St James' church was originally that of a priory of Benedictine monks founded in around 1120. It is said that every tenth stone brought from Normandy for the construction of Bristol Castle was given for the construction of St James Church.
In 1374, St James became the church of a new parish, and a tower was built to house the bells. Like many other Bristol churches, one pinnacle on the tower is higher than the other three.
From mediaeval times, the week-long, St James' Fair was held every year in the churchyard, and the streets around were also filled with stalls and booths. However, by 1837, unimpressed by the accompanying amusements, the church put an end to the fairs, although the churchyard was occasionally used as a fairground, and later as a public park, until the site was eventually occupied by a large department store.
In 1812, "T & B Rogers" were listed as "Tilers,
Plasterers, Painters, of 16 St James' Churchyard, adjoining Maudlin Lane,
Bristol", so there were also houses around the churchyard at that time.