For a family that seem to have been all pervasive in the Georgian city, there is a curious, at times infuriating silence hanging about the Paty family. Nobody knows where they came from. Attributions of work to them is often unclear, especially after Thomas’s sons John and William joined him in business. Wren’s claim that if you seek a memorial, look around you probably applies to many in the construction trade. Early in the century a long, rambling poem waxed lyrical about Thomas’ building skills:
“PALLADIO’s stile in PATTY’s plans appears:
Himself a master with the first to stand
For CLIFTON owes her beauties to his hand.”
But by the end of the century another anonymous poet derided the family for their incompetence:
“a thing which Bristol dubs and architect
but nature ne’er inspired that stupid frame,
which dullness label’d P*tty, for his name.”
Though there seems to be no documentary evidence for the latter poem’s claims. The same poem goes into – at times excessive detail – of various people involved, yet doesn’t give a Christian name to any of the Patys, as if they were some faceless blob.
Thomas, his sons and his brother James were all active in their local parish of St Augustines. When Thomas’ wife died in …., Felix Farley published a touching eulogy to her. Though he survived her by decades, he never remarried. The family contributed to charities, they signed petitions. When Thomas died he left a reasonable sum to his children and his youngest son was affluent enough to retire to Shirehampton before an early death. Whilst modern writers still deride them for their lack of talent, they did not, like most other builders, go bankrupt with the Napoleonic collapse of 1792 which left vast tracts of Bristol half built, like the plague had passed through. Their business was taken on by Foster and Wood, in various forms this survived into the 20th century, again, quite an achievement.
Dr William Barrett’s “History and Antiquities of Bristol” was once considered the bible of the city’s past, though his unquestioning acceptance of Chatterton rather undermined this. Thomas subscribed to its publishing and a letter from Barrett to Smythe regarding a damaged monument in St Werburgh’s church notes that Barrett had given part of it to Thomas for possible repairing, so the two were known to each other. Yet no Paty is ever mentioned in the massive volume, the sole mention of an architect was Mr Wood “a learned and ingenious architect” . It seems the Patys had not risen to the exalted heights of the Woods father and son, that they remained mere tradesmen.
William Dyer had an incredibly busy and varied life, running several businesses, attending sermons – sometimes several in a day – and travelling widely. He was a man fascinated by inventions and new ideas and his diary notes many contacts in Bristol and elsewhere. Yet though late in life he lived in a Paty built house on a Paty street, Berkeley Crescent, he made no note of them. Not until the very last entry which rather poignantly notes the death of Thomas’ youngest son, William.
The Rev John Evans was another contemporary antiquarian, and being a cleric was much concerned with the state of local churches. Yet he makes no mention of the Patys, but unlike Barrett he does name check several local builders such as Will Halfpenny early in the century and later Daniel Hague and James Allen. His silence is even more strange when his list of advisors is considered. It includes the carver Henry Wood who took over the Paty business, and is rumoured to have been an inferior craftsman who claimed their work as his own.
Felix Farley seems to have been a reliable, if not effusive reporter of their work. At least he seems to get their details right, which is better than he did when he recorded the death of Thomas Goldney, Quaker merchant, a week early. Thomas’ son William was the city surveyor who had married into the wealthy Hicks family, but the Corporation minutes make no mention of his death. Several months later there is a record that a new surveyor had been appointed. Only the sharp eyed would have noticed whose shoes Thomas Pope was stepping into.
But for real silence, it can be provided by the perpetual scribbler John Wesley. When he planned his first meeting house, his diary noted the purchase of the land, the laying of a foundation stone, then silence till he noted his first sermon there.
The Patys ran an incredibly diverse building business, based in bath but also throughout South Gloucestershire, Wales and Somerset. Their monumental carvings can be found as far away as Bury St Edmonds and the West Indies, so indicate the wide ranging nature of Bristol trade at the time. The sitings of their monuments also provide a clue to architecture, as they often built nearby manor houses. Records of their work is often fragmentary sometimes ambiguous but hunting out the scattered pieces gives an indication of how the family business survived so long.
For all Thomas Paty’s alleged lack of originality, he was a great survivor n an age which is largely ignored by historians. He not only witnessed, but played a major part in the transformation of the medieval city full of wooden houses clustered round the high cross to the modern city with wide paved streets and sprawling suburbs. He saw the England of agriculture being dragged into the modern industrial age, and the influx of wealth from the transatlantic colonies, then the collapse following the war with North America. As we live though the decline of this age, his story becomes more important than ever.
The silence is partly the nature of their age. With the exceptions of such high flyers as Burlington and Vanbrugh, architecture was still part of the building trade. Things had changed little from Inigo Jones time when “the present day conception of an architect’s artistic responsibility for a building simply did not exist to provide a row of houses with a proper Italian character might very well be merely a note of verbal instructions to a mason or bricklayer together with the loan of an Italian engraving or two and the ?? of a “plat-form” or draft”
Christ church was one of the three ancient churches at the main crossroads of Bristol, and like al the other churches it was, by the mid 18th century, falling down. The parish was home to some of the richest merchants in town, such as MP Matthew Brickdale and Henry Cruger’s father in law Samuel Peach, as well as bankers Tyndall and Vaughan. The poet Robert Southey lived nearby in Wine Street, was baptised in the church and later served as a churchwarden. But it was also home to some of the worst slums in the city.
Latimer noted that by 1740 excrescences o the church had encroached on Wine St to the extent that only 17 foot of passageway remained. These excrescences were various shops and houses built up against the church, the roofs of which were often used by spectators during processions, executions and other public events. They were also an obstruction to any repair work to the church, but they provided much needed source of rental income for the parish, and probably why Christ Church was almost the last of the city parishes to be rebuilt.
In 1745 the carpenter architect William Halfpenny was commissioned “for his drawing the new Place for the Pewing the church and other ornament thereof.” though there is no record he was ever paid for this. It was a year before submissions were invited from ‘proper workmen’ to carry out the work, but by 1750 no progress had been made.
Thomas Paty’s invoices to the church begin in June 1751 with John West and others repairing masonry in the arch to the vestry, a window in the belfry and free stone piers in the watchmakers shop, presumably one of the excrescences, and 31 steps to the tower with a doorframe. In July they moved on to the arch of the south aisle, then in December the great arch, setting it with iron and then panelling it. A window was added to the tower the following May.
In July 1752 two men were employed removing four monuments, then a man did some marble polishing. A pair of Bath Stone pillars were put in the churchyard as in Duck Lane, which must have been to support the gates, then some work was done on the pulpit and font. In September 1753 John West and 3 others were working on the Sodbury stone in the windows. By the end of the year some work was being done on the clock face and repairs to carved urns.
