St James Marden Ash

The church of Marden Ash in Ongar
St.James’ Church is the youngest of the three churches in the Parish of High Ongar, located within the community of Marden Ash in St. James’ Avenue.

History of St James’ church

The first St James’ church

It was early in 1879 that the local residents decided that Marden Ash needed its own church to provide a place of worship for those unable to travel to High Ongar through age or ill health. The public were invited to subscribe to the building of a new church. A benefactor, Mr James Trayler of Southsea in Kent generously gifted the land to the church. However, despite this kindly donation, insufficient funds were raised for the rest of the project and so a necessary modification to the original design was achieved by excluding a proposed semi-circuIar Apse.

On the 29th August 1882 the ceremony of laying the foundation stone was performed by Sir H J Selwin-lbbetson Bart MP. During the construction stage the Bell was hung in the solid stone bell-cote at the west-end of the Church, it had been cast during 1882 by “Mears & Stainbank” at their foundry in London. Less than a year later on the Friday 26th January 1883 the Service of Dedication of St. James’ Church took place attended by a large congregation of local people.

The completed building, described as being in the late Perpendicular style, was large enough to house a congregation of one hundred. The church was entered via the porch at the west-end of the Nave, to one side of the porch was a small vestry for the administering clergy and on the other side was a little chamber for the church organ.

The church had exterior walls laced with old English flint, having box-ground Bath-Stone groins to the angles. The buttresses, copings, plinths, eaves and strings and other parts were also of stone. Above the western end of the church was a bell-cote of solid stone, surmounted by a gable cross and the entrance below was gabled and fronted in timber.

The roof was tiled and surmounted at the east-end by an oak cross. Internally the walls were of red brick, the roof had exposed rafters and a central aisle composed of red Staffordshire tiles with the remaining flooring covered in wood blocks. There was a coke stove which provided heating via lloor gratings and for comfort rush-seated chairs.

St James’ suffers war-time destruction

The church then served the local community lor 62 years until January 1945, when an enemy V2 rocket fell close-by damaging it beyond repair. Although church services in Marden Ash did manage to continue using improvised accommodation at the local Drill Hall and later in an adjacent brick building which served the needs of` the congregation lor 12 years.

The villagers were determined to retain their church in Marden Ash and during the next nine years fought for permission to rebuild St. James. ln January 1954, the battle was won and a rebuilding scheme was launched, over the next three years money was raised.

While the major contribution came from the War Damage Commission, a sizeable sum was raised by local subscription, thus allowing the building work to begin during 1957 on the site of the original church. Later that year on the 27th July the foundation stone was laid by Mr Stanley Jones with the Bishop of Barking officiating and finally on Saturday the 21st June 1958 the Rehallowing Service was conducted by the Bishop of Chelmsford. On the Sunday Holy Communion was celebrated and in the evening the church was packed for Evensong with a congregation of around 150 people, with many standing in the aisles.

The new St. James’ church

St James' church building

Initially it was planned to have both a new church and church Hall, although as with the original church the funds raised fell short of expectation and so again plans had to be considerably modified. The church was built without the Hall, and the two pulpits were made without the colourful emblazoning intended for them. However, it was the architect who had included the brick arch in the north wall of the new church to provide such an opening for a North Transept and a possible way through linking the church with the proposed hall behind.

lt was also felt appropriate to add the semi-circular Apse which had been planned for the first church but lack of funds prevented it. The Foundation Stone from the original church was built into the south wall of the Nave alongside the Plaque for the new church and behind this was buried the story of the church’s history and a set of new coins from 1958. lt was described as the architect`s concept of a 4th century church, rectangular and having an Ambos at either side, with the Holy Table away from the wall so that the celebrant could face the congregation.

Initially the Bell and the Font were also incorporated into the new church, however in recent years the Bell was disposed of and so the Font and the dented Alms Dish are the only remaining reflects from the original church. ln addition the Harmonium was also recovered from the rubble and tor a number of years was played during the Services at the Drill Hall before finally being rehoused at All Saints Church Norton Mandeville where it is still in regular use and in fine tune.

ln June of 2008 St. James’ Church celebrated its 50th & 125th Anniversary and today it is used for monthly Sunday morning services, regular out-reach and social events. During the week it serves as the Parish Office opening on Monday and Thursday to deal with Parish administrative matters. The adjacent Hall, built in the warly 1960s, is used daily throughout the year by many different organisations.