Said to be the smallest active church in Yorkshire, and one of the smallest in Britain, St James is a Grade II listed building.
Fishermen used to use the church to guide them safely into port as they came home with their catch. The weather vane mounted on the tower is in the shape of a fish which is an ancient Christian symbol, but could also be symbolic of the fishing trade in Filey. It was probably founded by the Augustinian Friars of Bridlington when the land came into the ownership of Walter de Gant of Hunmanby who founded Bridlington Priory between 1114 and 1124.
The earliest work dates from 1180 and the church was substantially complete by 1230. In the early part of the 20th century a stone altar was discovered in the stone floor at the centre of the church. Probably pre-reformation and possibly even dating back to the time the church was founded, a small cross can be seen on each of the four corners. These represent the wounds on Christ’s body made by the nails, the spear and the crown of thorns at his crucifixion stressing the identity of the altar as a great and holy sign of Christ. The altar is now situated at the back of the church.
There are many historical artefacts to be seen, including fine specimens of sedilia in the south transept and the reredos. The angels painted on the front panels of the altar were done by Miss Wheelhouse of Scarborough (known to exhibit at the Royal Pulpit), and on the south nave wall is a crudely carved figure possibly of a Boy Bishop. This was saved from destruction when someone offered to buy a workman a pint of ale if he would desist from smashing it up.
There are also many beautiful stained glass windows dating from 19th century and the Fishermans Window by Harry Harvey, installed in 1983.