Then the proper carving work was begun, with repairs to mouldings, ribbons and flower decorations. So soon after Thomas Paty’s work on Redland it would not be right to omit cherub heads, though he invoiced for only 3. A new bunch of flowers went over the west door and more flowers were added to the festoon over the communion table. The King’s Arms were also repaired. Thomas’ invoice amounted to £171/13/5 or the price of 5 ½ of rector Dr Debat’s sermons, which seems quite a bargain.
The invoicing is interesting in showing the order in which repairs were done, systematically but the tiny details hint at an interior rather at odds with the ancient gothic pile. The festoons and garlands are Classical Roman, and foreshadow the designs of the current church. The piecemeal nature of the work also make it clear that the church was spending as little as it could on the work. This was a repair, not redesign.
At last in 1753 it was announced that the church “has been at great expense repaired, beautified and repewed.” so locals such as the wonderfully named locals Hester Dove and Latham Church could at last be allocated their box pews by the sexton.
But again something went awry, as 2 years later a committee was formed to deal with finishing of the pewing, and to “raise moneys as may be essential to finish so tedious an undertaking and to enable Mr Willis to extricate himself from the last 5 years trouble he has had.” One of the drawbacks of serving as churchwarden was that expenses often had to be paid out of their own pocket, then ask for the money out of church funds. Mr Willis was clearly suffering. Yet in July they were arranging for “The great Arch in the church to be painted a handsome Marble, the Dials a good Stone colour, the Beys to be properly beautified and the church door to be painted.”
In succeeding years, they commissioned extra lighting for the roof and reading desks, but whilst various church properties were being repaired, there was no sign of any concern for the decaying state of the church building, apart from problems noted with doors and subsiding paving, possibly connected with the problems it was having in finding places to bury its dead..
At last, someone in the Vestry reported “that the Top of the Spire of the Church doth lean pretty much on one side.” So Mr James Bridges Architect, then Bridge Surveyor, Thomas Paty and any others were to survey it and report. Bridges declared that 2/5 of the spire had to be removed as soon as possible, together with the 4 leaning pinnacles at the 4 corners, and recommended they rebuild the spire in Ashlar coated with lead, and to replace the gothic parapet with a plain battlement.
This suggests a very pared down new design to replace a crumbling ornate one. Still there were delays. Estimates for the work were not tendered till October the following year, all based on Bridges’ survey.
In his estimate, Bridges offered to erect scaffolding, take down 30 foot of the spire, remove the leaning towers, finishing the spire with Bath stone coated with lead only, and the “four projecting Pedestals with curved Pinnacles at the four corners” to be removed, and the lower part of the Spire to be repointed “so to make the whole Work appear as New”. All this for £188, recommending the work be commenced in the spring.
James Patty, almost certainly Thomas’s brother, also submitted a quote. As in other instances, it is not clear whether they were in real competition or sharing the work between themselves. His quote was for £262.
Thomas’s beautifully written estimate was for £194 plus £36 more for repairing the old part of the spire, ie a total of £236. In an extra note he offered to do the latter for £30 or less if left till the spring, so taking into consideration the difficulties of working in cold weather. To further his case, Thomas attended the Vestry meeting when he gave reasons for deferring the work till the spring, so was given the contract, to carry out the work as soon as possible after the 1st March, to be completed within 6 months.Some extra details were included by the time the contract was agreed a month later. Taking down the dragon and ladder would have been assumed, but to “lower and finish the open Pedestal wherein the Market Bell hung” seems to have been an afterthought, but a reminder that until the indoor markets were built behind the exchange, sales of food were in the open streets around the high cross, ie right outside the church.
James Bridges was paid 2 guineas for his survey and estimate Thomas Paty received £220 out of the churchwarden’s pocket, the parish again being penniless; Paty was also entitled to the old stone but there is no record of any payment to James Paty.
In April 1772 the vestry proposed obtaining an increase in the stipend for the rector from Queen Anne’s Bounty, to help clerics in poor parishes, and the rector was to raise a further £100 from the parish. Dr Debat was then earning £30 pa for saying one sermon per week. By comparison, the vicar of Temple was given £150 pa and the new church of St George in 1752 offered £800 of which ½ came from Queen Anne, so Debat’s wages, even in comparison with other poor parishes, really was a pittance. Yet some parishioners noted their objection to this attempted hijacking of parish funds. Barratt was more sympathetic, suggesting the man was entitled to more than this to live on, yet this was proposed as a gift.
The following January the conscientious objectors provided a letter; the minutes record “Resolved that it is our opinion that the contents thereof require no answer therefore that same be given to it. That such letter be locked up among the papers of the vestry.”
A month later open war broke out, with the Feeoffees, or church trustees claiming the churchwardens had no right to collect rents from church properties. Letters went out from both groups to tenants demanding rents, but from 1778 to 1782 the Vestry received no rents, so it seems the Trustees had won. But then the case went to court, and though Dr Debat eventually won an increase in pay, Barratt claimed the case damaged his health and brought about his early death in 1783.
The matter cost the church upwards of £1400 in legal fees, money which was desperately needed for other purposes.
Until this war broke out, there had been a steady stream of tradesmen’s payments especially for John Davis the carpenter and the various West family of masons, as well as glaziers, plumbers and tiler-plasterers. Such bills did not reappear till 1785, and this is important as old buildings need constant running repairs, which it seems must have stopped at this critical time. The ultimate losers in this squabble were the church and the parish poor.
In 1776 the Bishop’s Court served the churchwardens with a “Monition”, as “church and Tower being out of repair in several parts,” they were ordered to carry out urgent repairs. Nine months later they installed a folding door between the 2 main doors in the church, and at the end of the year they ordered lead shoots, or spouts, to be repaired, “to convey water as not to annoy the churchyard” Never mind the parishioners who might be injured or killed from falling masonry. A further 6 months passed before an order was made to plaster, whitewash and paint inside and outside ornaments. But another hand added “NB The above order was not carried into execution owing to the Feeoffees having the money in their Hands belonging to the Parish and not choosing to apply it but under their own direction.”
A gap then follows in the vestry minutes but the curtain rises I the midst of some intense action. On 19 July 1783 Messrs Thomas Paty, William Daniel, Richard Hill and George Grist appeared and made reports on the state of the church. They all agreed that “no repairs can be made which would add sufficient strength and permanency to the building without the whole being taken down and rebuilt. (Tower and chancel excepted)”. The Vestry agreed the church was in a dangerous state, so a month later they decided to take down the organ. In September, Thomas Paty appeared at the meeting and at the suggestion that a second opinion be sought, he approved. They brought in John Palmer, famous for revamping the Theatre Royal on King street and for inventing the system of royal mail coaches. He also found the church to be ruinous.
