as dear to see a play, but he still thought the church worth a visit on a holiday or Sunday, when the fine assembly of beauties and Quality come there. In later years, James Boswell confessed that his mind was distracted when he attended a service at the church but excused himself because his warm heart and a vivacious fancy made him give in to love and to the most brilliant and showy method of public worship.”

img_4350

The back entrance of the church from Jermyn Street.

img_4364

The door leading up to the spire.

The interior of the church, which had been admired for its beauty by contemporary writers, owed its brilliancy not only to the richness of the congregation’s dress but also to the whiteness of the walls, the gilded fittings, and the handsome furniture all illuminated in winter by scores of candles.

img_4356

The English poet and painter William Blake was baptized in St. James’s Church in 1757 and the musician George Thomas Smart was baptized here in 1776.

img_4357

img_4358

William Ince and John Mayhew, who were partners in a successful furniture business, married sisters in a double wedding in St. James’s in 1762. Fredrick de Horn married the artist Angelica Kauffman here in 1767. For those interested in scandal, the groom was an imposter who was already married. And Philip Hardwick, the architect, married Julia Shaw in St. James’s in 1819.

img_4359

James Gillray, the famous caricaturist was buried in St. James’s in 1815. Mary Beale, one of the first professional women artists, was buried here in 1699. And William Douglas, the 4th Duke of Queensberry, was buried here in 1810.

img_4361

img_4362

 

fullsizerender

A simple gravestone, now used as a paver stone at the entrance of the church.

In May of 1940, a bomb destroyed the rectory and vestry, and incendiary bombs also took out the spire and most of the roof. The churchyard and outside graves were destroyed as well. While I roamed around the churchyard, I had the opportunity to talk with Reverend Lucy Winkett. She informed me that after the explosion many of the tombstones were left scattered about the churchyard. Because supplies were scarce due to the war, the parish decided to use those tombstones in front of the church as pavers leading to the building when they rebuilt the church in 1947. You can see them today if you enter the grounds through the Piccadilly entrance.

 

img_4342

The churchyard is raised and behind this wall on Jermyn Street.

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-2-09-30-pm

St. James’s Church is the black square you see under the “i” in Piccadilly. Map courtesy of Greenwood’s Map of London from 1826.

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-3-14-59-pm

This is a map of the parish boundaries for St. James’s Church.

If you have the opportunity to travel to London and are in the area, it’s worth a stop to see this lovely church which I found a way to use in An Unexpected Countess. You’ll have to read the book to find out how.