A History of Saint James the Less in Cruden Bay
Adapted from an article by the Very Revd Gerald Stranraer-Mull
The Episcopalian congregation in Cruden Bay stands in succession to the chantry chapel built by King Malcolm II after a local battle between the Scots and the Vikings in 1012. That ancient church was dedicated to Saint Olaf, patron of Denmark and Norway, and its granite font still is used for baptisms at Saint James. In 1157 Pope Adrian IV confirmed Cruden Church belonging to the Diocese of Aberdeen, and several priests of Cruden have been canons of Saint Machar’s Cathedral in that city.
In 1534, King Henry VIII asserted his control over the English Church, and the Protestant Reformation gained momentum within his realm. With the accession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne in 1603, the affairs of these two countries became more closely interwoven. Throughout those turbulent years the fortunes of the Protestants and the Catholics rose and fell. Eventually, when Britain’s ‘Glorious Revolution’ expelled the House of Stuart and placed Holland’s William of Orange upon the throne, the Protestant ascendancy was assured. However, even after Presbyterianism became the Established Church in Scotland in 1689, many of the clergy in Aberdeenshire remained committed Episcopalians. In Cruden Bay the ardent Episcopalian William Dunbar continued to serve as the parish priest until he was removed for supporting the failed Jacobite Rising of 1715. Such clerics ministered under significant adversity, but their devotion ensured the pastoral and apostolic continuity of this ancient faith.
After the First Jacobite Rebellion, Episcopalians met in a granary located near Slains Castle. This was provided by the Countess of Erroll, who was sympathetic to the Stuart cause. Following Bonnie Prince Charlie’s defeat at Culloden in 1746, the granary was burned by the Government army. Thereafter the Episcopalians had to meet for worship amongst the sand dunes of the beach. A handbell (inscribed Crwden 1737) that was used to call the congregation together still is a cherished possession of the church.
The first church on Chapelhill was erected in 1765 through the generosity of the Earl of Erroll, who appointed his own chaplain to care for the congregation. As a “qualified chapel” where prayers were said for the Hanoverian kings, some Episcopalians chose instead to worship in Ellon or Longside out of loyalty to the Stuart succession. In 1821, J.B. Pratt was ordained by Aberdeen’s Bishop Skinner: famous for consecrating Samuel Seabury of Connecticut, thereby linking the Episcopalians in Scotland with those in the newly independent United States. Renowned locally as a historian, the Revd Pratt served as Rector for 44 years, until his death in 1869.
When the need arose for a larger church, generous support for the erection of a new building was provided by the 17th Earl of Erroll. The present edifice was consecrated on 16th November 1843 by the Bishop of Aberdeen, with its dedication being to Saint James the Less, the first Bishop of Jerusalem. The Aberdeen Journal, in its report about the consecration, described this church as “built in the early English style, having long, narrow lancet windows, and a spire ninety feet high, which from its elevated position is seen to a great distance, both by sea and land.” A couple of years later, in 1845, a Rectory was built as a home for the Revd Pratt. The pipe organ in the gallery of the church dates from 1849, and it was designed and built by the firm Rust of Chelmsford. In 1864 a bell was installed in the steeple, and in 1876 the chancel was added to the building to provide greater dignity to the altar and more room for the choir.
With the opening of the Cruden Bay Hotel in 1899, and the development of the golf course, the village began to prosper and grow. Then the devastation of the First World War brought bereavement to many local homes. Following that conflict’s conclusion, a War Memorial was erected behind an altar of pink granite in 1920. In 1970 the Charge of Cruden – which includes the villages of Hatton, Longhaven, Bullers, Whinneyfold, Slains and Collieston in addition to Cruden Bay – was linked with that of Ellon. The interior of the present building was redesigned in 1982. During those renovations the congregation enjoyed the gracious hospitality of Cruden Parish Church, in which they conducted their Episcopalian worship.
In 2018 the congregation of Saint James the Less celebrated the momentous occasion of the 175th anniversary of the present ecclesiastical edifice that sits proudly atop Chapelhill about one mile outside the village of Cruden Bay. Ever mindful of their rich heritage, the congregation is thankful for their past blessings even whilst looking forwards to new pathways of faithfully serving the needs of the community of Cruden Bay.