A survey was taken of the properties which would need to be purchased and taken down; they were estimated to be worth at least £1500. Thomas estimated the cost of the rebuilding to be a mere “2,000. In November the corporation were informed of their findings, then did nothing. In July a clerk was sent to see the mayor and kept waiting all morning for a reply, in which they demanded Wine Street be widened, which would involve the additional cost of taking down the church tower. The corporation demanded a response within hours. The vestrymen realised they would need £3250 from the Corporation to carry out the rebuild.
In July 1784 the same 4 builders were asked to do another survey, and to report whether building extra walls inside the west and south sides would make the church safe. This bizarre arrangement smacks of desperation and the tradesmen all claimed it to be useless but Paty suggested he could tie the roof with metal bars as a stop gap, as he had done at All Saints, till the corporation agreed to the necessary funds.
The Corporation agreed to widen the road according to Thomas’s plan, or at least the latest of the many plans they asked him to prepare. The Corporation thought widening the street was the most important aspect of the scheme. In January Thomas produced a plan, which the vestry deemed “eligible in every respect except that the seats should run in a contrary direction, that the Pulpit should be placed against the north east corner, that the middle aisle should not be more than 6 foot wide, that the organ loft should not run so far out into the body of the church and there should be Galleries on each side of it.”
Thomas Paty was asked for an itemised estimate for all aspects of the rebuilding, of which rough masonry work alone was now given as £1750, giving a final cost of £5900. Allowing for ground rent sale and £1500 voted by the Corporation, there was still a shortfall of £1200 so the Merchants Hall were asked to help.
The Vestry minutes again stop between 1785 and 91, so details of the present church are so unclear. Initial surveys were carried out by Thomas, then by Mr Paty, and in 1789 he died, leaving his son William to complete the work. But there is a further complication here, as explained by an anonymous poem dealing with the new parish church of St Pauls
“Christ Church will shortly P*tty’s merit tell
join H*g*e with W*st when cemeteries fell
they both for him bely’d the real cause
for which his gouty tow’r shall ring applause;
that tow’r which Viner timely propt to save
the arches from one common grave”
When the rebuilding finally got under way, West would have been the obvious choice for mason, as his family had long links with the parish, as did the Patys who often worked with Hague. Their absence here suggests something did go awry.
Viner is not known in Bristol, but a Charles Viner of Bath presented his final account to the church trustees for rebuilding for £2394/11/6 ½. It covers 3 bills from 1787, involving building the tower, for extra work, and for taking down and rebuilding cemetery, removing the dead etc. Which fits well with the poem. Viner’s note was in turn included as an unnamed mason’s in William Paty’s bill of 1790, so Paty was still in nominal charge.
The present church is much admired, one author claims it to be one of the finest man made spaces in the city. Others compare it favourably with London’s St Martins in the Fields. But the glorious gold and white seems not to have been original, by William Paty. On Richard Hill’s invoice of 1791, the majority of the paint was flat French grey, some £36 worth. A Little under £7 worth of stone white, then a little ‘olave’ and ‘blew’ were also noted with plenty of gilding, including the dragon.
On the outside, the famous quarter jacks strike out the hours on the clock tower. These are attributed to an earlier Paty, a James who carved details on the old library in King Street. Given the gaps in the record, the story of the church rebuilding will never be fully understood, especially which of the various Patys were responsible. A note in the Jeffries collection claimed it was built by John, probably Thomas’s elder son All that is certain is that the various family members did a lot of work for the parish.
In most cities the prevailing winds tend to be westerly, so the prime real estate tends to be in the west, with the slums downwind to the east. But Bristol had an extra fear of the region to its east; it tended to be inhabited by a particularly incorrigible and lawless breed whose riots over turnpikes and food shortages were greatly feared and severely dealt with. Perhaps inspired by the success of the Wesleys in civilising the savages of Kingswood, an Act of Parliament was obtained in 1750 to divide the parish of St Phillips and erect a new church in the new parish of St George. It was noted that the inhabitants of the forest or chase of Kingswood were very numerous and a great distance from the mother church.
The chamberlain’s accounts record a payment of £3/15/- to Rev Tucker ‘for expenses putting the case for the church’ so it seems it was the famously anti-Wesleyan cleric’s idea, though soon supported by others.
Thomas Chester, lord of the local manor granted a piece of land in the centre of the new parish for the church, churchyard and vicarage house. Boundaries were set and the Lord Bishop of Durham (ex Bristol) donated £400 towards its endowment and applied to the bounty of Queen Anne for the Augmentation of Poor clergy for the same amount.
Commissioners were appointed from the many willing to donate £50 or more, including the said bishop, Norborne Berkeley of Stoke Park, Onesipherous and Thomas Tyndall, Jarrit Smith, Abraham Isaac Elton, Thomas Farr and Paul Fisher, all of whom were substantial merchants of Bristol. They were to meet at the Lamb Inn near Lawford’s Gate and any excess money was to be invested I property to help maintain this poor parish.
Money seems to have poured in for this worthy cause – the parishioners were mostly too poor to contribute. A church was seen as a civilising presence and would encourage a better sort of person to move into the area. Donors included the Duke of Beaufort, Ralph Allen of Bath, and collections were made in all the city parishes, the church at Bitton, the country clergy and the Chamber of Bristol gave £250 on condition that they decided who became the incumbent.
In December 1751 the carpenter William Short submitted his note for ‘his trouble in drawing plans’. No record survives of any other work by him. He was given £26/5/- which is a lot as there is no record of his other involvement. No drawings survive, and the church was long ago replaced, but it seems to have been rather a curious structure, as the amount spend on carpentry work for the shell was almost as much as for the rough and fine stone masonry.
“On Tuesday March 3, David Peloquin Esq, Mayor, attended by the aldermen, and the other commissioners appointed for the building the new church, went in their coaches I procession to the spot marked out for the purpose, and laid the first stone of the structure, putting under it several pieces of the coin of George 2nd.”
The shell of the church was completed in a year, and in February 1753 it was completed at a cost of £2,239/9/7, all by Bristol tradesmen. Thomas Paty was paid £214 for the free masonry work, carpenter Samuel Glascodine who had, like Paty, worked on Wood’s Exchange, did the carpentry, but he died in 1756 so his wife took on the work fr a year but finally finished by Gilbert Davis. Thomas Manly, often the city mason, did the rough stone work. In 1755 the Corporation was asked for 350 to help with furnishings; they gave £250.
The vicarage was completed in 1765 at a cost of £1344/3/4 employing only the carpenter and mason. The remainder of the funds raised, ie £34/4/0 was spent on the purchase of an estate at Temple Mead; the rent from this was to help pay the vicar.
