St James’ Church is in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust. If you would like to know more about using the church for local activities and events, including weddings and blessings, please click here.
The inspiration for a dramatic Dickens tale…
Charles Dickens used the churchyard of St James’ Church as his inspiration in the opening chapter of Great Expectations, where the hero Pip meets Magwitch the convict. The site – on the Hoo Peninsula with marshes stretching north to the Thames estuary, is dramatically desolate and bleak in winter, recalling the sinister opening scene in David Lean’s 1946 film of the book.
Here, you can find what have become known as Pip’s Graves – the forlorn gravestones of 13 babies that Dickens describes in the chapter as “little stone lozenges each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their [parents’] graves”.
Inside, the church is light and spacious. There is a 500-year-old timber door that still swings on its ancient hinges – even though it now leads to a blocked north doorway! Another quirky feature is the 19th-century vestry – its walls are lined from top to bottom with thousands of cockle shells – the emblem of St James.
The monuments in the church walls and floor are a fascinating record of those who once lived here. They include a slab with a brass effigy of Feyth Brook, who died in 1508 and was the wife of Lord Cobham, of nearby Cooling Castle.