History & Heritage

St. James Church in the small village of Altham has been described as “The hidden jewel in the crown of the Blackburn diocese” and who can argue with that description? Almost 900 years of history are attached to this ancient and holy place, such that spirituality oozes out of its very walls.

No one knows when the first church was built, there is some evidence that it may have existed in Saxon times, but the first documentary evidence of a church on this site is contained in a deed ascribed to Henry de Lacy dated 1140 which assigned to Hugh, son of Leofwine the Saxon, “all the rights of the manor of Elvetham (Altham), Clayton, Akerington….including the monastery of Elvetham.

The village of Altham has contributed more than its fair share to national events – John Hacking invented the cotton carding engine in 1772. He lived in the nearby village of Huncoat and worshipped at St James, Altham, where he is buried. Lydia Becker, whose father was churchwarden here at St James, was a noted botanist and corresponded with Charles Darwin, but she is more widely known for her work as a pioneer of the Suffragist movement and of whom Queen Victoria said “Lydia Becker deserves a good thrashing!” Douglas Hewitt Hacking, a descendant of John Hacking, was baptised at St James, Altham. He became the first Baronet Hacking of Altham, was Member of Parliament for Chorley, Under Secretary of State at the Home Office, Chairman of the Conservative Party and founder and Chairman of the British Travel Association. These are just a few of the people who helped to put the village of Altham on the national stage.

This rich and varied history, and many of the artefacts and architectural features of the church building, many of which have been recycled from the original 1140 church by the 1512 masons, are included in the guided tours (see below) and have been documented in a booklet entitled “A History of St. James Church, Altham”, copies of which can be purchased in church.

It is a place of peace and holiness. Five hundred years of worship are contained in this beautiful and special building. We have the privilege of continuing a tradition which goes back 900 years. We are guardians of its heritage and we recognise that in our time here we are custodians of the history, the present and the future of this church. Our task is simply to nurture and care for it and, in time, to pass it on to the next generation in a better state than we found it.

That original monastery or church existed when:

  • Thomas Becket was assassinated in 1170
  • Magna Carta was signed in 1215
  • Wat Tyler lead the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381
  • The English defeated the French at Agincourt in 1415
  • The last major battle of the English Civil war took place at Bosworth Field in 1485

The present church, built in 1512, just three years after Henry VIII was crowned king of England, has seen:-

  • Ties with the Catholic Church severed by Henry VIII in 1533
  • The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588
  • The Gunpowder Plot of 1601
  • The English civil war, which began in 1642
  • The Peterloo massacre in 1819
  • Women’s Suffrage in 1919
  • The Battle of Britain in 1940
  • The first woman Prime Minister in 1979
  • The Coronavirus Pandemic in 2020

Opening Times

Apart from the regular 9.30 am Sunday services, the church is opened between the months of June to September each Tuesday and Wednesday from 11.30 am to 1.30 pm and every third Sunday from 2.00 pm to 4.30. In addition, the church, and its registers going back to the year 1592, can be viewed by appointment with the churchwardens. There is plenty of unrestricted parking.

Guided Tours

Having such an ancient and varied history St James, Altham is of special interest to groups of various kinds and guided tours are available for groups of up to 50 people. Each tour takes about an hour and a quarter and tours are available all year round, although evening visits are better in the summer in order to take advantage of the beautiful stained glass. A small charge is made, based on a per-capita basis. To find out more contact Les Moore or Sue Tinker.

Heritage Exhibition

With financial assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2020, we installed a touch screen exhibition showing the significant people and events associated with the Parish Church of St. James and the wider Parish of Altham during the past 500 years. The exhibition is well worth a look – why not combine it with a visit during the summer openings?   

Heritage Days for Schools

The days are intended for KS2 children, but could be adapted for other groups. The maximum number for a group is 30.

The day provides a fun experience of our church through the ages from 16th century to the present day. A guided tour has been designed to highlight the features which have a story and paint a picture of life and times for children of the primary age range.

There are trails in and around the building for children to find features from the clues provided, e.g. stained glass windows, graves and dates.

There are a number of famous local characters associated with the church including the famous suffragist and botanist – Lydia Becker who was a close friend of Charles Darwin .

A number of activities have been designed linked to what the children see and hear e.g. crafts, quizzes and games and the items they produce over the course of the day can be taken back to school with them.

The length of the session is approximately 4 hours.

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