Historical Buildings: St James’s Piccadilly
The story of the church starts over 300 years ago when in 1664 the inhabitants of the area petitioned the House of Commons to have a separate parish from that of St Martin in the Fields, and have its own church.
Before 1674, a site for the church, together with a churchyard and minister’s house, between Piccadilly and Jermyn Street, was offered by the Earl of St Albans, on leasehold land, but until the freehold interest was obtained the church could not be consecrated. Ten years later, in 1674, the Earl applied to the Crown for a grant of the freehold of the site, but the grant was not made until just before the church was consecrated in 1684.
The Building of the Church
The foundation stone was laid on 3 April 1676 by the Earl of St Albans and the Bishop of London. In 1677 John Cock, a plumber, was asked to perform the lead work for the church, rectory and steeple. Sir Christopher Wren, who was commissioned to design and build the church found that he had more scope on this site between Piccadilly and Jermyn Street than he had on the more circumscribed sites in the City, and it is clear that in St. James’s he had found the ideal solution to the problem of erecting a church accommodating the largest number of persons, and yet enabling them all to hear the service and see the preacher.
During the eighteenth century the church remained substantially unaltered. The first major alteration was made at the start of the nineteenth century and extensive repairs, both externally and internally, were carried out in 1884 under the supervision of J. T. Wimperis .
May 1940 – Enemy Action
In 1940 a bomb, which destroyed the rectory and vestry, fell in the churchyard, and incendiary bombs destroyed the spire and most of the roof. The building was restored in 1947–54 by Messrs. Richardson and E. A. S. Houfe.
Today, the church stands with great pride in the heart of London where daily markets are held in the church yard. It’s a beautiful building and a testament to the architectural brilliance of Sir Christopher Wren.