Stoke Orchard has a population of some 400 and is within 9 miles of Cheltenham and Gloucester and 3 miles from Tewkesbury. The church of St James the Great dates from 12th Century with some world renowned wall paintings and a close association with the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Church services are generally of a traditional nature with communion.
We are fortunate that many local people give their time and energy on a voluntary basis towards maintaining a place of worship in the community.
The Revd Christopher Harrison has written a wonderful history of the church and its paintings. We are extremely grateful for his dedication to St James.
This remarkable little Norman church has the earliest and largest mural cycle dedicated to the life and martyrdom of St James to be found in Europe today. The church was formerly a Chapelry of Bishop’s Cleeve, which in the Middle Ages belonged to the Cathedral Priory of Worcester.
It was built around 1160, probably at the expense, and certainly for the convenience, of the Lord of the Manor. The place name (Stoke Orchard) has nothing to do with orchards but is a corruption of the name Archer, the family which held the Manor from the 12th century to the 14th century. The link with Bishop’s Cleeve remained until 1929 when it was joined to its neighbour to become the Parish of Tredington and Stoke Orchard.
The church is a typical small Norman church. The nave has its five original Norman windows and the north door with its original 12th century hinges with animal head decoration of Scandinavian influence (seen from outside). To allow more light the large south window was added in the 16th century. The Norman chancel arch was rebuilt in the late 13th/ early 14th century with a pointed arch. At the same time, above the chancel arch, the bellcote (with its bell inscribed ‘John of Gloucester’) was added. The font is Norman, the altar is Jacobean and the communion rails are 18th century. Set in the walls, there are two piscinas (stone basins used in the washing of hands and the communion chalice), a 12th century piscina in the chancel and a 13th century piscina in the nave.
The interior of the Church of St James the Great painted by Arthur Bell R.W.A. (1897-1995).
The principal feature of the church is the remarkable series of paintings (the earliest over 800 years old) which cover the walls of the nave; and they were fully uncovered and consolidated in 1952–56 when other extensive restoration work was carried out involving the re-plastering of the exterior nave walls and pointing of the stone-work, the re-roofing of the old Cotswold slates of the nave and chancel and the cleaning and white-washing of the chancel and the nave roof.