The original church building on the site of St James' was dedicated in 1268, and since that time St James' has been the Parish Church and focus of christian life in West Teignmouth. The current tower is the last remaining part of that original building and is probably the oldest surviving building in Teignmouth.

St James' was originally a chapel of ease to the parish of Bishopsteignton but became a parish in its own right in 1469.

By the early 1800s the original structure was in a near derelict condition and a new building was commissioned by Admiral Sir Edward Pellew. The unusual octagonal plan of the nave may have been a reminder of his glorious victory over the Said of Algiers when he released over 1200 Christian slaves from captivity.

Sir Edward was a great friend of Thomas Luny, the marine artist, who lived and worked in Teignmouth, and whose house is within clear sight of St James'.  It is said the Sir Edward's design of the church is reminiscent of  port buildings at Algiers and was to impress Thomas. Thomas Luny's tomb is located in St James' churchyard.

The current octagonal structure was completed in 1821. It was originally seated in the round with a gallery and accommodated 1500 worshippers. Over the years the gallery has been reduced. The original seating plan replaced with the current parallel arrangement in around 1890.

The West Teignmouth parish supported a daughter chapel "Christ Church" that was located in heart of the Kingsway estate. Christ Church chapel  was closed in 1977 and many of the artefacts have been installed in St James.

Unusually, the St James' war memorial takes the form of the painted North window, where the names and regiments/corps of the fallen in the 1914-1918 war are recorded.

Guide books are available for sale in the church.
 
More information about the history of St James and Sir Edward Pellew may be found in the Teignmouth & Shaldon Museum (01626 779123).