St James the Less, Tatham, Lancashire

Feature Sets (3)


Tatham is a village in the Lancaster district in NE Lancashire. A small church, no division between nave and chancel except for an external buttressing feature on the S wall which may represent the original rood staircase. Essentially the church appears to be a late medieval rebuild around a late C12 S door and N arcade piers, with subsequent tidying-up and heavy Victorian re-medievalisation. The tower, according to an inscribed stone in the N wall, was rebuilt in 1722, but probably incorporates medieval fabric.

The only Romanesque features now are the S door and possibly the piers, capitals and W respond of the arcade.


There were three churches in Tatham according to Domesday, with taxable value assessed at 13 geld units. There were chaplins recorded, suggesting the church was a chapel of Melling until a list of rectors begins c.1220.  In 1246 the value of the rectory was estimated at £10 a year, but was assessed in the 1291 Taxatio as £6 13s. 4d., reduced by half after the Scottish invasion of 1322.

The church and surrounding settlement is sometimes called Lower Tatham, in order to distinguish it from its chapel at Tatham Fell (now an 1888 building by Paley, Austin and Paley).


Exterior Features


Nave S doorway

The doorway appears to have been re-set, but some of its uneven appearence seems to be original rather than mis-assembly.

1st order

Immediately above the door is a chevron pattern of uneven size. One chevron goes across two wide voussoirs, while another near the summit is entirely carved on a very narrow voussoir that may have been added in order to balance the arch. It is unclear however if this is a result of relocation, as the continuous nature of the chevron over the voussoirs suggests carving after the arch was assembled.

2nd order

The doorway jambs are free-standing shafts, entirely replaced, that stand on badly-worn bases, of different stone and perhaps not original. They support reeded capitals, the east probably entirely replaced. The order of the arch is more disciplined and consists of twelve rectangular clasping motifs (described by Pevsner an abstracted version of beakhead) along a continuous roll carved on to individual voussoirs. The bottom four of these clasps are simply decorated with three grooves, while the eight remaining motifs have the flanking grooves terminating earlier, giving an arrow-like effect. Some of these are replacements, for instance the eastern voussoir.


The label is a thin strip with billet moulding in its lower part and a scaling motif across the top. It is carved on a number of pieces that do not match the voussoirs underneath, and many of these pieces are replacements.

Height of opening 2.5m
Width of opening 1m

Interior Features



Nave N arcade

The arcade itself is pointed and belongs to the late medieval period, as does the E respond.

Column 1 is octagonal on a square base. The base is diagonal, gently curved and ending in a fillet. Above this the column has four broaches to transition between the two shapes. The capital is square and plain. It has a fillet at its base, and then transitions to the square abacus, which has two chamfers beneath it.

Column 2 rests upon a similar base, but the broaches are more crudely carved on the W side, and on the E side continue in a wedge-like shape. Either they were unfinished or were designed to adjoin another feature on this side.

The capital is the same but is decorated on its four faces:

On the W face is a pronged motif, like a crossbow.
On the S face is a single trianglar motif in relief.
On the E face are three lines in relief radiating from the base.
On the N face is a trefoil motif in relief. It can be seen that it has been cut back into the capitals and is certainly of later date. 

The W respond is altogether plainer. It is square, with a square capital and simple wedge-shaped base. The capital has a roll for its base, a curved diagonal surface and plain abacus.


The tracery of the south wall is all the work of Austin and Paley in 1885, replacing Classical windows. Therefore it is difficult to date but its relative thinness, plus the clear resetting of the S doorway, implies that it is not Romanesque. The Y-tracery in the E window and vestry, while some very recent replacement work within contrasts with the whole, is also unreliable as genuine medieval fabric. A small one-light cusped Perp window in the W end of the N aisle is the only reliable window and suggests a C15 or C16 date for the outer walls.

The sedilia and piscina may represent discoveries that were made in the restoration of 1885, and while of the appearance of the late C13/early C14, they are now entirely Victorian and therefore not good evidence for dating the chancel.

The N arcade is problematic in how much it represents a C12 campaign. It consists of two octagonal piers and two responds carrying pointed arches. The E respond is a Perp compound pier, and on the N side of this can be seen the original buttress and plinth of the exterior N wall, inside the C19 aisle extension but too close to the respond to be the same campaign as it. It may be late C13/early C14, going with the sedilia and piscina, if their restored form is to be believed. The W respond and two octagonal piers are usually described as late C12, but some of the carving - such as the trefoil-type ornament on the N side of the W capital - is clearly later, perhaps marking the place of an image that was installed there.


  • F. Arnold-Foster, Studies in church dedications (London, 1899).

  • C. Hartwell and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Lancashire: North (London, 2009), pp.664-665.

  • N. Pevsner, North Lancashire (Harmondsworth, 1969), pp.245-255.

  • 'The parish of Tatham', in William Farrer and J Brownbill (eds.) A History of the County of Lancaster, VIII, (London, 1914), pp. 217-225.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SD 614 739 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Lancashire
now: Lancashire
medieval: York
now: Blackburn
now: St James the Less
medieval: St James
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
James Cameron 
Visit Date
30 July 2015