The church took time to improve the area. In the famine year of 1768 numerous appeals were made in the region to help feed the poor, but this parish was forced to make extra efforts:
“2-3,000 inhabitants, the majority of whom are always poor and labour under the peculiar misfortune of having no wealthy patrons within their own circle that are capable of administering succour proportioned to their vast multiplicity of wants. The public need not be told what the additional calamity of the present times or how much their own domestic comfort in every class of society and in every stage of life depends on the health and vigor of the laborious colliers.”
This goes in some way to explain why fundraising for the church had been so successful. The region wasn’t just a threat tot he city, its coal was an absolute necessity, both to survive the cold winters and for the numerous local industries. But it is also a reminder of the role that the lord of the manor had, ie he was still responsible for the welfare of his tenants, and that in this region, this system could not cope.
Several decades later the church seemed to have had a positive effect: “… a place of worship [was] erected for the resort of the numerous inhabitants of Kingswood, which from being a wild forest for deer is now become a well-inhabited place, with several thousand industrious and civilised people, living happily in their neat cottages.”
The area became so popular and affluent that the original church was soon too small so replaced, and no trace of the original survives.
“The focus of daily life for an Anglo-Saxon household, the great hall developed as the principal domestic interior of the high Middle Ages. In this period great halls may be identified within every kind of residence, from palaces and castles to merchant’s houses and farmsteads. And the great hall continued to be an important element of grand domestic architecture far into the 17th century. Even to day an old manor house is still often called “The Hall” in reference to the chamber which formerly served as its focus.”
By mid 18th century, entertaining in town or country was still very much based on a single large room in any house with the means to have one, which makes it very confusing for historians to find mentions of immense sums of money spent on a single room.
William Gore Esq was a wealthy Somerset gent, lord of the manor of Barrow Gurney, and with handwriting that would shame a gravedigger. But his scrawled accounting notes on the building of his new room at Barrow Court provide rare sightings of Bristol craftsmen such as the Paty family at work in Somerset. Between 1753-56 Thomas Paty, plasterer Thomas Stocking, and carpenter Samuel Glascodine were involved on the work which cost a massive £590/13/7, out enough to build and fit several town houses. A year later John Simmons painted the staircase and “ye Room”.
There is nothing to indicate what Thomas Paty’s work involved, so it was probably the usual bit of getting and organising things, and in the absence of any other suitable names, he must have designed it and probably added a bit of ornamental carving for his £82.
The room is discussed in a letter from Thomas Prowse in Bath to Gore of Feb 1755 in which he makes some very useful and sensible suggestions. But as a seriously classical architect, involved with others at Hatch Court, and on his own on the Temple of Harmony at Halswell House, his comments must be seen as a little biased.
“I think that the sketch of the Ceiling will do very well, and hope your operator will be sure to make it very light, because I have observed that there is hardly one thing of this kind in an hundred that is not made too heavy and projecting.”
As it too often is the case, he knows the work, but not who did it.
“I wish that the Frieze and Architrave were omitted, and that your Finishing were nothing but the Corinthian cornice you mention. Without something of Pillars or Pillasters I never wish to see the whole Entablature introduced in a room.”
He talks of obtaining pictures for the walls, and suggests panels as decoration in the meantime. His comments on fancy plasterwork are eminently sensible but bad news for master plasterers, advising against “any Festoons falling down on those Pannels or between them, which always have a bad effect in Plaster work, are subject to Accidents and harbour the dust.” Despite what appears to have been a complete conflict in styles, Prowse must have been impressed with Stocking’s work, as the two later worked together in 1758 on ‘the Cedars,’ now part of Wells Cathedral School.
Thankfully for the brilliant Mr Stocking, it seems Mr Gore ignored the advice, because a total of £86 was spent on plasterwork, again an extraordinary amount for a single room.
This room was not Thomas Paty’s first contact with Gore. In the adjoining parish church is a monument by Thomas to Edward Gore who died in 1748. this pattern of employing Thomas to work on monuments and in the nearby manor house provides a useful clue to the family business, especially as is often the case, the architect of a nearby building is unknown.
Monuments by the Patys can be found in almost every parish church across South Gloucestershire, the exceptions often being where the Victorians have been doing some rebuilding, so the monuments may have been lost.
Their monuments are also found in many North Somerset churches, but usually for families with strong links to Bristol, which makes Barrow unusual.
In May 1750 Thomas submitted an invoice for £5/10 9 ½ for supplying and fitting a marble slab, hearth and tiles for the house. The note receipted by Abraham Mills “for my master” and John Jones is the only named worker, so it is possible Thomas never actually visited the site. The Paty family did very little work south of the river Avon, so a letter from Thomas King of Bath, Paty’s future son in law, is interesting. Dated May 1760 King discusses the sale of a horse and the maladies such as Small Pox and stomach pains suffered by mutual acquaintances, so the contract may have come via this contact.
Sadly, there is no sign of Gore’s wonderfully ornate room today. In 1882 the house was largely remodelled and rebuilt by its owner Henry Martin Gibbs. The present house is a mixture of Tudor and Victorian with traces of the original priory. But it seems we at least know where it was:
“Victorian alterations provided for the library at the north end, where there had been a Georgian drawing room supported on pillars. The floor of this room was used as the floor of the new library.”
Of all the work Paty carried out, his interiors were far more subject to changing fashions, so least likely to survive. Once the rooms were changed, there was no reason to retain the records. Given his work on rooms at Badminton, Stoke Park and St Mary Redcliffe, we can only guess at how many others he was commissioned to design and build.
“Clifton Hill House.. turns a grim grey frontage tot eh road. It is a ponderous square mansion, built for perpetuity, with the walls three feet in thickness, faced with smooth Bath Stone… An Italian double flight of balustraded steps, largely designed, gives access to the gravelled terrace which separates the house from the lawn.” Almost a century after Paul Fisher built his grand mansion, this is how the poet John Addington Symonds described the first sight of his new home. He claimed that the move from the previous family home in Paty’s Berkeley Square to the mansion “contributed greatly… to make me what I am.” He felt certain it “formed my character and taste at a period when youth is most susceptible. My latent aesthetic sensibilities were immediately and powerfully stimulated.”
Though now used as a university hall of residence, Fisher’s mansion had an immense impact when built in 1746-50 to a design by Isaac Ware, the chimney sweep who rose to become Purveyor of the King’s Works and whose marble bust was carved by his friend Roubiliac, who also produced busts of Hogarth, Handel and Newton.
He described it as “a country seat without columns or other expensive decoration.” Ison claims that Ware was so proud of this house he had the drawings for the garden front and ground floor plan engraved and published in his ‘Complete Body of Architecture’ of 1756. It may well have been more than pride, an element of gratitude for being given his first major commission. The 1740s agricultural depression had seen a major loss of new projects to the extent that [Giles W] refers to the lost decade of architecture, when the successors to Hawksmoor and Wren were largely unemployed.
