St Nicholas Street, Bristol, BS1 1UE
Original building 1154. Current building 1763-9.
James Bridges who left Bristol before the church’s completion. Thomas Paty supervised its completion and designed the spire.
Bath stone ashlar on 3 sides
Place of Worship
St. Nicholas’ Church is the headquarters for BaRAS and is not open to the public. It can be viewed from St. Nicholas St, Baldwin St and Bristol Bridge.
St Nicholas Church may have begun life as an 11th century chapel. The present building is probably the fourth St Nicholas on this site. Being on a hillside allowed room for an upper church and a lower one (crypt). The entire medieval crypt (possibly c. 1350–80) survives, complete with ceiling bosses. The upper church was rebuilt in the 18th century. It featured a typically Georgian large rectangular hall with a flat ceiling and no separate structure for a chancel, plus lovely Rococo plaster decoration – all destroyed by Second World War bombing.
The crypt was used as a shelter during the war and when the church itself was ravaged by bombing, it was used for services until 1959. St Nicholas became an ecclesiastical museum in the 1960s and housed the Tourist Information Centre in the 1990s. It is now occupied by Bristol and Region Archaeological Services (BaRAS). St Nicholas Church museum opened in 1973, when William Hogarth’s three-part altarpiece painting depicting the resurrection and ascension of Christ (commissioned by St Mary Redcliffe in 1755) was moved here, where it remains today.
The old church of St Nicholas stood against the city wall, with its chancel raised over the arch of one of the main city gates at the north end of Bristol Bridge. It is reported that a brass plate found in the crypt suggests that crypt foundations were laid c. 1030. The crypt was used as a guild chapel in medieval times and contains surviving fragments dated to the 1200s, such as part of an arch decorated with a bearded head.
After services stopped in 1959 the church was threatened with demolition. Fortunately the plan was overturned and in 1964 re-roofing took place, with the windows repaired and re-glazed.
Other points of interest include the clock. This was originally installed in the early 1800s and its seconds dial was added during a renovation in the 1870s. The original clock workings were destroyed in the wartime bombing but have since been repaired and it now runs on electricity.