St Mary Redcliffe
St Mary Redcliffe is an Anglican parish church located in the Redcliffe district of the English port city of Bristol, close to the city centre. Constructed from the 12th to the 15th centuries, the church is a Grade 1 listed building, St Mary Redcliffe is renowned for the beauty of its Gothic architecture, having been described by Queen Elizabeth I as " the fairest, goodliest, and most famous parish church in England." The 292 ft (89 m) spire is the third tallest of England's parish churches, after the Roman Catholic Church of St. Walburge, Preston and the Anglican Church of St. James, Louth. It is the tallest building in Bristol.

The first church on this site was built in Saxon times, as the port of Bristol first began. The present building is probably the fourth or fifth church that has been built on this site. In medieval times, St Mary Redcliffe, sitting on a red cliff above the River Avon, was a sign to seafarers, who would pray in it at their departure, and give thanks there upon their return. The church was built and beautified by Bristol's wealthy merchants, who paid to have masses sung for their souls and many of whom are commemorated there. Parts of the church date to the beginning of the 12th century. Although its plan dates from an earlier period, much of the church as it now stands was built between 1292 and 1370, with the south aisle and transept in the Decorated Gothic of the 13th century and the greater part of the building in the late 14th century Perpendicular. The patrons included Simon de Burton, Major of Bristol, and William Canynges senior. In the 15th century Canynges' grandson, also William Canynges, assumed responsibility for bringing the work of the interior to completion and filling the windows with stained glass. In 1446 much of this work was damaged when the spire was struck by lightning, and fell, causing considerable damage to the interior. Although the spire was to remain damaged for the next 400 years, Canynges continued in his commitment to restore and beautify the church. He took Holy Orders after the death of his wife, and is buried in the church. Other families associated with St Mary Redcliffe include the Penns, the Cabots, the Jays, the Ameryks and the Medes. In 1571, the school that was to become St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School was formed in a chapel in the churchyard. The church and school have remained closely linked in many aspects of their operations. The 17th century saw the loss of many of the church fittings and much of the stained glass during the Reformation and the English Civil War. During the reign of Queen Anne, and partially funded by her, the interior of St Mary Redcliffe was refitted in the Baroque style. Thomas Chatterton, whose father was sexton of St Mary Redcliffe, was born in the house next to the church in 1752. He studied the church records in a room above the south porch, and wrote several works which he attempted to pass as genuine medieval documents. He committed suicide in London at the age of seventeen. In 1795 the church saw the marriages of Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Sarah Fricker and Robert Southey to Sarah's sister Elizabeth. The upper part of the spire, missing since being struck by lightning in 1446, was reconstructed in 1872 to a height of 292 ft (89 m). During the Second World War a bomb exploded in a nearby street, throwing a rail from the tramway over the houses and into the churchyard of St Mary Redcliffe, where it became embedded in the ground. The rail is left there as a monument.

Architecture and fittings
St Mary Redcliffe is cruciform in plan, with a chapel extending to the east of the chancel, and a large tower placed asymmetrically to the north of the west front. There is a rectangular 13th century porch on either side of the nave, that on the north side having been extended with a more elaborate polygonal outer porch in the 14th century. The north porch has an inner component dating from 1200, with black Purbeck Marble columns, and an outer hexagonal portion built in 1325 which is ogee-cusped with a Moorish appearance. A wrought-iron chancel screen built by William Edney in 1710 still stands under the tower. The church is adorned with monuments to individuals from the history of the city, including Sir William Penn (the father of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania). His helm and half-armour are hung on the wall, together with the tattered banners of the Dutch ships that he captured in battle. Little of the early stained glass remains. In the west window of St John's Chapel, for instance, the medieval glass barely survived the destruction (said to have been caused by Oliver Cromwell's men). Most of the higher portions went untouched, but others were severely damaged. In some cases the windows were impossible to repair, and clear glass was eventually introduced to replace the missing scenes. The Victorian stained-glass windows were created by some of the finest studios of that period. The tower contains four bells dating from 1763 and made by Thomas Bilbie of the Bilbie family. Two of these bells, along with an older Purdue bell are included in the 50 cwt ring of 12 bells, cast by John Taylor & Co in 1903.

Hogarth's tryptych
A great altarpiece tryptych by William Hogarth was commissioned in 1756 to fill the east end of the chancel. The churchwardens paid him £525 for his paintings of the Ascension flanked by The Sealing of the Sepulchre and the Three Marys at the Tomb. This was removed from the church by mid-Victorian liturgists and stored at various sites, including a tobacco warehouse (as this provided suitable humidity), before being displayed at the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery; it is now stored in the redundant church of St Nicholas, Bristol.