It was also the first proper classical mansion in the area, setting the style and standards for much that followed. The design was based on Italian merchants’ houses, with a coarse stone base for cellars upon which the fine stone living quarters were reached by sweeping staircase. From this grand design, the Georgians reduced the basic elements to form scores of their terrace houses, and remains the blueprint for many modern buildings. Ison notes Clifton Hill House’s influence on Albermarle Row, Brunswick Square and others, many of which were designed and built by Thomas Paty who was stonemason on the house, one of his first jobs in the area.
Symonds talks of “The rusticated work upon the spacious massive basements, the balustraded staircases descending tot he terrace, the huge balls of Bath Stone placed at proper intervals upon the lower line of office buildings, the well-proportioned if too lofty rooms, the dignified waste of useful space in the long passages… Then there were stables with hay-lofts, and a paved yard, where my father generally kept eight horses, a summer house upon the wall of which vines clambered and nectarines ripened; a kitchen garden full of strawberries and currant-bushes, apricots and plums and peaches. The top of the house itself formed a capital playground for us children. A rambling attic, which we called the loft, stretched away into mysterious recesses and dark corners. In some of these obscure chambers cisterns were hidden, which supplied the house with rain water; from the narrow windows of others we could clamber out upon the roof, the sloping gables of which were covered with solid lead, and fenced about with broad slabs of rough clean chiselled stone. “
Paul Fisher was granted a lease on the estate by the Merchant Venturers on 18 October 1740. He was a linen draper, tobacco merchant and a founder of the Bristol Royal Infirmary. He had been apprenticed to linen draper Robert Smith who built Clifton Wood House just down the hill in 1725. Symonds talks of the area at the time being still a country village, adding “Paul Fisher’s habitation had no rivals in antiquity but the Church House and the Manor House, none in stateliness except the fine suburban villa of the Goldney family… In those days Clifton must have been beautiful and wild indeed. The few houses of the gentry clustered around the humble village church.. a rustic West of England chapel, with narrow windows and low sloping roof. Grassfields spread around this church, open to clear heavens and pure breezes from the Bristol Channel.”
Thomas Paty was paid over £2,000 for his work as mason and carver, including Fisher’s armorial shield between festoons high on the front façade. His fellow from the Exchange, Samuel Glascodine was carpenter and Joseph Thomas tiler and plasterer.
Notes and receipts survive for the building of the house, but they fail to indicate a supervising architect or clerk of works or master builder, suggesting the work may have been done by Paul Fisher himself. It was not uncommon for gentlemen of wealth to take an interest in building work, with Lord Botetort at Stoke Park planting trees alongside his labourers, and Goldney spending decades at work on his gardens. Ison notes a payment of six guineas to carpenter-architect Lancelot Dowbiggin, suggesting he acted as Ware’s deputy in setting out the building, but this would barely have paid his fare to the city from London. It seems more likely he designed some interiors or the garden.
In 1749/50 Fisher sold the lease of a crane to Thomas Paty on land adjoining the Avon between Capt Osborne’s yard to the west and the glasshouse to the east. At a cost of £120, it was treble the cost of eh capstan crane used on the Exchange so must have been substantial, and used for unloading the Bath stone to be hauled up the steep hill. Before the exchange, buildings in Bristol were of wood, brick or local stone; Wood’s new structure was possible due tot he recent improvements in navigating the Avon between Bristol and Bath. Included in the agreement was free use of the dock for unloading materials and the laying of barges, paying the land owner and Commissioner for building the Exchange John Clements 40 shillings per year. The lease for this land was taken for 14 years, and was conveniently close to Paty’s new home and workshops, so was the beginning of his independent career.
Clifton Hill House also had one of the earliest landscaped gardens in the area, which the house was designed for views of. By the time Symonds family moved in, Fisher’s garden was well established, the only change being the removal of ground at the bottom of the orchard to form the Georgian Bellevue Terrace, by Thomas Paty’s son William. “Four great tulip-trees, covered with golden blossoms, met our eyes at four points of vantage in the scheme. Between them, on either hand, rose 2 gigantic copper-beech trees, richly contrasted with the bright green of the tulip trees. Eight majestic elms, four on each side, guarded the terrace. They dated from an older period than the foundation of the dwelling house. The grove, which clustered round the central grass-plot, was further diversified by ilexes and mulberry trees, wych elms and pear trees, a fragile ailanthus and a feather acacia, with cypresses from the black boughs of which the clambering roses fell in showers. Sycamores, beeches and walnuts formed a leafy background to these choicer growths, and masked the ugly frontage of Bellevue.
Two ponds, quaintly enclosed with wired railings, interrupted at proper intervals the slope of soft green turf. Each had a fountain in its midst, the one shaped like a classic urn, the other a cupid seated on a dolphin blowing a conch. When the gardener made the water rise for us from those fountains, it flashed in the sunlight, tinkled on the leaves and cups of floating lilies, and disturbed the dragon-flies and gold fish from their sleepy ways… The whole scene was enobled by a feeling of respect, of merciful abstention from superfluous meddling. When Paul Fisher planned his pleasure ground he meant it, according to the taste of that period, to be artificial, and yet to vie with Nature… The broad flower beds upon the terrace and along the walls were a tangle of old-fashioned herbs in bloom – mulberrry-coloured scabius, live-in-idleness, love-in-a-mist, love-lies-bleeding, devil-in-a-bush, holly-hocks, carnations, creeping-jenny, damask and cabbage and York and Lancaster roses.”
No wonder Symmonds remembered entering the garden from the house as “For us it was like passing from the prose of fact into the poetry of fairyland.” But his mention of the wire railings round the ponds was probably a reminder of a tragedy which had struck this paradise. Paul Fisher had no children, but his niece and ward Rebecca married Christopher Willoughby, many years chamberlain to the city. In April 1758 their son Benjamin drowned in the ‘Bason’ of the garden.
The garden also includes several gazebos which, together with the old elms mentioned by Symonds, provide an intriguing hint of the garden which preceded Fisher’s Pavilions are marked on a map by Jacob de Wilstar of 1746, a year before Fisher began work. At the bottom of the garden are the remains of a pair of 2 story pavilions with viewing rooms, the north east one is fairly intact and made of Brandon Hill grit stone. Details such as quoins in pennant sandstone also suggest an earlier date either late 17th or early 18th century.
The 2 ponds have been drained but the Georgian cupid still rides the dolphin in the central tank which replaced them. Only one of Fisher’s 4 tulip trees survive with a younger one catching up.
All Saints in Central was a tiny city parish, but a very old and wealthy one, now known, if at all, for being the final resting place of the much maligned Edward Colston. A trawl through the enormous disintegrating tome of their Vestry Minutes of the early 18th century shows they seem to have been the first parish to wake from the slumbers of centuries of neglect and begin to show some interest in the fabric of their church.
