Squeezed on three sides by commercial development, it is difficult to appreciate what is probably one of the most graceful parish church towers in the country. The church was rebuilt in the 1470s, the North Aisle including, a fine tomb, is 14th century. St Stephens was a new parish resulting from the extensive alternations to the river Frome carried out between 1240 and 1247 but it is not clear how long after that date the church was built. It is “the one remaining Bristol church which would seem both externally and within familiar to fifteenth century eyes”1
The current building of St Thomas’s church dates from 1793 though parts of it, including the tower, are much older. The 18th century Bristol historian, William Barrett reported that the mediaeval church was second only to St Mary Redcliffe in size and grandeur among the city churches (a statement found repeated in a number of old history books)- he was writing at about the time that the old structure was demolished – apart from the West tower which was retained. Arrowsmiths Dictionary of Bristol (1884) states that several chantries were found in the old church including one for Richard II. Some members of the Canynges family were interred within the earlier building and “the walls are much encrusted with sepulchral memorials, but none of the inscriptions call for particular mention”!
Known as ‘Pip and Jay’ the church dedication is to St Philip and St Jacob (really James, says Arrowsmiths Dictionary of Bristol – 1906). The parish boundary once extended well beyond Bristol as far as the village of Hanham.
This church is now just a preserved shell due to damage in WW2. It was the ‘mother church’ of Bristol and some of the stonework in the old tower is thought to be of Saxon origin. Arrowsmiths Dictionary of Bristol (1906) reports that the church was repaired in 1749, 1795 and again in 1870 and the only part of the church that remained of the early fabric was the tower.
Redcliffe was originally a suburb of Bristol outside of the old city boundary and incorporated into Bristol in 1373. There was a church there from the early 12th century but its main structure is ‘decorated’ and ‘perpendicular’ in style built 1320-80. Although it grew to be a very large fine building is was and always has been a parish church.