The choir have released numerous recordings, as well as touring Europe and North America.

The first pipe organ in the church, built by Harris and Byfield in 1726, was of three manuals and 26 stops. In 1912 a four-manual, 71-stop organ having over 4,300 pipes was installed by Harrison & Harrison. Towards the end of his life Arthur Harrison said that he regarded the organ at St Mary Redcliffe as his "finest and most characteristic work". The organ remains essentially as he designed it in 1911. Kevin Bowyer recorded Sorabji's First Organ Symphony on it in 1988, for which the organ was an "ideal choice"; the notes to the recording describe the church as "acoustically ideal, with a reverberation period of 3½ seconds", and notes that the organ has "a luxuriousness of tone" and "a range of volume from practically inaudible to fiendishly loud". William McVicker, organist at the Royal Festival Hall, has called the organ "the finest high- Romantic organ ever constructed". November 2010 saw the first performances on the organ after an 18-month renovation by its original builders Harrison & Harrison, costing around £800,000. The organ had been disassembled and some of it taken away to the builders' workshop in Durham. The pipes were cleaned and the leather of the bellows was replaced. The manuals were also fitted with an electronic panel for storing combinations of stop settings.

List of Organists
  • Nelme Rogers 1727”“1772
  • John Allen 1772”“1816
  • Cornelius Bryan 1818”“1840
  • Edwin Hobhouse Sircom 1840”“1855
  • William Haydn Flood 1855”“1862
Organist and Choirmaster
  • Joseph William Lawson 1862”“1906
  • Ralph Thompson Morgan 1906”“1949
  • Kenneth Roy Long 1949”“1952
  • Ewart Garth Benson 1953”“1968 (continued as Organist until 1987)
  • Peter Fowler 1968
  • Bryan Anderson 1968”“1980
  • John Edward Marsh 1980”“1987
Director of Music and Organist
  • John Edward Marsh 1987”“1994
  • Anthony John Pinel 1994”“2003
  • Andrew William Kirk 2003
Assistant Organist
  • John Edward Marsh 1976”“1980
  • Colin Hunt 1980”“1990
  • Anthony John Pinel 1990”“1994
  • Graham Alsop 1994”“2003
  • Graham & Claire Alsop 2003


Bristol Area Railway Map

Cross Country Route

Thornbury Branch Line

Yate New Passage Pier

South Wales Main Line New Passage Halt

Westerleigh Junction South Wales Main Line

Cross Hands Halt Pilning (High Level)

Pilning Low Level Severn Beach

Coalpit Heath Crooks Marsh


Bristol Parkway


Ram Hill Colliery

Chittening Platform

Henbury Avonmouth sidings

Hallen Halt Avonmouth Docks

Charlton Halt St Andrews Road

North Filton Platform

Westerleigh Goods Depot Avonmouth

Filton Junction Portway (proposed)

Filton Shirehampton

Filton Abbey Wood Sea Mills

Horfield Clifton Down Tunnel

Ashley Hill Clifton Down

Mangotsfield (1845-1869) Redland

Mangotsfield (1869-1966) Montpelier

Staple Hill Hotwells Halt

Fishponds Hotwells

Stapleton Road


Lawrence Hill Waste depot

Oldland Common Bristol St Philips

Temple Meads goods depot St Mary Redcliffe tunnel

Bristol Temple Meads

Bristol Temple Meads Bristol Harbour Railway

St Philips Marsh T&RSMD


Parson Street Bristol Docks (North)

Bristol Docks (South)

West Depot

Bitton Ashton Gate

St Anne's Park Clifton Bridge

Brislington Nightingale Valley Halt

Long Ashton Ham Green Halt

Avon Riverside Pill

Keynsham Portbury Shipyard

Whitchurch Halt Royal Portbury Dock


Saltford Portbury

Portishead (1954-1964)

Mangotsfield Branch Line WC&PLR to Weston

Great Western Main Line Portishead (1879-1954)

Bristol & N. Somerset Line Portishead Pier

Bristol to Taunton Line Bristol and Gloucester Railway

MR ( Birmingham and Gloucester Railway to Birmingham)

SWR ( Gloucester to Newport Line to Newport)


3 photos

Building Activity

  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings removed a media and updated 7 media
    about 6 years ago via
  • updated a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via Annotator