In 1711 the churchwardens decided they disliked the low Norman tower, but a dispute over what to replace it with dragged on till 1717 which cost some £800 for which Colston gave £250. Latimer was not impressed with this, or its present 19th century incarnation, as “the new tower happily became ruinous in less than a century and was replaced by the existing anomaly.”
On 16 August 1738 Thomas Swabrick of Warwick was paid the first instalment of the agreed £240 to build an new organ in the west end of the church. It was to be “a handsome large organ, as large as the church will allow of Dutch Oak handsomely worked and wrought”. On 28 April 1740 the vestry agreed for a gallery, designed by Mr Halfpenny, probably the most experienced builder and only professional architect in the city, to be erected to support the new intended organ.
By 28 May both the gallery and organ were erected but it seems there was surprise in the gentlemen that the church was as a result made very dark. So they consulted with various workmen and decided to “open a light in the middle isle and that a proper octagon be erected thereon,..” ie a skylight. The lighting had already been compromised by the erection of the Gibbs designed Rysbrack monument to Colston obstructing the east wall of the south isle.
The lack of light was exacerbated by the building from 1741 of the Exchange, which towered over the area, and which caused considerable disruption to the parish. The Corporation demolished their Almshouse, so they had to build another, some distance away in St John St. Where most parishes made do with 2 waywardens to keep roads in repair, they appointed 8 and there were frequent mentions of encroachment by the Corporation and their builders, which is understandable given how large was its new neighbour. In 1743 a survey was ordered to check if the Corporation or their workmen had encroached on the parish lands.
In 1750 the vestry decided to paint the new octagonal window, usually necessary to prevent water leaks, but it seems it still hadn’t been done by 1752 when the decision was repeated. The door to All Saints Lane, which separated the church from the Exchange was ordered to be replaced and topped with spikes in September 1750, they were clearly suffering from a change in the neighbourhood. They were also still having troubles with light as they ordered the new vestry door to be moved as it was obstructing light. At the same time they ordered new seats, pews and pulpit as all had become ruinous.
Most ancient churches in Bristol had markets to help pay for their maintenance. They built an open collonade running alongside the main wall, known as a Tolzey where fees were paid and disputes settled. When the Exchange and Markets were built in the 1740s most of these became redundant, with all the trading moved to the single location. But this meant a sizeable loss of income to the various parishes, and in addition, All Saints, being adjacent to the markets, had to endure all the interruption and inconvenience of such a noisy, messy neighbour during the building work and beyond. All Saints church was also unusual in having a house intruding on the fabric of the church, and was rented out as a coffee house to the first of several generations of Samuel Worrals, Town clerks..
It is not clear what was meant by the complaint of 1752 of ‘bulgeing of passages ‘ of the Tolzey was, or how it could cause stone pillars to be ‘shook and removed from the upright’ but the vestry decided to pull them down and move them to allow the road to be widened to accommodate the increasing traffic in the city’s commercial centre.
In June 1771 Mr Paty was ordered to erect a scaffold to survey the dome prior to his repairing it. He was also commissioned to take an accurate survey of the parish lands and to frame the result. Paty was then a City Surveyor, and in all the changes going on in the city at the time, it seems he may have been generating work for himself. After obtaining a quote for tilers to repair the main part of the roof, Thomas Paty was ordered to supervise the repair ‘Dome and other such parts of the Tower’ The following month, coping around the outside of the church was ordered to be repaired. In September a carpenter was called upon to repair the north aisle, by strapping or bolting new beams onto old ones, and the new roof to be covered with best tiles. Sounds like the definition of a faded aristocrat – a person who wears a fur coat over rags. But when the north aisle beams were examined, the ends towards the street were found to be decayed so a new roof was ordered, once again by Paty.
For the work to June 1773 Thomas got paid twice. With Hague the mason, he shared £36 for the stonework repaired on the tower and dome – Paty probably did the fine freestone work, Hague the rough work. Paty was also paid £6/6/0 for surveying and supervising the roof repair.
By now it must have been clear that the church was in need of more than piecemeal repairs. On 17 July 1781 a letter was written by Daniel Hague and Robert Gay masons, William Edmonds and John Hopkins carpenters:
“We whose names are hereunder set having at the request of the churchwardens of All Saints viewed and carefully Examined the North and West side walls of All Saints church against the Present New Buildings… and Judge the said walls to be in a ruinous condition and should be immediately taken down to the top of the Present Old Columns standing in the church which support the Organ Loft.
And also having viewed and examin’d the freestone Front of All Saints church against Corn Street from the tower to the New Buildings.. and judge the said Freestone front should be taken down within one foot of the top of the windows and rebuilt in order to repair the roof.”
The fact that no less than 4 experienced builders were consulted underlies the seriousness of the building’s decay. Thomas Paty and several others were also asked their opinion, whereas his opinion alone was usually sufficient. But still the vestry would not allow a rebuild, merely “such repairs and rebuildings as are absolutely needful” so adopted Paty’s plan to add iron bars to help stabilise the roof.
The accounts agreed on 19 September 1783 seem to tell a rather different story. Thomas Paty is given £117 16s which is what he was paid for surveying and building the entire church (minus tower) of St Michael on the Mount only a few years earlier. I can only assume that there was far more work involved here than the records seem to convey. Comparing drawings of the church with and without the Tolzey attached (ie pre and post- repairs) the old nave seems more ornate and it seems the modern version has buttresses added. The two versions of the tower seem similar thought the latter seems plainer. But the ground floor, the old entrance with pillars on either side seems to have been replaced by a rather rustic looking windows. So, given the age of the building, it seems that Paty’s bill was for a rebuild of the tower, and to replace the roof of the nave. The situation is further complicated by the old house which partly encroached on the church having been pulled down during this time, as was the Tolzey itself.
This is where Paty’s role gets really complicated, and what would now be considered a conflict of interest be noted. The vestry had had problems with the Corporation paying compensation when the Exchange was built, and the parish still had a number of waywardens on their books, so the need to keep passages clear of builders work was still present. There is an undated agreement between the Corporation and the vestry, which must predate 1782 when Thomas build 56 & 58 Corn Street. The agreement grants the parish £40 plus a lease on the Exchange Tavern on condition that the vestry took down the Tolzey to create a paved footway which would be kept free of buildings unless the present buildings were extended. The plan for this was surveyed and drawn up by Thomas Paty.
Next, the Corporation ordered the London Coffee House, (one of those above mentioned) to be pulled down and rebuilt ‘with like materials and with an Elevation and front similar to the Post Office, after giving 5 foot 6 inches of ground to widen the street… to be measured and reckoned from the line or place where three freestone pillars lately stood before he cistern… and that such Elevation the fronts shall never afterward be alter’d.”
