History of St James'
St James' church was once the parish church of Stanstead (later Stanstead Abbotts) in Hertfordshire. Dating back at least to the 12th century, the church almost certainly stands on the site of a much older building and has a close historical relationship with the neighbouring Stanstead Bury in the history of the village.
Stanstead is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 and, at that time, there was already a priest here and, almost certainly, a church. As a vill, it had seven burghers and a reeve, or mayor, making it similar in importance to Hertford, St Albans and Ashwell.
The church, and its neighbouring Bury (from the Saxon burg, or fortified place), occupied the highest point of the village and was situated at the confluence of the rivers Stort and Lea, both of which were in a state of almost permanent flood.
It is possible that the site of church and Bury were related to an earlier Roman fortification (stones and tiles from which appear in the oldest parts of the current church building). The remains of a small hill, Terbetts Hill, to the northwest of the church, may support this conjecture or be the from a later construction. The name could be derivation of a "toot" hill, a vernacular name appearing throughout England and Wales often applied to ancient mottes.
At the time of Domesday, the manor was held by Ralph, brother of Ilger, passing down to Roger de Wauncy. He gave the advowson (the rights to appoint a priest) to the prior of Merton in the county of Surrey.
By 1200, one religious house, Waltham Abbey, possessd the lordship of the manor while another, Merton, possessed the right to provide for and appoint a priest. This position remained until 1531 when Henry VIII acquired the manor.
1500 - 1800s
Following the manor's acquisition by Henry VIII, it passed to Anne Boleyn in 1532 who retained it until her death in 1536, whence it reverted to the Crown.
In 1559, the manor was given to Edward Baeshe by Elizabeth I. According to some authorities, the manor and the right to appoint a vicar only reverted to the Crown on the Dissolution of the Monasteries between 1536 and 1539.
By 1566, this right too has transferred to Baeshe. A powerful man in the realm, Baesh played a leading role in this period as General Surveyor of the Victuals for the Navy Royal and Maritime Affairs.
His position was such that in 1577 he received a license from the Crown to empark 300 acres of land surrounding Stanstead Bury. It was Baeshe who built the North Chapel, which also contains an impressive memorial to him and his family.
The lordship of the manor descended through the Baeshe family until 1676 when another Edward Baeshe was forced to sell to Edmund Feilde, MP for Hertford.
The Fielde family remained lords and patrons of the living until the early 19th century when the estate began to be split up.
The Jocelyn family acquired Stanstead Bury house; various other estates were carved out of the remains of the manor and the lordship itself was sold to Philip Hollingsworth of Thundridge in 1824.
In 1845, Captain Edward Spencer Trower acquired Stanstead Bury house while 20 years later the parish and lordship of the manor were acquired by Thomas Fowell Buxton of Easneye Park.
As well as being famous brewers (Truman Hanbury and Buxton was well known in the South East until the 1980s), the Buxton family also had an altruistic reputation.
Buxton's father, Sir Thomas Buxton, had been a key player in the reform of the Poor Laws and in the abolition of slavery. Thomas Fowell Buxton himself was responsible for the building of the village school in 1869 and the new parish church of St Andrew in 1881. The village hall was built in his memory by his wife Rachel in 1911.
The gradual development of the main village in the valley below (probably in no small part related to the canalisation of the river Lea), and the building of the new church, had a major impact on the future of St James'.
When St Andrew opened in 1882, St James' became a Chapel of Ease, which it remained until 1975 when it was declared pastorally redundant and dpassed into diocesan hands.
In 1977, the church was taken over by the Redundant Churches Fund (now known as the Churches Conservation Trust) and, after many years of uncertainty, its future became secure and today it forms a delightful source of culture and reflection for those who climb the hil to view it.