Several churches have stood on this site, each being progressively larger as the population of Bream village increased over the years. The present shape and size of St James was the result of a restoration in 1860, overseen by architect William White. Mr White also oversaw work at All Saints, Newland at the same time as this one. A rework of the vestry on the far side in 1891 and repositioning of the porch left the church looking from the outside much as it does today.
The first recorded church here was actually a chapel-of-ease of the large parish church at Newland, a chapel of-ease being a church building controlled by a mother church (in Newland) but being more convenient to attend than the mother church.
In the 1820’s Rev. Henry Poole enlarged the tiny chapel that he found here, enlarging the nave and adding an octagonal spire on the west end and a gallery for the musicians.
Henry Poole also built St Paul’s church in Parkend, an octagonal church in Coleford, of which only the clocktower remains, and the church tower at Berry Hill.
St James remained a chapel-of-ease until it became the parish church of the new parish of Bream, formed in 1854. John Baverstock was the first vicar. Baptisms are recorded here from 1813. Burials took place here from 1827 and marriages from 1855. If you are tracing your family history any of these ceremonies before these dates would have taken place outside of Bream – probably at Newland, St Briavels, Parkend (after 1821) or Lydney.
The church plate includes a chalice and paten donated in 1680 by James and Mary Gough of Pastors Hill. James Gough was buried in 1691 in St Mary’s churchyard at St Briavels. The family crest of the Gough family, 3 boars heads facing left, can be seen in the churchyard.
A further set of plate was donated in 1855 by the Deputy Surveyor, Edward Machen, who lived at Whitemead Park, Parkend. His sister Alice Davies was also a benefactor to St James, especially the 1891 additions.
The third vicar of Bream, Rev. J F Gosling has a memorial in a field ¼ of a mile from here. Locally it is known as the Paddock Stone. To see it, follow the road towards St Briavels and turn onto the public footpath on the left. Eventually the footpath joins a track via a wooden stile. Looking over a large field gate on the other side of the track a pointed stone, about 4 ft high, should be visible on the right. The inscription, which faces away from you, reads “To J Frederick Gosling, Vicar of Bream, 1869-1882″. The Rev. Gosling played one first class cricket game for Kent, against England at Canterbury on 16th August 1858. It was erected in this out of the way place by Henry Gosling, brother of the Rev. Gosling, to protect a well which was used for drinking water in Rev. Goslings’s time.
Between here and the Maypole you passed the tastefully designed Church Centre, opened for church and community use in 2018. Adjacent to the Church Centre is the new vicarage and adjacent to that is the original vicarage, built in 1860. The garage and shop (currently closed and under renovation – mid 2020) across the street were formerly a garage and car franchise owned by churchwarden, the late Mr Brian Franklin. When St James was very badly damaged by fire in 1981 services were held in the car showroom. There is at least one person who can claim that they were christened there.
Over 100 years earlier services were held in the Clubroom of the Rising Sun Inn, presumably while St James was being restored. On Saturday mornings members of the church can often be seen at the Nelson Oak in the village centre, where they communicate their faith to the public.
The fields across the road are part of Bream Court Farm. The attractive 17c farmhouse is further along the road on the right. It was once a dairy farm with it’s own milk delivery service. Today the fields provide grazing for horses.