Whitehaven – St James’ Church
High St, Whitehaven
This lovely church, once described by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘the finest Georgian church interior in the county’, was dedicated on St James’ day, 25th July 1753. It was built to a plan by Carlisle Spedding who was Sir James Lowther’s agent.
The East end is an apse with Ionic pillasters. It houses a beautiful painting over the alter – ‘The Transfiguration’ by Guilio Proccacini (1548-1626). It was reputed to have been taken from the Escorial Palace, Madrid, by French soldiers during the Napoleonic invasion of Spain. It came to England, to the third Earl of Lonsdale, who presented the painting to the Church in 1869. It is thought to be the only work of this Italian artist in an English church.
Under the tower is a lobby with a staircase leading in two arms to the gallery. This arrangement is the same as St Andrew’s Church in Penrith, and St Mary’s Church at Wigton. The Church has galleries round three sides supported on Tuscan columns , and carrying unfluted ionic ones. The ceilings are flat, with two delightful stucco roundels said to have been designed by the Italian artists Artari and Bugatti. One represents the ‘Annunciation’, and the other the ‘Ascension’.
The present organ, dedicated by the Bishop of Carlisle in 1909, is, for its size, unique and one of the finest organs in the North of England, lending itself to the excellent acoustics of the Church. It is thought to be one of three, the others being the organs of St Bees and St Nicholas (which was destroyed by fire in 1971).
All the ground floor windows are stained glass – the work of various companies – Shrigley and Hunt, Abbot and Co, and William Wailes. There is a modern window by L.C. Evetts, inserted in 1976.
In the Lady Chapel there is a large lump of coal, and hanging in the Chapel is a genuine miner’s lamp. This was presented to the Church as a memorial to the coal miners who lost their lives in the William Pit disaster of 15th August 1947.
A leaflet is available describing the history and contents of the Church.
The Annual Christmas Celebration Concert at St James’ Church, Whitehaven – on Saturday 16th December 2006, with the Whitehaven Male Voice Choir and guest singer – Giuseppe Deligia. The evening ended with a standing ovation for the performers.
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