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.

May 16, 2023

East Harptree

By Andrew Plaster. Published in BAFHS Journal 136 (June 2009). The north-east Somerset parish of East Harptree lies on the north side of Mendip Hills, and is a long narrow strip running from the north up the hill to the top of the Mendips. The parish consists of the main village and the hamlet of Coley, and is bounded by the parishes of West Harptree, Hinton Blewett, Litton, Chewton Mendip and Priddy. The earliest evidence of man in the area are late Neolithic Priddy Circles and some Bronze Age round barrows, both of which are in the south of the parish on the Mendips. Close to the parish, the Romans mined lead at Charterhouse, on the top of the Mendips, and farmed at Chew Park now under Chew Valley Lake and left as their legacy a length of roman road now called Stratford Lane in West Harptree. In November 1887, while searching for the source of a spring near Smitham Chimney, William Currell, a local labourer put his pick into a pewter vessel full of nearly 1500 Roman coins with five ingots of silver and a ring. The jar was six inches below the surface in swampy ground. The coins were all struck around 375 A.D, and the best twenty five were selected by the British Museum, and can still be seen there. This is known as the ‘Harptree Hoard’. In 1922 more were given to the museum, and the rest were kept in the jar in the church. Unfortunately these were stolen from the north aisle in the 1970s. […]

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.

Medieval Parishes

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.

Bristol's Medieval Parishes
December 7, 2010

St Stephen

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 Approximate mediaeval parish boundary superimposed on 1901 map. (1 “Centuries of Change: Bristol Churches since the Reformation” by Patrick Brown – an essay in Historic Churches & Church Life in Bristol edited by Joseph Bettey. 2000.)
December 7, 2010

St Thomas

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”!
December 7, 2010

SS Philip and Jacob

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. The gravestones in the churchyard were cleared and some used to form paths. The following article was first published in B&AFHS Journal 133 in September 2008 My Parish – St Philip & Jacob, Bristol. By Andrew Plaster St Philip & Jacob is one of Bristol’s original city parishes. It includes the Old Market area of the city, and had its out-parish beyond the city’s original boundary extending over what are now (and some were) the Bristol suburbs of Baptist Mills, Barton Hill, Lawrence Hill, Newtown, Russell Town, St Jude’s, St Philip’s Marsh, The Dings and western half of Easton. Its boundaries stretched from the Castle Wall in the city on the west to the border with the parish of St George in the east. On the north, it followed the course of the river Frome and the southern boundary being the river Avon. Just outside the city walls stood St Philip & Jacob Church. Part of it, including the lower part of the tower, is Early English in style from around the 13th century, the rest being Perpendicular. The church may once have belonged to a Benedictine priory lying beyond it. This church was actually the parish church of a wide district extending outside the borough and included the rural parish of St. George until 1756, when it became a separate […]
December 7, 2010

St Peter

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. The following memorial inscriptions were noted in Arrowsmiths Dictionary of Bristol (1884): ALDWORTH Family of. A sumptuous tomb with figures of himself and wife, 1634 ESTERFIELD John, twice Mayor and an Alderman. A brass was inserted in the stone, but it has now disappeared. HARRINGTON George, Mayor and Alderman of the City. Died Jan. 2nd 1639 LOUDE Robert. Incised brass, representing a priest in Eucharistic vestments bearing a chalice. Died February 23rd 1461 NEWTON Athalin. A storied monument, having a canopy supported by six fluted pillars, upon the sculptured sarcophagus lies the effigy of a lady, supposed to be the above-named wife of John Newton of the Newtons of Barr’s Court. NORTHALL Henry. Died May 9th 1673 aged 70. NORTHALL J. Son of the above. Died February 20th 1669 Aged 39. NORTON Andrew. Three brasses to his memory and his two wives Elizabeth and Ellen 1527. SAVAGE Richard. Poet who died a debtor in Newgate Bristol1743. An inscription states his grave to be about six feet from the north wall of the church. SMITH Thomas. Died 8th October 1730. STEAR Capt. Richard, aged 23 and his brother Eugene aged 16 […]
December 7, 2010

St Nicholas

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. John Whitson (1555 – 1629) was buried in the church and his effigy is in the crypt. He was Bristol’s ‘Dick Whittington’ in that he came to the city as an orphan and stayed to become a wealthy businessman and Mayor, twice. He founded Redmaids School which is the oldest girls school in England. The church was badly damaged during WW2 air-raids but it was re-roofed and for a time it was a museum. It now houses city council offices. You may request admittance to see the memorials – many relate to mariners. Approximate mediaeval parish boundary superimposed on 1901 map.
December 7, 2010

St Michael

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. The without bit in the church name refers to the fact that it was outside the old city wall. The original church of the parish of St Michael was founded in 1147. The earliest reference occurs in 1148 when William, Earl of Gloucester, granted to the abbey of Tewkesbury, all the churches which had previously been granted to it by his grandfather, Robert FitzHamon, including St Michaels. Little is known about the early building, the existing tower was not built until 1460. By the 18th century, the number of parishioners had increased including a number of affluent merchants who had moved out of the city to the ribbon development on St Michaels Hill; so between 1775-7 the old church was knocked down and a new one built around the tower. Access to the building is not currently available but it contains many memorial plaques from the 18th and early 19th century including one to Mary STRETTON 1894. Near the Alter is a brass plate commemorating Dr BONYTHON who was one of the founders of the Bristol Royal Infirmary – he was buried in the crypt. At the south part of the east wall in the side chapel, is a mural to Peter DAVIES who, in his will of 1747, left money for ‘a sermon by candlelight to be preached on March 1st. (source: a leaflet about the church […]
December 7, 2010

