The tower & spire through the years
Back in 1885 the magazine reported; "We must not forget the unfinished state of our Church, and that there is still wanting the Tower and Spire, a Peal of Bells and a Parish Clock. The only funds hitherto set apart are the proceeds of the sale of honey produced in the Vicarage garden. This amounts now to £8 12s. 0d."
To celebrate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887 it was decided to complete the church by building the tower and spire. It was seen as important for two reasons: firstly as an expression of loyalty to the Queen, and secondly as a landmark to put Hampton Hill on the map. The architects were Messrs Romaine-Walker and Tanner of 19, Buckingham Street, Adelphi, the contractors were Messrs Dove Bros, of Islington, while as much as possible of the labour was provided by local men. The total cost was £2,425 and £1,325 was promptly subscribed by the parishioners.
On June 20th 1887, the anniversary
of the Queen’s accession, local clergy and gentry, led by the
choir chanting Psalm 84, ‘Oh how amiable are thy dwellings’,
processed to a platform on the site of the tower for a short service.
The pink granite foundation stone, at the base of the southern wall,
was laid by the vicar’s only son, Edward. It was inscribed "To
the glory of God and in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary
of the accession to the throne of his servant Victoria, Queen of the
realm by public subscription on foundations laid by Revd Fitzroy John
Fitz Wygram, first Vicar of the Parish. This stone was laid by Edward
Bligh on the 24th June 1887." One
each of every coin in the country, from a farthing to a guinea, was
placed behind this stone.
The gracefully tapering Portland stone spire was completed in the New Year and on January 3rd, 1888, in warm sunshine, the vicar and the intrepid Mrs Annie Bligh, together with the Church Wardens and other parishioners, climbed the scaffolding to the summit where Mrs Bligh placed the capstone in position. The choir up in the new belfry sung the 'Te Deum' which was heard by the parishioners and innumerable school children below but not by the party so high above. When the ceremony was completed, Mrs Bligh threw buns out of a large clothes basket down to the crowds below, to their amusement and delight. That spring the parish was recorded as being delighted with the new spire.
Climbing a staircase to about
eighty-five feet, then a ladder to the middle look-out, parishioners
could experience the spectacular view for sixpence. It was the tallest
structure in the then Borough of Twickenham, standing 157 feet and
remains a prominent landmark. From the lower platform in the steeple,
which is 83 feet above the ground, a fine view of the surrounding
countryside could be seen, including Windsor Castle and Box Hill,
both more than 12 miles away.
In December 1893 Messrs J
Smith & Sons of Derby supplied and fixed a clock with four dials
in the tower, and also four ordinary bells for chiming.
The first inscription reads "J
Smith & Sons, Midland Steam Clock Works Derby"
and the second reads "Reconsrtucted
by John Smith & Sons, Midland Clock Works, Derby Ltd, CLOCKMAKERS,
The clock and four bells were dedicated on December 23rd 1893, when
the former vicar, Revd Henry Bligh, who had been chairman of the Clock
and Bells committee from 1887-93, returned from Fareham to preach
a sermon appropriate to the texts on the bells. He then "set
the clock in motion by pulling a tassel, which liberated the pendulum
and immediately the sweet-toned chimes were heard".
A short peal was rung and the choir sang "To
Thee O God we dedicate our bells now raised on high".
By starting the clock and the first chime “which
delighted everyone within receiving distance”
Revd Bligh had the satisfaction of completing the work he had begun
with the building of the tower.
Parts of the tower needed re-pointing in 1920 and there were several outbreaks of dry rot in the tower, the one in the fifties causing extensive damage to the floors at the east end, and another in the early sixties.
In 1921 a Mr Jakeman invented and erected, at his own cost, an apparatus by which the bell on week days could be rung from the baptistry, instead of from the belfry. The church clock was repaired in 1924, the vicar writing “(it) may once more be relied upon for catching the business trains. Some have already expressed their pleasure in hearing their old friend chiming forth the hours. I hope that many who have missed the clock's timely aid will send me donations to help pay for its cleaning and repairing". Again in 1934, “the clock has not been behaving itself in its usual correct manner just lately. This is because the wire of the striker has broken”. The clock was consequently cleaned and mended.
In December 1940 a British Wellington bomber, the crew of which had bailed out when their plane had become uncontrollable due to icing, crashed on to No 63 Park Road, the home of Lady Stanton. The tip of the plane’s wing knocked off one of the crosses from one of the four pinnacles at the base of St James’s spire. (See the picture on the near right where the right hand cross is missing.) After a parish-wide collection, much needed repairs to the clock and spire were undertaken in 1947. The spire had been badly shaken during the bombing in the war and steeple-jacks set to work making good the damage. (See the picture on thefar right.) At that time the spire still supported the original cross and weather vane (see left). It must have been removed some time between then and the 1989 spire renovation because at that time the 'new' cross was taken down, repaired, re-coated with glass fibre and resin, and refixed in a new capstone by the steeplejacks.
The church clock had to be
stopped on 7th September 1970, when it was found that the bottom pulley
anchorages of the driving weights, which total nearly half a ton,
were affected by dry rot. A preliminary inspection in 1970 showed
that some repairs were needed to the spire stonework, lightning conductor,
and weathervane, and that the upper brickwork of the tower needed
extensive re-pointing. Strong wire-mesh was put up on all openings
in the tower in 1956 to stop the pigeons coming in.