St James the Less, Vauxhall Bridge Road is a couple of minutes walk from Pimlico Underground, under 10 minutes from Victoria Station, and is easy to visit when visiting Tate Britain, in which case it should be combined with a look at the sculpture on Vauxhall Bridge. The church is open for a very long lunch-hour most weekdays.
St James the Less is a seriously polychromatic Victorian Gothic church, by G. E. Street, one of the most important Gothic architects. It also contains a notable decorative work after a design by G. F. Watts.
G. E. Street designed and built St James the Less from 1858-1861, his first church in London. The exterior is most distinctive, because of the big solid tower with short steeple, separately standing from the body of the church, Campanile style, and connected by the porch. The structure is of red and black brick, and forms a good grouping with the matching ex-Parish Hall and School, the latter of which Street came back to build in 1890. Good railings in Thorndike Street, also by Street.
The interior is amazingly polychrome, with red, black and white brickwork, marble, stone and granite pillars, painted (though darkened) ceiling with many biblical faces peering down, and bright stained glass windows by Clayton and Bell. Above the font is ornate ironwork painted red, yellow and green. Good ironwork as well around the altar. Much of this interior detail is by Street himself.
Behind the altar, tiles and black and terra cotta insets into stone depict saints and angels, giving a feel rather like that of hanging tapestries. The windows there show very ornate, lively scenes, with a Cain clubbing Abel to death near the centre, someone being lowered into a well, and small figures grasping, reaching, and gesturing most excellently.
To the right, a more sombre-toned window of 1892. Then along the side walls of the building, each window shows a full length saint with small scene below, somewhat medievalised - 16 in all.
Attention must also be drawn to the capitals of the short, solid columns, bearing deeply sculpted eagles, flowers and parables. These are apparently by W. Pearce.
Finally, the great mosaic after a design by Watts above the arch to the chancel. Watts had carried out the design as a fresco some years before, and it is reproduced here in Venetian glass mosaic, using a cartoon taken by a pupil of Watts - H. L. Moore - from the much-deteriorated fresco. The depiction is rather unexpected for Watts - not much like his more familiar painted work, bar a sculptural solidity of faces and bodies to the lower figures (the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). The drapery is particularly good, and the whole is on an appropriate scale for the height.
A few minutes' walk south leads to the river, with Vauxhall Bridge and its huge statues, and to the left, another few minutes by foot leads to the Tate Gallery.
Another important polychromatic church interior in London is All Saints Maragaret Street.
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