St James's Church Croxton
St James's Church,   Croxton

The church of St James Croxton is beautiful and much loved. This building has been used for Christian worship since it was built about 1280, but there are signs that it was not the first church on the site.

Starting at the north door, the carving of the Virgin and Child on the door, although very fine, is not original to the church and is thought to be 16th century Flemish. History does not relate how it might have come to Croxton.

Stones from surrounding fields were largely used for the building of the 13th century church. Although a great deal of the early building has been replaced, the nave arcade, the chancel arch, the north window of the chancel and the blocked-in south door are all original, as are the piscine in the south east corner and the bowl of the font. The wall paintings, just discernible on the chancel arch and on the nave arcade, date from this period, with additions in the 15th century. It is hoped to uncover and evaluate these when funds allow. A figure, thought to be John the Baptist because of his bare legs and hairy garment can just be made out on the right of the arch.

Nearly two hundred years after the painting of the walls diagonal buttresses were added to strengthen the corners of the church outside. Those of the south aisle have since been replaced. At this time too a two-storey north porch was built; parts of the steps to the upper room still exist to the left of the north door as you enter. Windows were also inserted into the south wall of the chancel, and the east walls of the side aisles. About 1520 the tower was built with a wooden spire which collapsed in 1780. The interior of the church was changed by the addition of the carved wood screens round the east end of the side aisles, some pews and possibly buy the building of a chancel screen which no longer exists. Fragments of 16th century stained glass in the south windows of the south aisle and of the chancel, and the west window of the tower suggest that stained glass was added at this time too. The stained glass in other windows of the church is predominantly Victorian: that of the east window above the altar is by C E Kempe who worked at the end of the 19th century. His small wheatsheaf "signature" can be seen by the hem of St James’s robe in the left panel of the window.

From 1571 the owners of Croxton park itself were the Leeds family and the only additions to the church during the late 16th and early 17th centuries appear to have been monuments to members of the family, the most notable being the monument to Edward Leeds, Master of Clare College, Cambridge from 1560–71, who died in 1589, to the right of the altar. By contrast, John Leeds, the incumbent 1675–1704, was active in repairing and improving the church. The date 1659 carved on a tie beam in the roof suggests that the roofs of the nave and side aisles were repaired at that date, and a new communion table was installed. The angels in the roof corners of the nave bear coats of arms of members of the Leeds family and probably date from the same time.

The church seems to have suffered a good deal of damage around the time of the Commonwealth, and it is likely that Cromwell’s troops, some say his horses, were billeted here. The original parish funeral armour consisted of a helmet and breastplate from the Cromwellian era and a Napoleonic plumed helmet.

By 1806 the church had apparently become so damp that Joseph Leeds had the roof releaded. A piece of lead bearing his name is preserved in a corner of the church.

As a consequence of the Enclosure Award of 1811 many village houses, including the Rectory, were demolished to make way for the landscaping of the Park and the excavation of the lake, leaving the church on its own land, isolated from the present site of Croxton village.

In about 1820 the estate and Croxton park mansion, as it had then become, was sold to the Newtons, a family of merchants from the Liverpool area. The hatchment, or coat of arms, in the south aisle chapel is that of the Newton family. The monument to Samuel the first Newton at Croxton Park, can be seen on the south side of the chancel. The Newton family rebuilt the south aisle, their family pew housing family monuments, and the west window in 1904–5. In 1907 the wall of the north aisle was repaired and a new porch constructed from the stones of the original. In 1916 the tower was struck by lightning and by 1919 both tower and roof were again in need of repair. In 1921 the new chancel screen was erected as a memorial to an airman who fell in the First World War and whose forebears had lived in Croxton.

More recently, in 1981, the roof had yet again completely to be repaired, after considerable fund-raising efforts by parishioners. Since then the tower roof has been restored, the drainage organised and the tower completely repointed in 2006. Before her death in 1981 Lady Fox, the last of the Newtons to live at Croxton Park, had restored the painting of "Ecce Homo" which hangs behind the pulpit. It had been the gift of Samuel Newton, her great-great grandfather in the 19th century.

The tower houses six fine bells: No1 bears the date 1682, No2 1761, No3 1804, No5 1690 and No6 1624. The church clock, also in the tower is still in its original wooden frame and is considered a rarity. It was installed in 1682 at a cost of £14, a great sum for those days. It was originally driven by weights and hand wound, but has now been converted to electricity. After the repointing of the tower in 2006 the clock was restored and replaced, and the clock face resilvered.

In the church yard there are several items of interest: 4 or 5 yards to the east of the north path is an ornate tomb where the grandfather of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother is buried. The Rev William Charles Cavendish Bentinck was acting as temporary priest in charge and visiting his sister-in-law, Mrs Newton of Croxton Park, when he died, leaving a wife and 3 small daughters, one of whom grew up to be the Countess of Strathmore. Nearer the path is the Newton family tomb where Lady Fox is buried. On the north wall outside the church, to the left of the porch, is a monument to Edward Leeds, buried in 1758, and his wife Ann. It was the custom to put the monuments to black sheep of the family outside the walls. Details of his misdemeanours are not available!

Services are held in the church twice a month and visitors are always welcome.

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This page was last updated on 9th May 2007.