St James' Priory Church - Whiston Street, Bristol, UK
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Master Mariner
N 51° 27.515 W 002° 35.572
30U E 528285 N 5700901
Quick Description: Parts of St James' church date back to the 12th century and for centuries it ministered to the Anglican faith until 1984. In 1996 it became a catholic church. The church is a Grade I listed building.
Location: South West England, United Kingdom
Date Posted: 12/23/2019 8:00:23 AM
Waymark Code: WM11VH2
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member pmaupin
Views: 1

Long Description:

The Historic England website advises:

Church, formerly part of the church to St James Priory. Founded in second quarter of C12 as a Benedictine cell, from when the nave survives; tower c1374 that was raised in C15. Various phases of additions, alterations and restoration in C17, C18, and C19; further repairs, additions and refurbishment in C20 and early C21.

Walsingham House which is to the south-west and attached to the church, and the modern, early-C21 link corridor parallel with the outer north aisle of the church are not of special architectural or historic interest and are not included in the listing.

The church of St James Priory, the remains of a C12 monastic church with later phases of additions, alterations and restoration is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:

  • Architectural interest: for the survival of a significant proportion of medieval fabric which is of high quality and which contributes to an understanding of Romanesque church architecture in England;
  • Historic interest: as part of the priory, the church serves as an upstanding reminder of the importance and influence of monastic houses on the social and economic life of medieval English society;
  • Interior: the C14 chancel roof is one of the earliest dated church roofs in the South-West and an important example;
  • Artistic interest: it contains a medieval recumbent effigy and a considerable number of good-quality memorial monuments and tablets dating from the C16 to the C19, some of notable artistic merit.

St James Priory was established sometime between 1124 and 1137 as a dependency of the Benedictine Abbey of Tewkesbury and was founded by Robert, Earl of Gloucester and illegitimate son of Henry I. The priory was the first of eight religious houses founded in Bristol to the north and west of the River Frome in the C12 and early C13. At the Dissolution, Tewkesbury surrendered in January 1540, one of the last monasteries to be dissolved, along with all its dependents, including St James. In the mid-C16 the antiquarian, John Leland, described the east part of the church (the monastic end, comprising north and south transepts, crossing, chancel, and possible side chapel) and the other monastic buildings as ruinous. They were subsequently taken down, presumably for the value of their building materials. The slightly later western part (the church of St James Priory), however, which had served as a parish church since at least 1180 survived, probably because of this. The church retains a significant amount of medieval fabric, including the nave arcades, clerestories and west front; the south aisle was widened in the C14. The earliest phase of the south-east tower which replaced an earlier belfry is considered to date from 1374; its upper stage from the mid-C15.

Alterations to the church were undertaken during the second half of the C17 when the south aisle, which retains some medieval fabric to its lower parts, was partly rebuilt, re-roofed and re-fenestrated. A south-west porch and vestry (the predecessor of the existing early-C19 porch/vestry) were also added in the 1690s. Much of the work carried out in the C18 was gallery improvements as a result of increases in the size of the congregation. The south-west porch/vestry was rebuilt in 1802 to the designs of James Foster, while the south gallery was installed and the west front was repaired in 1804. The church underwent substantial restoration in 1846 at which time the south aisle was re-roofed and the north and south galleries and other Georgian fittings were removed. Plans for enlarging the church were produced by TS Pope in 1862; at first these proposed removing the narrow north aisle and replacing it with a wider aisle to provide additional seating. The proposals were condemned by the eminent Gothic Revival architects George Gilbert Scott and John Loughborough Pearson on the grounds that the work was unsympathetic to the medieval fabric and would result in structural problems. The plans were subsequently revised and a second aisle was built alongside the existing north aisle with a new arcade between the two. To allow for this new aisle the south range of the adjacent Church House was demolished. A north-east vestry which incorporates C12 and C14 fabric and a new organ chamber were also added. Substantial repairs and refurbishment took place in the 1950s when the roofs were repaired, the west wall was reinforced and the north-east vestry remodelled; the west gallery was also removed in the mid-C20. In 1972 a fireproof muniments room (now lavatories) was added to the east end of the church.

St James became redundant in 1984 due to a decline in the size of its congregation, but in 1993 the Little Brothers of Nazareth (originally a small Roman Catholic monastic community) signed a 99-year lease on the church and the courtyard to its west in order to establish an addiction treatment centre. Since then the outer, north, aisle has been partitioned off from the body of the church to serve as meeting rooms accessed from a modern link corridor, and the north-east part of the church has been converted to a café, including the addition of a first floor.

To the south of the church is the former lay cemetery of St James Priory. It was enclosed in the early C19 and was purchased by the Corporation of Bristol in 1925; it serves as a public garden.

Building Materials: Stone

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