What tremendous vision Lieutenant Edward Close had in building St James' Church. To think that the conception of this beautiful church was made on the battlefield in Albuera, in 1811 during the Peninsular War, as recorded in Lieutenant Close's Diary
. It wasn't until 1837 that Lieutenant Close's son, 13 year old Edward, laid the foundation stone.
Bishop Broughton consecrated the 70 feet x 30 feet (21.3m x 9.2m) church consisting of the square tower, gallery (where the organ was situated), and closed in pews - some 3 years later. As Morpeth's population grew, St James needed more accommodation so, directed by Architect Edmund Blacket, the east wall was partially removed and the present sanctuary and Vestry added. Also there is the outstanding cut-stone pulpit; the design of which is a replica from Beaulieu Church, Hampshire. This work was meticulously done by Mr D Yeates.
The roof and ceiling were constructed of locally hewn and sawn timber. However a fire destroyed the roof and weakened the side walls in 1874. So, for the second time, Edward Close re-laid the foundation stone some 38 years later. Rebuilding was carried out quickly, directed by Architect J Horbury Hunt, whose design of the roof and ceiling are "a thrilling conception and most remarkable feature" as quoted by Rector, Professor A. P. Elkin.
By 1877 a new organ was needed. This was set at the front of the church. Many a young boy had to hand pump the organ until the mid 1940's, when this rare example of William Davidson's organ building ability was electrified and moved to its present position.
Bishop Tyrrell considered himself a parishioner of St James', beginning in 1848, when he felt the majority of the population were of "low moral tone". So his desire to create beauty in his church is understandable. Therefore the magnificent east window was his dream and became a reality when "inhabitants of the district" paid for the window in memory of Lt Edward Close in 1871. The full impact of this window is only achieved when the rising sun's rays filter into the darkened church. The present cedar pews with their lovely carved ends were placed in the church in 1864.
The parishioners of St James' indeed have a treasured heritage which has been beautifully maintained for so many years.