22 May 2022

Saint James’s, a Gothic
Revival church by GE
Street in New Bradwell

Saint James’s Church was built in New Bradwell in 1857-1860 to meet the needs of the railway workers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

In recent days, two of us visited New Bradwell on the northern edges of Milton Keynes to see both Bradwell Mill and Saint James’s Church on Saint James’s Street. Unlike many of the villages surrounding Milton Keynes, New Bradwell is of relatively recent date, begun in 1852 to provide housing for workers at the railway works founded at nearby at Wolverton in 1838.

This church came into existence because of the coming of the railway. In 1838, the London and Birmingham Railway Co established works at Wolverton that built locomotives and carriages.

As production and population rose, New Bradwell was developed from 1852 and Saint James’s Church was built on the east side of Saint James’s Street in New Bradwell to meet the spiritual needs of the railway workers.

This is a Grade II* church built in 1857-1860 to designs by George Edmund Street (1824-1881), with a north aisle added in 1897 to Street’s design. It cost £4,430 of which £2,560 came from the LNWR shareholders.

Saint James’s Church is built of limestone rubble and ashlar, with limestone dressings, and has a timber, painted bell-turret. The roof slates are mostly laid with shaped slates in diagonal patterns. There are red crested ridge tiles on the chancel and the south aisle.

The church includes an aisled nave, lower chancel, north and south aisles, a south porch, a south chancel aisle, a north vestry and the base of the planned north-west tower. The chancel has a south chapel and a timber north vestry. The west bay of the north aisle forms the base of the north-west tower. This tower, which was never completed in ashlar, rises to a height of about 7 metres and is topped by a timber turret with a spire, intended to be temporary.

The exterior of the church is incomplete since the projected tower only rises some seven metres above the ground. It carries a temporary, painted wooden turret added in 1883. The semi-circular projection on the west face shows that Street intended a strong, muscular treatment, as applied to the rest of the building. Such qualities are to be seen in the west wall of the nave which has a powerfully designed three-light window with narrow cusped lights and a vigorous punched tracery in the head – a bold trefoil set within three tiny trefoil openings.

The clerestory is in a similar vein with circular quatrefoils immediately below the nave eaves. The south aisle windows are varied but continue to have strong detail.

The east window has five lights and three cusped circles in the head. The aisles are under lean-to roofs, whereas the south chancel aisle has its own gabled roof. The south porch is striking with a tall roof that sweeps down low, and compressed shafts carrying the outer moulded arch.

The arcades are of four bays on the south and three bays on the north, plus an arch into the tower base. Their piers are quatrefoil with fillets between the lobes, the arches are double-chamfered without a hood while the capitals have vigorous stiff-leaf decoration. To the clerestory windows there are marble shafts and further foliage capitals.

A further arcade, of two bays, is located between the chancel and its south aisle. Here the arches have large cusps which die into the responds and central pier. The latter in turn has a high base and a stubby paired marble shaft beneath a foliate capital.

The chancel arch has marble shafts to the responds. Over the nave is a tie-beam roof with a crown-post to a longitudinal runner. The aisles have lean-to roofs while the chancel has a keeled one. The walls of the church are of bare stone except for the chancel and its aisle which have been whitened. The flooring is modern composition stone.

The seating, which has been reduced in extent since the 19th century, has shaped ends, and the stalls have been cleared from the chancel. The pulpit is circular, as is often the case with Street, and has 13th century arcading round it.

Similarly the font, now relocated to the east end is circular with more 13th century arcading. There is a large organ in the south-east nave arcade arch.

The north aisle has exceptional glass by Gerald Moira, probably made by Lowndes and Drury: it has vibrant colouration and a style influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement and Expressionism. The East Window is by Christopher Webb (1950) and the west window is by Harry Stammers (1964).

The oldest feature of the church, however, is the reused Norman arch at the west end. When the roof of the abandoned Church of Saint Peter, Stantonbury, collapsed in 1952, and the 12th century chancel arch was removed to preserve it. It was installed in Saint James’s Church in 1963 as an interior surround to the 19th century west doorway.

This spectacular arch is a highlight of Romanesque Buckinghamshire. The Victoria County History (1927) describes it in situ at Stantonbury as ‘small chancel arch’ and ‘a beautiful and fairly well preserved example of Norman work of about 1150.’

The architectural historian Sir Niklaus Pevsner, writing in 1960, noted only that the Norman chancel arch had been removed from Stantonbury, but it had not been installed in New Bradwell at that date. The arch has been described as impressive.

The beakhead ornament and confronted lion capitals point to a distant connection with Reading Abbey. Locally beakhead and chevron are found in combination at Twyford on the south doorway which also has a capital with confronted fighting beasts.

This arch has two orders of shafts with lots of beading in the varied ornament: it has birds and beasts in the capitals. In the head is an outer order of chevron and an inner one of beakhead decoration.

To the south of Saint James’s Church, a school and church hall by Street form part of a complex with the church.

The architect George Edmund Street (1824-1881) was one of the greatest figures of 19th century architecture. Although born and educated in London, he was articled to the Winchester architect Owen Carter from 1841. He then spent time in the office of George Gilbert Scott from 1844 before commencing practice in Wantage in 1848.

Growing success led to a move to London in 1856 and a career which saw him become one of the leaders of the Gothic Revival. As at Saint James’s Church in New Bradwell, much of his work is characterised by a strong, muscular quality which was much admired from the 1850s and early 1860s.

His most ambitious work is the Royal Courts of Justice in London for which he gained the commission in 1868. He designed the nave of Bristol Cathedral, Saint Margaret’s Convent, East Grinstead, and the theological college at Cuddesdon. His other churches include All Saints’s Church and Saint Paul’s Within the Walls, the two Anglican churches in Rome, and the American Episcopal Church, the American Cathedral in Paris, completed posthumously by Arthur E Street in 1886.

Street’s works in Ireland include the restoration of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (1871-1878), Saint Brigid’s Cathedral, Kildare (1871-1896), Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (1876-1877), Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe (1876), and Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny (1877-1879); and Saint John’s Church, Ardamine, Co Wexford (1860-1862).

Street was the diocesan architect for Oxford, York Winchester and Ripon. He died on 18 December 1881. His fame and status is reflected in the fact that, like his former master, Scott, he is buried in Westminster Abbey.

GE Street’s tower was never completed and is topped by a timber turret with a spire, intended to be temporary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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