St James's Church stands right in the heart of the village surrounded by lanes and houses. Nayland was once an important centre for the Suffolk cloth trade with a population of 400. Re-building the church in the 16th century made it large enough to hold all its inhabitants.
St James' Tower
A visiting historian recently pointed out that John Wastell, the master-mason responsible for St James, was also the builder of Kings College Chapel, Cambridge, St James's Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds and the Church of St Peter and St Paul, Lavenham.
THE 14TH CENTURY UNBUTRESSED TOWER with its two strong string courses, was left alone until the early 19th century when the top was re-built and extended. Because it had become hazardous, the original spire was omitted. The Great Essex Earthquake of 1884 damaged the pinnacle of the recently restored tower and the edifice became unsafe. In 1963 a complete restoration of the tower was undertaken; the soft red-brick superstructure was removed and replaced with the present-day spire - a copy of the original design. The bell openings have ‘Y’ tracery, there is a 19th century clock facing west and lower down, the belfry is lit by lancet windows under ogee arches, finials and head stops. The belfry contains a peal of six bells.
THE SOUTHWEST PORCH was built in 1525 as a memorial to John Abell a wealthy clothier. This was erected at the end of the south aisle facing west due to lack of space. Note that there are three well-worn grooved, canopied niches in the frontage with blind panelling and crochetted pinnacles above. Above the Tudor inner archway an angel holds a shield. The interior vaulting and panelling dates from the re-building in 1884. The same John Abell left a bequest to be used in perpetuity for the maintenance of Anchor Bridge at the entrance to the village. The keystones of the bridge still bear the device of a bell surrounded by the letter ‘A’ for the bridge's benefactor.
AN OCTAGONAL ROOD-STAIR TURRET made of brick faced with flint juts out at the east end of the south aisle, its stone cap with remains of a finial rising above the roof line.
A PRIEST’S DOOR can be found under a small porch just around the corner; in-between the aisle and the chancel. The carving on the wooden door is of interest as above the linen-fold panelling the words, ‘John Foum’ can be seen. The list of incumbents is incomplete and the Rev. Foum is thought to be one of the missing names and perhaps the priest who had the door installed.
THE EAST WINDOW of the 14th century chancel has recently renewed attractive flowing tracery and there is a north-east facing vestry which originally was a chapel.
THE NORTH AISLE has a large niche in the north-east buttress and although the large side windows a Perpendicular in style, the west window still retains the intersecting tracery of the earlier 14th century building. We are now close to the entrance of the church.
THE NORTH PORCH The 15th century porch provides the main entrance into the church with three steps down leading to the earlier 14th century doorway over which can be seen an ogee niche. The sturdy oak doors with good linen-fold panelling set within a trailing vine, are basically original but have been sensitively renovated. Above the door, inside the church, can be seen one of the two sets of Royal Arms; this one on canvas dating from the 18th century bears the initials of William IV which were added at a later date. The other coat-of-arms - three-dimensional, painted and gilded - is post-Hanoverian circa 1816 made in cast iron affixed to the front of the organ-gallery. On the west wall of the porch is a plaque to the memory of a chorister, Thomas Smith.