On 17 December 1783 the vestry decided to pass the responsibility. The owner of the corner house was ordered to pave the 2 foot by 18 foot piece of now empty land before his house, and to pay the vestry for the privilege of paving it and keeping it paved in perpetuity ‘so that his heirs could use it as they think proper’. There’s not a lot you can do with a long narrow strip of paved public street, but it seems the Corporation found a neat way of getting the long redundant Tolzey taken down and the ground it stood on used to widen the increasingly busy Corn Street. All Saints parish seem to have made a bit of money on the deal, as did Paty of course, who worked on both sides.
In 1675 the Dissenting Chapel on St James’ Back shut op one of their doors and put up a wainscot board to replace a curtain to conceal their preacher, allowing him to be heard clearly but not seen. This strange incident, centuries before a similar scene in the film ‘The Wizard of Oz’, was in response to a brutal clampdown on non Anglican religion in Bristol In September 1674 the city had acquired a new Bishop who vowed to exterminate not just the practice of dissent, but the very name of it. He was helped by the lawyer John Hellyer who hunted down dissenting preachers like a wolf, imprisoning for 6 months in Newgate Thompson the Independent from Castle Green and John Weekes who had founded the Presbyterians in 1671 at St James’ Back chapel.
Thompson left prison in a coffin before the end of his term, but Weekes preached to crowds of common people from his prison window. Hellyer later went to the meeting house and dined in their place of worship, then threw chairs and stools into the street and the river; others he burnt. In response, preachers began speaking to their congregations by leaning out of windows of private houses, but they were charged with riot.
In December 1781 Hellyer with assistants again attended Weeke’s meeting, ordered that people there to disperse, and pulled down the pulpit, which he called a ‘prattling box’. Rewards were offered to boys who trashed the premises, breaking down galleries, demolishing windows and taking away plunder. Next day they did the same to the Baptist House on the Pithay and then the Quakers.
It is unclear how long the St James house continued, but in 1704 the congregation moved to an old theatre in Tucker Street, probably in response to it being vacated by the ban on theatres within the city at the time. The move to the former parish of the Knights Templar, known for its independence from the city across the bridge, may also have been to take them beyond the reach of their tormentors. “The entrance.. was through a gloomy passage nearly opposite the Pilgrim Publishing House, at the end of which was a flight of steps leading directly into the meeting house, the door of which was in the centre of a staircase that was somewhat steep.” It was nearly in the centre of what is now Bath Street, almost opposite Talbot Gate. “It was a Gothic structure, formed of one arch, a pulpit low with a canopy and together with the coping on the pews of Virginia walnut. On the back of the pews were short curtains of crimson or scarlet; the pulpit faced the entrance. It was a large building, with 3 galleries and was attended by a respectable congregation.”[ refs]
The building sounds quite extraordinary, redolent not so much of an old theatre but of a medieval merchant’s house, with storage space below and large hall above. The interior tells us the congregation was both numerous and affluent, and their taste seems a far cry from the plainness of the Quakers. In fact, it sounds almost Catholic in its opulence. These Presbyterians drew parallels between themselves and the sufferings of the Jews and early Christian martyrs.
They opened it on the anniversary of St Bartholomew, not to commemorate the saint who was flailed alive for his beliefs, but to remember the 2,000 clerics who had resigned from the Anglican church in response to Elizabeth’s Act of Uniformity, consigning themselves and families to “poverty, disgrace and persecution rather than violate conscience by conforming to things imposed’
After the commissioners for building Bristol Bridge had opened up access to the new bridge to the north, and to the laying out of Bridge Street, they set about improving access to Bath and London. Thomas Paty was Surveyor to the bridge, so had to decide the route so which buildings had to go. One of them was the Tucker Street Meeting House.
In 1779 the Presbyterians were notified that much of their hall with cellar they rented out beneath, and the adjoining tenements would be requisitioned to make the new road. The fact that they considered cutting away part of the hall and continuing at the same site shows their understandable unwillingness to move, but also the fact that they considered the building capable of such modification. But they decided this would leave them too little space to worship, so their trustees began looking for a new site.
Eventually they settles on 2 pieces of adjoining ground on the north side of bridge Street, adjoining the steps leading up to St Mary le Port churchyard and to the yard itself. The main thoroughfares of High, wine, corn and Broad Streets were still home to wealthy bankers and drapers; Bridge Street had been planned to rank beside them, but failed to live up to expectations. Whilst some fine buildings arose there, and the corn factor David Lewis who lived in the 4th house from High Street, once claimed his central location allowed him to provide the cheapest prices [details] , by 1781 the street was still incomplete.
Barratt noted “In the year 1749 this parish consisted of about 96 houses… but is since much enlarged and improved by the new buildings in Bridge Street. The churchwardens used to receive a sum for the pens for sheep and swine, which used to be placed every market day in front of the church and the houses there, before the new present market was laid out.”
The 2 chosen properties had already been sold by the Bridge Trustees to Mr Davis and Mr Turner (whose property also held 2 old houses). Both of them had failed in their undertakings to the developers to build substantial properties on the site. Mr Davis was known by the Feeoffees to be a “man of strict honesty and integrity.” Mr Turner though less known, was “not believed to come quite up to that character.” Believing the latte might be difficult to deal with, they decided to act via Mr Chaunt the house carpenter as a sort of stalking horse.
By the end of 17790 Mr Turner had offered to sell his site for the exorbitant price of £170, having paid only £100 for it himself. The Feeoffees objected to the cost but agreed to pay. Believing the first site to be secure, they then approached Davis who agreed to sell at a price settled by some independent party.
But then Turner began to cause trouble. He refused to sign the agreement, but agreed for Chaunt to commence building. He demanded to see Thomas Symons, clerk to the Bridge Trustees who was away in London, then demanded full payment and to see his lawyer. When Symons finally returned, turner claimed Chaunt had not been serious in his negotiations, and declared he would build on the site himself. Symons ordered Turner to comply with his building covenants by way of resolving the matte. Unfortunately he had to do the same with Davis who gave notice to the congregation who in turn promised to compensate him. Turner for some time began digging foundations though for what is not known. The work proceeded so slowly, and with winter approaching, it was clear he was not serious.
The growing farce took an unexpected twist at Christmas 1780 with the Whigs’ Union Club wishing to build a tavern on both sites. This would have satisfied the Bridge Trustees in their demands that the street be competed and the neighbouring householders who were complaining of the nuisance caused by the empty site. But the good people of Tucker Street insisted Turner’s contract with Chaunt, hence with them, be honoured, so they refused to sell. What happened next is unclear, especially as there seem to have been several men called Davis or Davies involved. Symons’ involvement is also unclear as he was clerk to both the Bridge Trustees, ie the developers, as well as being an attorney in his own right.
