Our Journal has covered the history of BAFHS parishes, find dozens of articles below.
Each article is taken from our Journal.
Volunteer members of the society wrote these articles and we are most grateful to them for making their local knowledge and interests available. We have notes on changes to diocese records and coverage of medieval parishes. Bristol Archives holds Baptism, Marriage and Death records for the Bristol Diocese.
A note on records of the Bristol Diocese
Before 1541, Bristol was in the diocese of Worcester, passing to the diocese of Gloucester when founded. However, in 1542 the Abbey church of St Augustine became the Cathedral Church of the city and county of Bristol. The new diocese consisted of the parishes in the city, a few parishes from Gloucestershire, the parish of Abbots Leigh in Somerset (because the manor was the country residence of the Abbot) and the county of Dorset was transferred from Sarum.
In 1731, a fire destroyed almost the whole town of Blandford and the diocesan files kept there. In 1831, most of the documents in Bristol Cathedral Library were lost in the riots when the mob broke into the Chapter house and made a bonfire of everything they could lay their hands on.
In 1837, Bristol was united with Gloucester to form one diocese. The county of Dorset was handed back to Salisbury ('Sarum') and in return, part of the archdeaconry of Wiltshire was incorporated.
In 1897, the diocese of Bristol was separated from Gloucester, retaining the Wiltshire parishes and also a small number of parishes in South Gloucestershire.
As a result of these changes, ecclesiastical records relating to the diocese of Bristol may be found in Gloucester and Salisbury as well as in the Bristol Records Office.
There were 19 parish churches in medieval Bristol, including St James. By the year 2000 only 13 remained in situ. The fate of the other six was as follows:
- St Augustine-the-less was damaged in WW2 air raids. The ruins were demolished in the late 1960’s and the land was used for an extension to the adjoining hotel.
- St Ewens stood below the corner of Broad Street and Corn Street. It was consolidated with Christ Church in 1788 and demolished in 1820 to make way for the Council House.
- St Giles stood at the bottom of Small street and was closed as early as 1319.
- St Lawrence stood on the west side of St John’s and shared the present church tower. It closed in 1580.
- St Leonard like St John’s was built with its steeple above one of the old town gates but its was demolished in 1786 and its parish merged with St Nicholas.
- St Werburgh was dismantled in 1876 and moved to the Baptist Mills area creating the present St Werburgh’s parish.
Many Bristol churches were damaged by WW2 air raids but only St Augustine disappeared completely. St Nicholas, by Bristol Bridge, was restored and for a time was a museum. It is currently used as council office space. Only the tower of St Mary-le-Port still stands, surrounded by post war construction. St Peter remains as a stabilised shell, retained as a memorial to local citizens who died in the Blitz. It is well presented as a ruin on the edge of Castle Green with terraces, a little herb garden and a water feature placed to the east. Similarly, Temple Church has been stabilised and its graveyard is now a fairly quiet garden. Parish boundary data taken from a survey published by the Temple Local History Group. Baptism, Marriage, and Death records for these churches and others, are held in the Bristol Records Office.
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.
St Nicholas church was originally built on the old city wall. There was a gateway which was removed in 1762 and the church was rebuilt.
The full dedication of the church is St Michael the Archangel on the Mount Without. The building still stands at the bottom of St Michael’s Hill but it is not in use.
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.
This church was blitzed during WW2 and only the tower stands. The following description from Arrowsmith’s Dictionary of Bristol (1884) may be of interest:
The Church of St Leonard was situated at the bottom of old Corn Street where it joined St Nicholas Street. The parish was united with St Nicholas in 1768 and St Leonard’s church was demolished in 1771 to make way for Clare Street. One of the altars was sold to Backwell Church, Somerset. The Library of St Leonards was the forerunner of the Kings Street Library, founded by Robert Redwood in 1615, the vicars being the first Librarians … and the Bristol Central Library results from this foundation1.
The church of St Lawrence shared a tower with St John-on-the-wall. It was demolished in 1580.
The church of St John-on-the-wall was built in the 1300’s thanks mainly to a benefactor, Walter Frampton who’s tomb is now in the church. He was three times Mayor of Bristol in 1357, 1365 and 1374.
The church of St James was founded in 1129 as a Benedictine priory by the Earl of Gloucester. After the dissolution of the monasteries (1536-41), it became a parish church. It fell into disuse in the 1980s and since 1996 is has been used as a Catholic church.
St Giles church stood at the bottom of Small Street and was closed in about 1319.
The church of St Ewen’s stood where the old Council House was built (now the Bristol Registry Office). It was demolished in 1820 and the parish had previously consolidated with Christchurch in 1788. The font from the old church (probably C17th) survives and can be seen in Christchurch. The full name of the consolidated parish is now “Christchurch with St Ewen”.
Approximate mediaeval parish boundary superimposed on 1901 map
This church was founded by the abbots of St Augustine’s monastery and is first mentioned in Gaunt’s deeds in 1240. It was rebuilt and restored a number of times and the churchyard was reduced in size more than once during the 19th century to make way for the expanding city. and those exhumed were reburied in Arnos Vale Cemetery. The church was damaged in WW2 air raids and the ruins were demolished in 1962; the land was then used for an extension to the adjoining hotel.
On the west wall of the North Aisle of the church is the Coston family memorial. It was erected by Edward Colston circa 1701 to commemorate his parents William and Sarah Colston – she died in 1701 aged 93 years. It also commemorates his four brothers: William, Robert, Thomas plus a second ‘William’ and two sisters Martha and a second ‘Martha’.