Shaping the Landscape / Architecture

Churches

  • Northwick Church
  • Shepperdine Tin Church
  • Architecture of Bristol and South Gloucester
    Portico at St Arilda's
  • Elverton Church. Photo credit: James Flynn
  • St Mary de Malmesbury, Littleton. Photo credit: James Flynn
  • Severn Beach Church
  • Pilgrim marks

The parish system was formed in England by c.1300. Each parish had a church which was a community centre and a place of worship. Most churches were built before written records were kept. Clues in the building fabric reveal that many were built before 1200 but altered by later generations.

The English Church was part of the Roman Catholic Church until King Henry VIII joined the Protestant Reformation and established the Anglican Church in 1539.

All parish churches went through periods of decay and rebuilding. Some alterations, now centuries old, are of questionable taste. The Victorians restored many parish churches in fashionable Gothic style, removing Tudor, Jacobean and Georgian features, and built churches in new city suburbs and centres of population. Below are some of the best architectural examples in our area.

Two churches near Oldbury-on-Severn are remarkable for different reasons. St Arilda’s Church, high on the hill, offers sweeping views of the surrounding area and St Mary’s Church at Shepperdine is one of the last remaining examples of a ‘tin tabernacle’. Take a look in our video.

Medieval Anglican churches

Henbury, St Mary’s Church: Henbury was part of the estate of the Bishop of Worcester centred on Westbury-on-Trym. St Mary’s Church was built in the 1100s and retains a Norman doorway. It was rebuilt by Bishop Giffard of Worcester, with a finely carved chancel arch and arcades in 1271. The black marble font dates from 1806.

Almondsbury, St Mary’s Church: was built in the mid-1100s or earlier. It was rebuilt in a cruciform shape in the 1200s with a central tower. The two-storey porch is entered through a Norman doorway. The church has a fine spire, and an attractive interior of Purbeck marble, stone and timber, sympathetically restored in 1837.

Elberton, St John’s Church: was originally built on a cruciform plan, but only the fine tower built in the 1300s survives, with battlements and pinnacles, and a spire of the 1400s. Inside are four squints in the corners of the central tower through which the priest could be glimpsed performing rituals at the altar. It was restored in 1858 and 1901.

Olveston, St Mary’s Church: is a large church built in the late 1100s with a massive central tower. Many features date from the 1300s. There is a brass commemorating Morris Denys and his son Sir Walter (d. 1505), both high sheriffs of Bristol, and classical monuments of the 1800s. The tower was restored in 1606, and the church largely rebuilt in the 1800s.

Hill, St Michael’s Church: stands in the park of Hill Court, the seat of the Fust family. Built in the 1200s, it has a Georgian atmosphere created by the Fust memorial chapel, c.1700, their family pew and windows dating from the rebuilding of 1759.

Rockhampton, St Oswald’s Church: the attractive west tower and south porch date from the 1300s and the oak door from the 1400s. It was rebuilt in two phases, 1861-2 and 1866.

Modern Anglican churches

Shepperdine, St Mary’s Chapel: a corrugated iron mission chapel erected in this remote Severnside hamlet c.1914. A type of prefab purchased mail-order from retailers such as Harrods, it has a tiled roof and the original wood-lined interior.

Sea Mills, St Edyth’s Church: was built in Early English style in 1928 for the new suburb, which became a new ecclesiastical parish in 1929.

Shirehampton, St Mary’s Church: the medieval church was entirely rebuilt in Gothic style in 1930.

Avonmouth, St Andrew’s Church: built in Arts & Crafts style in 1893 with additions in 1935. It was gutted in the Bristol Blitz, 1941, and rebuilt 1957.

Lawrence Weston, St Peter’s Church: built in brick and concrete to a Modernist design in 1961 for the new suburb, which became a new ecclesiastical parish in 1962.

The Anglican Church – further reading

The Buildings of England:  North Somerset & Bristol, N. Pevsner & A. Foyle (1958, 2011), pp. 396-412 ‘Outer Bristol North-West’

The Buildings of England:  Gloucestershire 2:  The Vale & the Forest of Dean, D. Verey & A. Brooks (1970, 2002) [organised alphabetically by place-name]

J.R.H. Moorman, A History of the Church in England (1953 & later edns)

J.H. Betty, Church & Parish:  an Introduction for Local Historians (Batsford, London 1987)

Non-conformist and Roman Catholic places of worship

Non-conformist Protestants suffered government persecution until 1689 when they were granted freedom of public worship.

Quaker meeting houses in the Bristol area were swiftly licensed for worship. Their members played an important role in securing the abolition of slavery in England in 1807.

Methodism was popular with the working classes in the south west and their rising prosperity, c.1870-1900, enabled congregations to fund chapel building in new centres of population. Here are some of the best architectural examples:

Quaker meeting houses: Lawrence Weston Quaker Burial Ground and Meet (1690); Olveston Quaker Meeting House (1696), now a private home.

Quakers – further reading

R. Mortimer, Early Bristol Quakerism (1967) (Lawrence Weston Quaker Graveyard)

E. Garrett, Quakers of Olveston 1654-1868 (Tockington Press, Bristol 2005)

Methodist chapels: Shirehampton, Methodist Chapel, c.1870; Redwick, Zion United Free Methodist Chapel, now youth centre, 1879; Aust, Zion Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, 1896; Littleton-on-Severn, Ebenezer Methodist Chapel, rebuilt 1897; Pilning, Free Methodist Church, 1904; Sea Mills Methodist Church, 1931, converted to flats and worship area, 2008.

Non-conformist chapels – further reading

C. Snell, An Inventory of Nonconformist Chapels & Meeting houses in South West England (Royal Commission on Historical Monuments in England (RCHME), 1991)

Roman Catholics were granted freedom of religious worship in 1829. The Diocese of Clifton was formed in 1851 and churches were built in Bristol’s new suburbs in the 20th century.

Roman Catholic churches: Shirehampton, St Bernard’s Church, 1903; Lawrence Weston, Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, 1958.

Roman Catholic churches – further reading

J. Bossy, The English Catholic Community 1570-1850 (London 1975)

J.A. Harding, The Diocese of Clifton 1850-2000 (1999)

Churches – further reading

The Buildings of England:  North Somerset & Bristol, N. Pevsner & A. Foyle (1958, 2011), pp. 396-412 ‘Outer Bristol North-West’

The Buildings of England:  Gloucestershire 2:  The Vale & the Forest of Dean, D. Verey & A. Brooks (1970, 2002) [organised alphabetically by place-name]

J.R.H. Moorman, A History of the Church in England (1953 & later edns)

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© 2019 A Forgotten Landscape: A Heritage Lottery Fund Landscape Partnership Scheme.

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