St. James was built as a Chantry Chapel where Prayers were said for the souls of the dead. It was probably built by Reginald Courtenay who obtained a licence from the Pope (Alexander 111 ) in 1178.

However, it was during the period of office of John Gyffard, Vicar, in 1358  that the inhabitants of Okehampton applied to the Pope Urban V.  for permission to have church services in St James Chapel, instead of the Parish church. The original parchment of the Pope’s reply is in the Town Chest. (Devon Record Office A transcript of this reply is found here.

It says, 1365 :-

Urban, Bishop, servant of the servants of God to our beloved sons wheresoever of the township of Ochampton, of the diocese of Exeter, greeting and apostolic blessing. Conscious of the expression of your devotion which thou showest to us and to the Court of Rome , may we judge liberally towards your sins.Hence it is in your township of Ochampton, in the parish of the Holy Trinity, otherwise All Saints there is a certain Chapel, founded and fully furnished in honour of St. James, but not endowed and even deprived of divine service.

The petition on your behalf which has reached us sets forth that the same township, together with the chapel is found to be situated  between two streams of water, on account of which floods often occur,  so  that, as we learn and are assured, for the distance of  a mile or more it is impossible to attend to hear divine service. It is stated that also in the schedule of your said petition  that through the middle of your said township of Ochampton there is a certain public road which stretches from Cornwall towards the city of Exeter and London, by which so many caravans (Travellers) enter and pass through,  that sometimes, from the said township to your mother church (All Saints)  it has happened that it was not possible to provide the said travellers with food and other necessaries or to help them in any way in your absence.

At the same time, in the said petition,  on your behalf, it is humbly implored of us that we may deign to grant a perpetual chantry  and the celebration of divine services on these occasions, at your said Chapel. We therefore, desiring as we ought, the increase of divine religion and seeing how piously your devotion to God is established, we have granted by our favour the perpetual Chantry and the continual celebration of Divine Service  by whatever priests, religious or secular, in the said your Chapel of St James.

Whilst however it may be so as stated above in your petition the same by these our present letters we intend moreover to be understood:- that oblations  and other emoluments arising in any way to the said Chapel must at all times be paid to the Mother Church. To no one is it allowed to infringe this clause of our grant or should anyone presume, by foolish act, to oppose this, may he incur the wrath of God the Father Omnipotent as well as of the Blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul.

Dated at Rome at St. Peter, in the Kalenda of February (14-30 Jan) in the third year of our Pontificate. (1365)

In other words, the inhabitents were pardoned by Pope Urban for not attending Church Services because of the rivers flooding and so being unable to get up the hill to the Parish Church of All Saints. They now had a licence to hold Divine Service in St James. However, any money raised through gifts, collections etc. must be paid to the mother Church ie. All Saints.

The hole in the door of chapel is to let cats in and out to catch mice!

It might have been as a result of this that the church was rebuilt in stone. In 1862 the dilapidated Chancel and Nave were rebuilt at the expense of the Town’s Corporation. The tower is thus the only part of that 14th century building.

The 14th Century bell still hangs in the Tower and carries an inscription in Latin which translates as

“ Jesus that Beloved Name is bestowed on me.”

There was a tradition that when any townsperson died, the bell tolled out their age. The original clock was replaced in 1935 to commemmorate the Silver Jubilee of George V.

There had been an ancient Curfew bell that hung at the top of the tower and rung nightly at 8pm to remind householders to extinguish their fires to prevent the thatched, timber framed houses from burning down. (As the school house had in the 1600’s). This bell tolled up until the 1950’s.

Thomas Pitt, member of the famous family who represented Okehampton in Parliament, gave the first fire tender which was kept in the Tower.

Inside the Chapel we can still find the beautifully carved pulpit from 1626. The new font was given by Anne Dove Dunville Lees, in 1922. Her grandparents were Thomas Bridgman and Patience Luxmoore. Her son who died in the First World War is commemorated on our War Memorial in All Saints Churchyard.