St James, Garlickhithe

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Above: View looking east at the church which stands on the north side of Upper Thames Street, the Ward of Vintry.

“Upper Thames Street – Part 7”

To anyone who knows about the history of churches and their saints, ‘St James’ brings to mind ‘Santiago de Compostela’, commonly know as ’Santiago’. The city in the north of Spain has its origin in the shrine of Saint James the Great, now the city’s cathedral. It has been a shrine of Catholic pilgrimage which originated in the 9th century and was second only to St Peter’s in Rome. The name ’Santiago’ is, of course, the Spanish version of ’Saint Iago’ meaning ‘St James’.

It is said that Spanish traders in London once used the church but we shall never know for sure. Córdoba, in Andalusia, a Spanish city, was famous for its fine goatskin leather. The Company of Cordwainers in the City of London derive their name from the Spanish place name.

In 1410 Bow Lane, which is really the northern continuation of Garlick Hill, was known as Cordwainer Street due to men of that trade having their premises in the street.

The church of St James, Garlickhithe, was first mentioned in 1196 as ‘St James near Vintry’. The name ‘Garlickhithe’ is due to garlic being sold in the area. We know the church was rebuilt in 1326 and that one was to remain standing until it was destroyed in the Great Fire on Monday 3 September 1666.

The church that we see today was rebuilt 1673-83 by Christopher Wren. Its fine steeple, also by Wren was erected 1714-17. The church was badly damaged during the blitz in the Second World War and was later restored.

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Above: View looking down Garlick Hill at the overhanging clock on the church tower. On top of the clock is an effigy of St James.

The site of the church was a short distance up Garlick Hill from the junction with the old Upper Thames Street. Considerable work was carried out 1981 to strengthen the foundations due to the widening of Upper Thames Street on the north side and the resulting increase in heavy traffic.

On Friday 20 September 1991 an large crane, in use on the south side of Upper Thames Street, fell across the dual carriageway and onto the roof of the church. Part of the roof was torn off along with part of the south wall in which was a 12 feet (3.6 m) rose window. The falling masonry badly damaged a large chandelier in the church and many of the original pews, dating from the 17th century. The church had only recently had its interior repainted. Extensive restoration followed, paid for by the building company responsible for the damage.

A plaque in the church records that ‘The Hudson’s Bay Company, having ceased in London, transferred their war memorials to the church on 23 January 1995’. This was due a ‘ground swell’ of opinion against trading in animal furs.


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