Kingston in the Purbeck Hills

village website   •   registered one-place study  •   part of Dorset OPC project

Kingston New Church

In 1874 the present parish church was commenced by the third Earl, and was completed in 1880. It did not immediately replace the existing church, and for over forty years it was, in effect, the private chapel of the Eldon family. In April 1921 Lord Eldon conveyed the church and churchyard to the Church Commissioners, and on October 11th, 1921 they were consecrated by the Rt. Rev. Bishop Jocelyne. On January, 1922 the new church was substituted for the old one under an Instrument of the Church Commissioners.

The architect of this very notable building was George Edmund Street, about whom something should be said. As a young man, he was for five years assistant to Sir George Scott, and as such designed a number of churches, being Honorary Diocesan Architect to the Diocese of Oxford at the age of twenty-six.

For thirty years and more he was one of the leading church architects of his day, gaining the gold medal of the R.I.B.A., and becoming Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy. He was an enthusiast for the Gothic style, as exemplified in his design for the Law Courts in the Strand. The Dictionary of National Biography says of him – “. . . one of Street’s favourite designs was that of Kingston church, Dorset: it is a cruciform building, with an apse, central tower and narthex, built throughout of Purbeck stone, with shafts of purbeck marble . . . the mouldings are rich, and owing to the character of the material, the building has a model-like perfection . . .”.

The stone and marble was all quarried and worked on the Encombe estate, and the Itimber was brought from Lord Eldon’s Gloucestershire property. The work of construction was carried out largely by men of the estate, without the aid of contractors.

The tower, which is somewhat disproportionate in size to the rest of the church, was made large enough to contain a full peal of eight bells, which were cast and installed by John Taylor & Co., of Loughborough, in 1880. The bells range in weight from the treble of 6¾  cwt. to the tenor of 26¾ cwt. The peal is in the key of D. The treble and tenor bells were recast when the peal was rehung in 1921. Kingston’s bells are well know for their quality, and teams of ringers have come from far and wide to ring them.

The fine three-manual organ was built by Maley, Young and Oldknow. The pipework is particularly good, some of it being the famous Cavaillé-Col.

The massive appearance of the church and the evidently fine materials used in its construction may well give the visitor the impression that it was built to last forever, with little or no attention. This, unfortunately, is far from being the case: after some eighty or ninety years, a considerable amount of maintenance and repair work has been found to be urgently necessary, and over the late0 has been raised by its small parish of under two hundred people, there being no endowment. The Vicar and Churchwardens, and members of the Church Council, and all those who use and love this beautiful House of God, are deeply grateful for all the help that has been given, and pray that it might continue to be given by those who are able and ready to do so.

Photograph of Kingston St James taken from South Street by Graham Rains

Reproduced here courtesy of Graham Rains and Pictures of

© Graham Rains

Etching By Alfred Dawson c.1882

The Church & Organ
By the late Reverend Robert Watton, Vicar of St. James's 1991 to 2003

St. James's Church, Kingston-in-Purbeck, Dorset, was built at the behest and expense of John Scott, third Earl of Eldon (1845-1926). The reasons for commissioning a second church in Kingston (the earlier building on the eastern side of the village, now a private residence, was completed in 1833) are not entirely clear. It seems likely that the Earl saw Kingston's new church as a fitting memorial to his great-grandfather, John Scott, first Earl of Eldon (1751-1838), who was the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain for over twenty-five years. The project also provided employment for the local estate workers, stonemasons and quarrymen during a period of recession.

The third Earl spared no expense and turned for help to the eminent Victorian architect George Edmund Street (1824-1881) who at the time was busily completing the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Between 1874-1880 Kingston's new church rose high on its hill top site overlooking Corfe Castle, and at a cost of more than £70,000. Wherever possible local materials were used, including much grey Purbeck marble, close-jointed Purbeck ashlar walls: and the graded Purbeck roof states.

The overall result is Street's best church ("the jolliest thing I ever did!" he said.) and one of the finest Victorian examples of ecclesiastical architecture in the land. With some justification the building has been described as 'the Cathedral of Purbeck'.

At Lord Eldon's suggestion, for his three-manual organ, Street turned to the London firm of Maley, Young & Oldknow. This little-known partnership existed for only about ten years from the mid 1870s. Records show that they built at least forty organs in an area that stretched from London to Cornwall, the Channel Islands and France. A number of instruments were built in Dorset, but most are now lost or have been altered beyond recognition.

Lord Eldon's generosity ensured that the very finest materials were used in the Kingston organ. One stop, the Vox Humana on the swell, is attributed to the renowned French organ builder Cavaillé-Coll. Generally the tonal characteristics of the organ are distinctly continental. The organ is contained in a very shallow north transept with the bellows and much of the mechanism housed in the crypts beneath the chancel floor. Unusually for a mechanical 'tracker' action organ the console is detached, the organist facing the pipes.
In recognition of the organ's special interest as a period instrument the National Heritage Memorial Fund awarded a grant of £22,500 for the organ's restoration, on condition that no alterations were made. Other grants were received from the Pilgrim Trust, the Talbot Village Trust and Dorset Country Council. The painstaking restoration was carried out by Derry Thompson of Maiden Newton and associates in 1992/93. The Reverend Nicholas Thistlewaite of Cambridge, a leading authority on Victorian organs, and Mr Peter Collins, provided much welcome advice. The restored instrument was opened in June 1994 by Doctor Peter Hurford.

The late Robert Watton, vicar of St. James' Church, Kingston 1991 to 2003,

who master-minded the restoration of the organ which can be seen on the right.

Photograph taken 23 August 1995 by Martin Monkman, Amphion Recordings.

For more views of the inside of the church please click here.

The 14th Century Font

Terry Hardy, who lives in Kingston, has just produced this excellent booklet and he has kindly given permission for us to make it available on the Kingston OPC website in pdf format. Simply click on the image below.

Simply click on the image


A Jewel in the Purbeck Hills

Terry L. Hardy

St. James, Kingston - A Jewel in the Purbeck Hills

    byTerry L. Hardy

The booklet was produced in July 2009 and was sold at the Kingston Church Fête in August to raise monies for church funds.

The booklet is free to download - all we ask is that next time you are fortunate enough to visit the delightful church, you make a small donation to church funds.

The booklet describes the history and architecture of the church, and includes some photographs taken by Terry which were also available in postcard format at the Fête to raise monies for church funds.

The bell rope chamber accessed by a spiral stone staircase

The organ console and pipes

The Original Plans - North West Elevation by George Edmund Street

An early photo of the NW Elevation - note the upper windows differ from the original design

The SW Elevation c.1890 - the path in the foreground led directly from the new vicarage

The SW Elevation c.1901 - note the growth of the trees in the foreground

The SW Elevation c.1911 - note the first grave on the south side (of Revd. Spencer-Smith

Photograph of painting hanging on the south side of the New Church

Photograph of painting hanging on the south side of the New Church

The New Church of Kingston St James photographed at night.

Reproduced here courtesy of Terry Yarrow ‘The Dorset Rambler’

© Terry Yarrow 2010  

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New Church

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