St James' Priory, Bristol

The Priory Church of St James, Bristol (grid reference ST588734) is a Grade I listed building in Horsefair, Whitson Street.

It was founded in 1129 as a Benedictine priory by Robert, Earl of Gloucester, the illegitimate son of Henry I. The nave survives from 1129 but the tower was added around 1374. The south aisle was widened and rebuilt in 1698. The porch dates from the late 18th century, and the north aisle was rebuilt in 1864.

Legend has it that every 10th stone brought from Normandy to build the Castle was set aside to build the Priory, and therefore ‘now that the castle has vanished these stones are like an echo from 800 years ago.’

The building is on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register and described as being in very bad condition.

St James's Fair

From 1238 an annual fair held over fifteen days, was held here. Originally starting on 25 July (the feast day of St James) it was later changed to the first fortnight in September. The fair, which was held in the Churchyard and adjoining streets, was regarded as the most important of the Bristol Fairs. By the 17th century it was so prominent that merchant ships sailing in to Bristol for it were frequently attacked by Turkish pirates in the Bristol Channel. The last fair was held in 1837. It also subsequently left its mark on the geography of Bristol as the roundabout nearby is called the Horsefair.

St James Priory Project

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the nave of the priory church continued in use as an Anglican parish church. It fell into disuse in the 1980s but in 1996 the Little Brothers of Nazareth re-established it as a Catholic church, and set up the St James Priory Project () which offers comprehensive support to people with a history of homelessness who have a substance dependency.


Building work on a project to conserve, repair, and develop the Priory began in November 2009.


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