St James's Church, Piccadilly

St James’s Church, Piccadilly is an Anglican church on Piccadilly in the centre of London, UK. It was designed and built by Sir Christopher Wren.

The church is built of red brick with Portland stone dressings. The church’s interior has galleries on three sides supported by square pillars, and the nave has a barrel vault supported by Corinthian columns. The carved marble font and limewood reredos are both good examples of the work of Grinling Gibbons.


In 1662, Henry Jermyn, 1st Earl of St Albans was granted land for residential development on what was then the outskirts of London. He set aside land for the building of a parish church and churchyard on the south side of what is now Piccadilly. Christopher Wren was appointed the architect in 1672 and the church was consecrated on 13 July 1684 by Henry Compton, the Bishop of London.

Samuel Clarke was rector from 1709 to 1729 and was one of the leading intellectual figures of eighteenth-century Britain. William Blake was baptised at the church in 1757. Leopold Stokowski was choirmaster from 1902 until 1905 when he left for a similar position in New York.

The church was severely damaged by enemy action in 1940, during the Second World War. The church’s website carries a detailed history.

  • William Blake, baptised 1757.
  • Lord Chesterfield
  • Lord Chatham
  • in 1762, a double wedding; founding partners of the furniture-makers Ince and Mayhew married sisters.
  • architect, Philip Hardwick, married Julia Shaw in 1819.
  • Prince Friedrich Wilhelm von Hanau, eldest son of Frederik William, Elector of Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel), married in 1856 the actress Auguste Birnbaum
  • Also in 1856, the Belgian Consul to Charleston S.Carolina USA, George Augustus Hopley married French born Felicite Claudine Rancine. Married 26 July. George later died in Paris 28th May 1859, age 52
  • Author and poet, Robert Graves, married Nancy Nicholson in the church in 1918. Best man was George Mallory
  • General Sir Robert Arbuthnot, KCB married 1826
  • James Arbuthnot MP, married Emma Broadbent, daughter of Michael Broadbent, in 1984.
  • Dr John Arbuthnot, buried 1735.
  • Sir Charles Asgill, 2nd Baronet (equerry to Frederick, Duke of York)
  • Mary Beale one of the first professional women artists, buried 1699.
  • Dr. Sir Richard Croft, obstetrician
  • William Elliot of Wells (equerry to George II ), buried 1764
  • James Gillray, the influential and ground-breaking caricaturist.
  • “Old Q.,” William Douglas, 4th Duke of Queensberry.
  • Pedro Vicente Maldonado (Ecuadorian scientist)
  • The Earl of Grantham (Lord Chamberlain to Queen Caroline of Ansbach)
  • William Hunter (anatomist)
  • Benjamin Stillingfleet, botanist, the first bluestocking
  • Willem van de Velde, the elder (marine painter).
  • Willem van de Velde, the younger (marine painter)

Concerts are regularly held in the church. Concerts have included performances by popular contemporary musicians such as REM and folk musician Laura Marling as part of her ‘church tour’.

Outdoor art space

Contemporary art gallery Hauser & Wirth are running a programme of outdoor sculpture in Southwood Garden in the grounds of the church. The first exhibition is of work by Swiss sculptor Hans Josephsohn, running from September 2009 to January 2010. Southwood Garden was created in the churchyard by Viscount Southwood after World War II as a garden of remembrance, "to commemorate the courage and fortitude of the people of London," and was opened by Queen Mary in 1946.


Like many central London churches surrounded by commercial buildings and ever fewer local people, St James’s lost numbers and momentum in the 1960s and 70s. When in 1980 Donald Reeves was offered the post of rector, the Bishop allegedly said ‘I don’t mind what you do, just keep it open’. During that decade and most of the 1990s numbers and activity grew, the clergy and congregation gaining a reputation for being a progressive, liberal and campaigning church. That has continued. The ‘congregation’ rejects that description and prefers community. It is centred on the eucharist - the celebration of the principal Christian sacrament. It finds expression in a wide range of interest groups: spiritual explorers, labyrinth walking, Julian prayer meetings, the Vagabonds group (a lively discussion group which takes its name from a William Blake poem and in faithfulness to that text meets in a local alehouse), a LGBT group and many others. The community has actively supported, and supports, the ordination of women to all the orders of the church, the just treatment of asylum seekers and those living in poverty. It celebrates what it regards as ‘the radical welcome’ found in the heart of the Gospels and attested to by the Incarnation.

  • Book London Architecture, written by Marianne Butler, published in 2004 by Metro Publications, ISBN 1-902910-18-4.
  • Web page, retrieved on the 6th April 2004 at 15:00 BST.

Building Activity

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