Originally from Kent, James Bettley has lived in Great Totham since 1991 with his wife Lucy (who was brought up in Ingatestone) and their three children. His work and interests have given him a profound knowledge and love of Essex, and have taken him to every town and village in the county.

James is an architectural historian, whose publications include new editions of the Pevsner Architectural Guides to Essex (2007), Suffolk: East and Suffolk: West (2015), and Hertfordshire (2019). He has also contributed to successive volumes of the Victoria County History of Essex. He received his PhD from the Courtauld Institute of Art in 1999, and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. Before he decided he had spent enough time commuting to London, he worked at the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Design Museum, and the Royal Institute of British Architects. Since 2014 he has also been part-time Librarian of Chevening House, Kent, traditionally the country residence of the Foreign Secretary.

James is particularly interested in church buildings, and was chairman of the Friends of Essex Churches Trust from 2012 to 2017, having previously led their study days for over ten years. He is a member and former chairman of the Chelmsford Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches, and is also a member of Chelmsford Cathedral’s Fabric Advisory Committee. He sits on the Church of England’s Church Buildings Council and chairs their Sculpture & Furnishings Committee. He is also a trustee of the Essex Heritage Trust, a member of the Colchester Historic Buildings Forum, and was chairman of Thomas Plume’s Library, Maldon from 2009 to 2019.

James was appointed a Justice of the Peace (magistrate) in 1996, originally sitting in Witham but now in Chelmsford and Colchester. As well as sitting in the Adult Court he sat for many years in the Youth Court, serving as chairman of the Youth Panel. He now also sits in the Family Court. He is required to take leave of absence from the bench during his year as High Sheriff.

He was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Essex in 2013.

In his spare time James enjoys walking. He has walked the Essex Way from Epping to Harwich and, at one time or another, covered most of the county’s coastline and riverbanks.

Dancing scarecrows, somewhere along the Essex Way