The Friends of St James was formed in 1983 with the aim of supporting the Rector and Parochial Church Council in the maintenance of the Church and Churchyard. At the instigation of the then Rector, Alan Cole, a small Committee was formed under the Chairmanship of Compton Whitworth, with Ann Cottee, John Fuller, David Philpott, Daphne Ruddock and Jim Simpson being the other founding Committee members. They met for the first time on 21 February 1983 and adopted a constitution that had been drawn up by Alan, based on that of the Friends of St Michael's, Bishop's Stortford. At the second Committee meeting, on 18 April 1983, they set as their initial aim the raising of £10,000 to undertake repairs to the Church and Churchyard wall. Letters were sent out to potential members and an open meeting held at the Church on Sunday 15 May 1983 to publicise the aims of the newly formed Association. By the time of the first Annual General Meeting on 18 March 1984, the Chairman was able to report the successful registration of the Friends as a charity. At that meeting a minor modification was made to the constitution, as had been requested by the Charity Commissioners, resulting in the document the Committee and members have worked to ever since. The Committee had by this time initiated a programme of fund raising events. Income from such events, together with membership subscriptions, remains the primary source of funds to this day.
The first major project undertaken with funding from the Friends was the construction of a new north wall for the Churchyard. The Herts and Essex Observer of 24 July 1986 pictured Alan Cole placing a time capsule in this wall. This capsule contains a record of how the wall was built, some coins and a copy of the then Parish Magazine.
The next landmark in the history of the Friends was the August Bank Holiday weekend of 1987. This saw the Friends launch an Appeal to fund the renovation of our 12th century font, repairs to Church masonry and the restoration of the stained glass windows and tower. The Church was decorated with flowers for this occasion. Just over £2,000 was raised and it became, by popular demand, the first in a series of Festivals of Flowers and Music that the Friends held annually for over thirty year, before handing over the organisation of future Festivals to the Parochial Church Council with effect from that in 2018.
Within a year of the 1987 Festival the first of the Appeal objectives had been accomplished with the return to the Church, on 18 August 1988, of our font, fully restored and with much having been learnt about its fabrication and turbulent history.
Fundraising by the Friends has enabled numerous projects to be undertaken over the years. In addition to the construction of a new north wall for the Churchyard and the restoration of our font, other early projects included the provision of a new kissing gate, the restoration of stained glass windows, the installation of lightning protection and a new weather vane, and the restoration of our picturesque Lych Gate. In 2001 the Friends made a grant of £25,000 to the Parochial Church Council, followed by a further grant of £30,000 in 2007, to enable restoration work on the tower, and in 2008 one of £6,500 in support of the re-rendering and redecoration of the exterior of the Church. We then set about raising funds to replace our organ. Whilst still operational, its chequered history meant that there were serious shortcomings in both its functionality and its ability to cope with the tonal and dynamic variation so much associated with even a relatively ‘basic’ organ. In December 2009 we were pleased to be able to make a first payment of just over £10,000 to enable an order to be placed and a deposit paid for our new Church organ. We paid the balance of just over £20,000 when the new 37 Stop Two Manual Allan electronic organ was delivered and installed on 6 May 2010. This brought the total sum contributed by the Friends since the year 2000, in support of our remit of helping to maintain and beautify the Church and Churchyard, to £100,000.
In 2013 the Friends funded restoration work on Church stonework and a number of stained glass windows, together with repairs to the Churchyard wall, at a total cost of just over £20,250. In 2016 we funded the installation of new Church Lighting at a cost of just under £22,000 and in 2017 the redecoration of the interior of the Church at just over £13,500. In 2019 the Friends funded improvements to the Church heating at a cost of £19,355. Most recently, in 2021, we covered the £7,200 cost of repairs to the fabric of the Church that had been outstanding since the 2014 Quinquennial Inspection, together with those additionally identified as being required during that of 2019.
In recent years, as well as the maintenance of the Churchyard during the growing season by our dedicated band of volunteers, the key activities in the Friends' calendar have been a sale of plants in May, the provision of Sunday afternoon teas from the Church Room during the summer months, an Autumn Craft Fair in November and our ever popular Quiz Evening in February. These events, as well as being important from the point of view of fund raising, also offer significant outreach opportunities. The warm welcome visitors receive often results in appreciative comments.
There was by necessity a hiatus in activity by the Friends following the restrictions put in place in March 2020 in response to the pandemic, although we were able to continue to maintain the Churchyard during the growing season, albeit with limits on the number of volunteers permitted to undertake that work. Following the lifting of most restrictions in England in July 2021, we were able to resume our fundraising with a short season of Sunday Afternoon Teas followed by an Autumn Craft Fair in November.
New members of the Friends are always welcome. The minimum annual family subscription is only £5.00. By joining you will be directly helping to preserve our ancient and beautiful Church building and maintain our Churchyard.
From the Archives