St Mary Redcliffe

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. The church has a large yard but in the mid 1800’s compensation was paid when a railway tunnel was built underneath the churchyard. With this money, land was purchased and a new cemetery for parishioners was established by the A4 Bath Road, opposite Arnos Vale Cemetery. There are many tombs and memorials in the church. A brass plate in front of the high altar shows a lawyer and his wife with this inscription: “Here lies the body of that venerable man John Brook, sergeant-at-law of that most illustrious prince of happy memory, Henry VII, and Justice of Assize for the same king in western parts of England, and Chief Steward of the honourable house and monastery of the Blessed Mary of Glastonbury, in the county of Somerset, which John died on 25th day of the month of December, in the year of our Lord 1522. And near him rests Joanna his wife, one of the daughters and heirs of Richard Amerike, on whose souls may God have mercy. Amen” Quoted in St Mary Redcliffe, an Architectural History by Michael Quinton Smith, published by Redcliffe 1995
December 7, 2010

St Mary-le-Port

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: St MARY-LE-PORT, St Mary-le-Port street, is dedicated to our lady of the Port, there having been formerly an open approach from the river to the south side of the sacred building; hence the appropriateness of the dedication. The earlier fabric on the same spot is believed to have been founded by William, Earl of Gloucester, son of the great Robert, “for he is expressly said about 1170 to have granted and confirmed this church to the priory of Keynsham, for the sustention of the canons there.” The present building consists of two aisles of unequal breadth, the clustered columns dividing which are of Perpendicular date, assignable to the 15th century. The roof has been more than once renovated, and at present shows a concave ceiling with some attempt at ornament. In the south wall of the cancel is a flight of steps, now leading to the pulpit, but formerly to the rood-loft. The tower is of the florid style, like the interior, and 72 feet in height to the base of the pinnacles. The windows in the upper part of the tower, the panelled parapet and corner turret are among the best details of the church and deserve notice. The old church records have been kept in the form of a separate book for each year, and contain many quaint and interesting entries that illustrate current events and customs as well as the individual life of […]
December 7, 2010

St Leonard

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. 1. The Mediaeval Churches of Bristol by Marguerite Fedden Approximate mediaeval parish boundary superimposed on 1901 map
December 7, 2010

St John

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 was originally joined to the church of St Lawrence and both churches shared the same tower. The old churchyard still exists and can be reached through Tailors Court. Approximate mediaeval parish boundary superimposed on 1901 map.
December 7, 2010

St James Priory

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. The following article was originally published in BAFHS Journal 129 in September 2007. My Parish – St James’ & St Paul’s Bristol. By Andrew Plaster St James is one of Bristol’s original city parishes. It includes the Broadmead area of the city, and had its out-parish beyond the city’s original boundary extending over what are now the Bristol suburbs of Montpelier, St. Werburghs, St Andrews, and parts of Kingsdown and Ashley Down. The river Frome (now mostly covered) is on the parish’s southern boundary, and the northern boundary lies with the parishes of Westbury on Trym, Horfield and Stapleton. The eastern half of St James parish was carved into a new parish of St. Paul’s, created in 1794. The approximate boundary between the two parishes is in Merchant Street, Stokes Croft and Cheltenham Road. St James church was originally built as a small priory for Benedictine monks, founded in the 12th century by Robert, Earl of Gloucester. Tradition has it that when the Bristol castle was being built, every tenth stone brought from Normandy was given for the construction of the priory. Late Norman features can still be seen in the front section. In 1374, the priory became a parish church. To house the parish bells, a simple early perpendicular tower was […]
December 7, 2010

St Ewen

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”. St Ewen, or Owen or Auden, can probably be identified with a saintly Archbishop of Rouen who died A.D. 683.
December 7, 2010


Approximate mediaeval parish boundary superimposed on 1901 map The following memorial inscriptions were noted in Arrowsmiths Dictionary of Bristol (1884): FARMER Thomas, Mayor and Alderman, died Nov. 1624 aged 83. Brass in the north aisle. (he was Sheriff in 1603 and Mayor in 1616 – DAN) STANDFAST Rev. Richard, Rector of the parish over 51 years. Died August 24th 1684 aged 78. If you have any ancestors who may have been connected with Christ Church Parish from about 1896 to the 1920s, you may wish to visit website where you will find a list of people who may have been connected with the parish. These names are associated with an Album of many photographs of Parishioners & Officials of Christ Church with St Ewen for the year 1896 plus some later ones up to the 1920’s. B&AFHS members Julian & Diane Lea-Jones have donated to Bristol City Archives digitised copies of the entire album, (BRO Accession references No. 44083 and 44084). They have also provided B&AFHS with an index and full set of the photos on CD ROM – these are available for reference in our Research Room at the BRO. The website is a useful resource for local historians and well worth a visit. Go to the website, click on the Free Data and scroll down the page for a link to the list of Christchurch parishioners. While you are there, why not have a look at the other interesting resources on offer. Christchurch with St Ewen: Photographs of Parishioners – 1896 Mr & Mrs Penfold Mr […]
December 5, 2010

St Augustine

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. The following memorial inscriptions were noted in Arrowsmiths Dictionary of Bristol (1884):LLOYD Anne, died 1779 aged 52.OWEN Sir Hugh, Bart. Died Jan 13th 1698 aged 53.PINNEY William. Inscribed tablet in the north aisle.SHIERCLIFF Edward. A monumental inscription, died February 1st 1798.SMITH Clara Ann. Poisoned by M.A. Burdock, October 26th 1833.
December 5, 2010

All Saints

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’. In the South Aisle of the church is the memorial to Edward Colston. Approximate mediaeval parish boundary superimposed on 1901 map.