St James’ Anglican Church Morpeth has been a site of Christian worship for almost two hundred years.
The church building is said to represent the fulfilment of a vow made by Lieutenant Edward Close at the Battle of Albuera in 1811, during the Peninsular War, that he would build a house of worship if his life were spared. The foundation stone was laid in 1837 and the church was built to Close’s design. It was consecrated in 1840. Only the tower remains of the original building. There is a memorial window to Close in the eastern wing, commissioned and funded in 1872 by the community in recognition of his services and generosity.
Noted architect Edmund Blacket was employed in 1862 to extend the east end by the addition of a chancel and sanctuary. He inserted new cedar pews which still remain and he designed both a distinguished font and a stone pulpit. The latter, beautifully carved by D. Yeates of Maitland, is an exact replica of a pulpit built in 1280 for a Cistercian Abbey which had since become Beaulieu Parish Church where Bishop Tyrrell, who funded the extensions, had been rector.
In 1874 J. Horbury Hunt, noted colonial architect, was commissioned to rebuild the nave after a fire. Under instructions to alter the character of the building as little as possible his major contribution is a fine and beautifully crafted hammer beam roof. Thus the tower was designed by Close, the chancel by Blacket and the nave by Hunt. And yet the building has a unified feel. The organ inside was built in 1877. Edward Close and John Howe, the leader of the first overland expedition into the Hunter, are buried in Morpeth cemetery.
St James’ Morpeth celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2015. Since those early days, the people of St James’ have continued to serve God, the parish and the diocese faithfully.