Visiting Inspector of the Dead: Radiant St. James’s Church

David Morrell’s Inspector of the Dead is set on the harrowing streets of 1855 London. A gripping Victorian mystery/thriller, its vivid historical details come from years of research. Here are photo essays that David Morrell prepared about the novel’s fascinating locations. Read the first post about Mayfair and Belgravia, the second post about Constitution Hillthe third post about Lord Palmerston’s House, the fourth post about Jay’s Mourning Warehouse, and the fifth post about the Crystal Palace.

If asked to name the most impressive church in London, most people would say, “St. Paul’s cathedral.”


They might be surprised to learn that its designer, the great English architect, Sir Christopher Wren, considered a quite different, small, simple church to be his favorite creation.


This is St. James’s church in the southeastern corner of Mayfair. Located just south of Piccadilly, its elegant simplicity presents a dramatic contrast with St. Paul’s. Narrow, only three stories tall, the church is constructed of plain red brick, with white cornerstones and arched windows. Its steeple has a clock, a brass ball, and a weathervane. That is the limit of the outside decoration.


But it wasn’t for its exterior that St. James’s acquired its renown. Wren designed the windows so that sunlight streams in, reflects off the white walls, and radiates glory throughout the relatively plain interior. This photograph was taken on a cloudy day, and yet the light blazing in from the right is palpable.


As this 1806 illustration indicates, back then St. James’s pews weren’t arranged in rows, with an entrance on each side. Instead the partitions of each pew formed a sizeable compartment, known as a box. Some had pillows and carpeting. Some had a table on which hats and coats could be placed. Some even had curtains and a canopy. Members of the congregation rented these box pews, the doors to which remained locked, except during services. Pew openers kept the keys, dusted the pews, polished the wood, and unlocked the doors when the pew renters arrived. In Inspector of the Dead, the box-pew system has deadly consequences. (The objects in the aisle are seats where the poor were allowed to sit.)