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Gateway and entrance

Gallery and organ

Font with lid

Tomb of Walter Frampton

Medieval brass plaque

Inscribed bell frame

View of nave and chancel

Bell ringing chamber

19th Century pedestrian passageway

Crypt

Location

End of Broad Street at junction with Nelson Street, Bristol, BS1 2EZ

Dates

Church: founded by 1174. Tower and crypt: from 1300s. Nave: built late 1300s. Windows: 1400s. Chancel: 1400s. Church was reordered at various times in 1800s.

Architect

Not known

Style

Perpendicular Gothic

Listed Status

Grade I

Materials

Body of church: pennant rubble sandstone with limestone work on the openings and parapet.

The tower, including the spire above: fine-cut ashlar limestone.

Original Function

Parish church

Building type

Religion

Visitor Access

Staffed by volunteer stewards from the Churches Conservation Trust.

Please ring 0117 929 1766 to check opening times.

Links

The Churches Conservation Trust

Key Facts

  • The only survivor of four churches built over the old town’s gates
  • Its elegant spire rises over last remaining gate into historic Bristol
  • A crypt of exceptional architectural quality
  • Contains Bristol’s most complete set of impressive Jacobean fittings

This church is literally built into Bristol’s history. Its elegant, spire-topped tower sits over the north gate in the city’s historic walls, framing an attractive view up Broad Street. Another name is St John’s on the Wall – this is the last survivor of four churches located over gates in the walls. Above the gateway are shields representing the city of Bristol, the Merchant Venturers and the Stuart Royal Arms. To either side are statues of Brennus and Bellinus, Bristol’s mythical founders.

 

St John’s was linked with Tewkesbury’s Benedictine Abbey and is first mentioned in an 1174 charter. The present building dates from the late 1300s, when wealthy Bristol merchant and mayor Walter Frampton paid for its development. The tower, nave and crypt date from around this period while the chancel is a little later. St John’s distinctive narrow shape arises from being built into the walls and the nave is aisleless.

 

Treasures inside include outstanding 17th century Jacobean fittings, such as a communion table and an inscribed beam from 1649 recording the names of those who once rehung the bells. Below is a superb, rare example of a crypt with a rib-vaulted ceiling, complete with carved bosses. St John’s was declared redundant in 1984 and is now cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust.

As historic Bristol became more secure it expanded beyond its walls and churches were built into those walls – including this one. The north gate was used by travellers such as those crossing the River Frome and journeying on to Gloucester. Building a church here let them offer prayers, thanks and offerings for a safe journey.

 

The nave is lit with large windows inside slender, arched mouldings. Its easternmost bay is unusual because it is lit by additional clerestory windows high above the main ones. These would have lit the rood screen: a screen (usually wooden) that contained holy images and divided the nave from the chancel. The chancel has two bays of windows and a vestry beyond with an attractive 15th century oriel window. There is also an unusual cross-shaped font (1624) featuring cherubs’ heads, scrolled legs and clawed feet.

 

The three-storey tower has an embattled parapet and a rib-vaulted passage beneath with a slot for lowering the portcullis. The crypt is entered from Nelson Street. It was a prestigious burial place and contains a fine chest tomb to Thomas Rowley and his wife with carvings of their children. Outside the church to the left of the crypt is the St John Conduit. This was once inside the city walls, and it brought water from Brandon Hill.

 

After Bristol’s World War II Blitz, St Mary-le-Port’s congregation joined the church. By the 1980s, however, the congregetion had declined and could no longer sustain the cost of the church.

Listen:

Visitor Welcome Volunteer

 

Visitor Welcome Volunteer

 

Visitor Welcome Volunteer

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