Thomas Jollie and St James' Church, Altham

This weekend I went on pilgrimage. I didn’t go to Mecca or Lourdes; I went somewhere more significant- Altham. That’s right, the little village near Accrington, better known for its trading estate than its spirituality. It was at this village’s ancient church that the Rev. Thomas Jollie established a ‘gathered’ or congregational church at the time of Cromwell.

Image in the public domain; source: Wikipedia. 

He was appointed the vicar here in 1649 and set about creating a fellowship of true believers. He was a strict pastor: members were expelled for ‘carrying burdens on the Sabbath’, using bad language towards a mother-in-law and seeking to marry a ‘papist’. For 11-12 years, he preached here, and was known as one of the leading puritans in the north of England.

Like most puritans, he preferred preaching the Bible to praying the Prayer Book and was forced to leave his parish when the monarchy was restored. For the next 29 years, he was hounded by the authorities, suffering several prison sentences at Lancaster and Skipton for illegal preaching and leading unauthorised meetings before moving to Wymondhouses near Pendleton.

Despite its puritan past, the church is not without its medieval heritage. Here are some Saxon grave-markers, sometimes considered to be ‘witching stones’, thought to drive off evil spirits. 

There are also some old medieval grave slabs with swords carved onto them, perhaps from returning crusaders. Later generations thought it expedient to reuse them as door lintels.

This tympanum would have been placed over the Norman entrance to the building; it survived the reformation for its geometric design. Had it contained images of Adam and Eve, or Christ, it would have been destroyed. 

The Church has an organ built by the great John Laycock of Keighley, like our own, though this one is rather larger:

This is how the church would have looked in Jollie's day, during the golden age of puritan England:


Isaiah 3:10: Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings.