next prev

St. Thomas St facade

North elevation

View from the gallery

Jacobean sword rest

Charles I's coat of arms

Pelican of Piety on reredos screen

Rose widow above reredos

Organ

Oak Pulpit

Statue of St Thomas the Martyr

Location

Thomas Lane, off St Thomas Street, Bristol, BS1 6JG

Dates

Founded late 12th century; rebuilt and added to throughout the medieval period. Tower: 15th century. Church’s main body: 1792-3. Various Victorian reorderings and embellishments.

Architect

The builder of the tower is not known. Nave and aisles designed by James Allen. The church was reordered by W.V. Gough, 1878-80

Style

Tower: Perpendicular Gothic. Main body of the church: Georgian Neoclassical

Listed Status

Grade II*

Materials

Church tower: limestone ashlar, probably from Dundry.

East end: fine-cut Bath stone.

Other elevations of nave and aisles have stone dressings at doors, windows and the cornice.

Original Function

Place of worship for the local parish

Building type

Religion

Visitor Access

Open 9:30 am to 5:00 pm, Monday to Friday

Links

The Churches Conservation Trust

Key Facts

  • Once said to have been the finest Bristol church after St Mary Redcliffe
  • Beautiful 18th century altar-screen – the only surviving one in Bristol
  • Originally the parish church to a thriving medieval trading area
  • Striking 18th century organ casing

In the 1100s, Bristol was expanding across Bristol Bridge from the original town and a church was established here and dedicated to St Thomas the Martyr. This was Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, murdered in 1170. Trade flourished in this new harbourside area, producing wealth that funded the rebuilding and lavish furnishing of the original medieval church. None of the 12th century church remains but the three-storey 15th century tower survives, with Perpendicular-style windows and a spirelet at one corner.

 

The church’s main body was rebuilt in 1792-3 because it was considered unsafe. It consists of a nave, side aisles and a chancel to the east. At this time only the façade opening on to St Thomas Street wasn’t hemmed in, so this has fine Bath stone ashlar, classical pilasters, surface decoration and a moulded pediment at the top. The rose (round) window was added later.

 

The white-painted classical interior has minimal decoration, which shows off the fine timber fittings. These are mainly 18th century and include an impressive reredos by Bristol joiner William Killigrew. The striking carved organ case (1728) is by John Harris. St Thomas was reordered by W.V. Gough in the 19th century but declared redundant in 1982. It is now maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust.

The 15th century tower at the west end features buttresses at each corner and a stair turret at the south-west corner. Corner pinnacles on the buttresses and pierced parapets between were added in 1896-7 by W.V. Gough. The surface decoration above the rose window consists of garlands of leaves and a cherub with folded wings, created by the church’s 18th century architect, James Allen (a local mason). He reused this feature throughout the building and may have “borrowed” it from Redland Chapel, which was built around fifty years earlier. The three façades that were hemmed in are plain, with rendered walls and stonework added at the openings and cornice.

 

Inside, the nave arcades are formed from square pillars with clerestory windows above and a tunnel-vaulted ceiling. The impressive reredos by Killigrew is decorated with wheat, grapes and flowers. Its central pediment is topped with a Pelican of Piety. The reredos panels now contain paintings (1907) by the Prussian artist, Fritz von Kamptz, who lived in Clifton. At the church’s west end is a striking organ gallery sitting on fluted columns.

 

Other features of note are the royal arms of Charles I from 1637 on the north wall and the carved oak pulpit of 1740. There is also a Jacobean sword-rest, which was used to display the ceremonial sword carried before the Mayor whenever he attended a service in the church. There are interesting monuments to 18th century sugar merchants in the east porch.

Listen:

Visitor Welcome Volunteer

 

Visitor Welcome Volunteer

 

Visitor Welcome Volunteer

 

Visitor Welcome Volunteer

Leave a Comment