Home Attractions St James' church

St James' church

St James' church was originally built as that of a small priory of Benedictine monks, founded in the 1120s by Earl Robert 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 this church. Late Norman features can still be seen in the western section.

In 1374 St James became the church of a new parish. To house the parish bells, a simple early Perpendicular tower was added on. In common with many other Bristol churches, it has the idiosyncrasy of one pinnacle rising higher than the other three. The nave was also given a new timber roof, resting on carved stone corbels.

In the second half of the 19th century it was found necessary to enlarge the interior as St James was a highly populated parish. Despite prophecies that the whole church would tumble down if anything was disturbed, the north aisle was successfully rebuilt, though not as large as had been hoped because of lack of money. During these renovations it was discovered that the old flying buttresses were composed of portions of 16th century tombstones.

The church was first lit by gas in 1818, the local newspaper noting that the elegance of the brasswork added to the judicial arrangement of the beautiful lights.

Major development and conservation work was carried out between 2009 and 2011. St James Priory is a charity that provides residential treatment and support for people with addictions. Sunday Mass is held weekly.

The stone figure shown above was thought for many years to mark the tomb of Robert of Gloucester. But Robert was buried in the east end of the church and the name of the knight whose resting place is in the south aisle, is not known.

The painted tomb shown left is that of Sir Charles Somerset, who died aged 64 in 1598.

He was, according to the inscription '5th son to the Right Honourable Henry Earl of Worcester and standard bearer unto Her Majesties honourable band of gentlemen pensioners who married Eme widow of Giles Morgan of Newport, Esquire, daughter and co-heiress to Henry Brayne Esq, by whom he had one sole daughter first married to Ratcliff Gerard Esq and after to Edward Fox Esq.'

The unnamed daughter is shown kneeling behind Emma, her mother, who died in 1590.

The week-long St James' Fair was held annually in the churchyard from mediaeval times. As confusion arose as to the exact date, in 1738 it was fixed at September 1st. A great deal of business and trading was carried on and the streets around were filled with stalls and booths. There were amusements as well, and the church elders gradually decided that such goings-on were not suitable.

The 1837 fair was therefore the last one, attended by 30 merchants as well as circuses, actors and peep-shows.

Towards the end of the 19th century the churchyard was used occasionally as a fairground and later as a public park. Eventually it was covered by a large department store. The base of the old churchyard cross remains.

The neighbouring Welsh Congregational Church (shown below) was built in 1859. It was mostly demolished a few years ago, and one of the omnipresent office blocks and a restaurant now crowd its remains.
Bristol Hotels, Hotels in Bristol, Places to stay when travelling Bristol, Hotel Bristol United Kingdom, Bristol Accommodation, Accommodation for Visitors in Bristol