When the 1825 church of St James in Suffolk Square was deemed inadequate for the growing population of Southtown, Henry Norwood Trye gave a piece of the Manor of Leckhampton for a church in Gratton Grounds. The foundation stone, laid in 1838 recorded its dedication to St Peter, but thereafter it was known as St Philip, and the consecration two years later added St James. The architects were Shellard and Baker, their design strangely placing the tower over the chancel.
Development of The Park with its “fashionable population”, as well as the Bath Road’s increasing inhabitants gave an impetus for a successor to the “modest building”. So in 1879, John Middleton was chosen to provide a larger church. Interestingly, to reduce interruption to services, a wall separated a temporary iron structure while the new chancel and nave were built.
By 1882, at a cost of £9,700, the work was finished, though the intended spire on the south-west tower was changed to a saddleback and fleche in 1903. The exterior of somewhat forbidding stone contrasts with a rich interior of varied stonework, carved wood, wrought iron and stained glass. Many of the south transept’s monuments recording notable Cheltenham families date from the earlier church, and further names in windows as well as on furnishings are “a marvellous display of munificence and devotion”, as a newspaper of 19th April 1882 put it, “a standing memorial to liberality and zeal.”
The new church had been built over the burial ground and in 1963 a Columbarium was built in the crypt where ashes of the departed can rest. The Columbarium at St Philip & St James’ was the first of its kind in the country.
In 1965 St Christopher’s, Warden Hill was built as a daughter church. Church House, in Painswick Road but next door to St Philip & St James’, was purchased in 1968. It now houses the Church Office and its ground floor rooms are used by organisations and individuals. St James’, Suffolk Square was de-consecrated in 1974 and the parish incorporated into St Philip & St James’. St James’ became the Parish Centre and remained so until recently.
© 2009 Aylwin Sampson