It seems the Bridge Trustees bought Turner’s land, then Tucker Street trustees bought it off them by 1781. A note from Symons and Paty in November states the matter was settled. The following month Daniel Hague was paid £9/15/9 to remove rubble from the void ground, but b the following July neighbours were complaining about the ruinous house and the drain over the footway. A memorial was sent to the developers, the Bristol Bridge Trustees I 1781. but this was ignored, so in March 1783 neighbours published a notice to the effect that if the Bridge Trustees failed to solve their complaints, legal action would be taken.
“…their Property in said houses is most exceedingly affected and injured, either from the Inattention or Discouragement to the Public for not taking such void grounds that now remain unlet, or some private notice not publicly known. Various are the subject of complaint we could produce, but trust one, very considerable, will operate with you to produce the intended food effect… Mr David Lewis has a considerable dwelling house and ware house which cost hi a great sum to build… This messuage and warehouse have lain void a considerable time, and quitted for no other reason than from the sustaining great ill-convenience and Annoyance from the adjoining void ground.
Proof of this can be produced if necessary, and not on one instance only. We wish to point out also, that several of he houses on the south side, which cost considerable sums in the building… have been obliged to be rented at very low terms and several tenants to one house, the discredit arising from this to the public view in the centre of this city, the manifest Injury resulting to the landlords….”
The specific nature of the nuisance is not noted but it is possible to make a reasonable guess. In 1722 the inhabitants of Queen Square’s south side complained to the corporation about the dirty state and condition of the vacant ground behind their houses, asking that the area be pitched to prevent dumping of the city’s waste. When building Union Street, gates had to be closed at night to prevent dumping.
Bristol had been one of the first cities to introduce acts for the cleansing and scavenging the streets, but as the contracts were let to the lowest bidders, there were often complaints of the low standards One observer noted how the main thoroughfares were kept clear enough, but the smaller ways were as bad as ever. This was in the time when everything of any value at all was recycled. Materials of ancient buildings when demolished were either auctioned off or granted to the builders. Old paper and cloth were recycled, so if matter was called waste, it really was waste.
So the residents and other interested people made a series of requests
“We humbly presume, that you immediately advertise the void ground, and to set it at a price the public may be induced to take it at – to compel those to fulfil their contract who have taken ground off you to build on, as well as on your parts to fulfil the conditions entered into with divers Persons interested I houses on the said street – to completely front a cellar adjoining a messuage build by Mr Frampton, now occupied by Mr Saunders in that regular uniform manner with the other houses.”
The Bridge Trustees had clearly been negligent in enforcing their building standards on the fine new street, which is not surprising since they had so much trouble gathering enough of them to have meetings for years. But to be fair, they were rather limited in what they could do. Much of the new building was for top of the range houses, of which only a city like Bath, with lots of aristocratic money, can manage successfully. Getting people to take up sites meant lowering costs; enforcing building standards meant demanding people spend more: they were totally contradictory stands. That said, it does seem incredible in a merchant’s city a group of people could be losing such large sums of money without someone taking action.
In February 1784 H Davis, on behalf of the congregation, was ordered to build on the land or action would be taken against hi. In October, they were involved in a dispute regarding the contents of a tenement, in which a very distressed Daniel Stephens accused the dissenters of behaving more like Jews, threatening they would not have the property at any price. Somehow, the purchase of the 2 houses adjoining Mary le port churchyard was finalised, and on 21st most of the foundations for the new chapel had been laid. On 14 November a public notice called for contractors to build a chapel to a plan already fixed upon.
Yet despite the congregation’s desire to get on with the building, they had to deal with a rival church. “They were obliged to suspend the work for a time, in consequence of a gentleman of high church principles having entered a process of law against the congregation , alleging that the building was on ground which pertained to the church.”a letter from Rev Benjamin Davies, brother of James Davis, the Tucker/Bridge St minister, wrote good naturedly of the “eminent divine” seeming to be the incumbent of St Mary le Port, who seemed to be claiming that an Act of Parliament referred to this. Davis says, “I am sorry for sir D- Surely there must be something much amiss either with his Head or his Heart – If I could mend him, I would; but I fear he must go to the incurables.” Davies states he had discussed the matte with several ministers who all claimed there were no restrictions on where chapels could be sited.
But the matter must have dragged on for some time as the Proceedings of the Bridge Trustees on 2 May 1785 note that Deputy Chamberlain Wintour Harris produced a plan of the intended Meeting House, which was to be “submitted to Mr Thomas Patty for the purpose of Improving the same and that when finished by Mr Patty the Proprietors Build agreeable thereto, and that said Arthur Brown and the Grantee of the void adjoining ground be released from the covenant sin their present Building Deeds.“This was conditional on the plans being approved by several other men whose role is unclear. But on 7 May, Symons and Paty gave permission for the building work to proceed.
It was hurriedly opened in time for 24 August 1786, St Bartholomew’s Day. Mr Manning’s introduction at the first service related, “This building does equal credit to your piety and beneficence. Not a superb and magnificent one fitted to the ostentatious worship of the law, but a house decently neat and elegantly plain suited to the simplicity of that gospel worship. …While, in consequence of your liberal contributions, this house exceed the former in beauty and convenience, prudence has directed you to form the plan and regulate its execution, in such a manner, that it cannot be reflected upon as.. unsuitable to the solemn use to which it is appropriated or the circumstances of the persons who attend in it.”
The proximity of the parish church and the meeting house seems to have caused problems with noise, as Joseph Leech recorded in 1843: “One of the greatest inconveniences of Maryport is its close contiguity to Bridge Street Independent Chapel., with regard to which it stands in a parallel situation little more than, if so much as, twelve yards apart. From where I sat in the church I could se the people rising up and sitting down, and going through all their evolutions close by, and while the first and second lessons were being read, we had the advantage of their melody ‘next door’, with a directness which convinced me that they in their turn must have the full use of our organ. I confess this ‘confusion of tongues’ was far from having a double effect of any very desirable kind upon our devotion; especially as the major part of most dissenting worship consists of singing, which has a rather distracting effect when put in competition with sober reading.”
It seems rather odd that this conflict seems not to have been considered when the chapel was being built, and that the well attended services continued to be held at the same time, suggesting that no attempt had been made to deal with what was clearly a problem. This is even more unusual given that the vicar of St Mary le Port at the time was James Marshall, a former Presbyterian minister.
Leech also confirms the widely held notion of Anglican superiority over dissenters: “It is not strange, when you consider this, that for the lower orders non-conformity should have such attractions: this constant signing, in which all bear a part, has an exciting influence on rugged and undisciplined natures; they mistake the momentary elevation which it imparts to their feelings for devotion; so frequent is this hymning, that the short-lived ecstasy which it creates has hardly time to subside when they hymn again.”
Despite its central location, and its survival until lost in the Blitz, views of the chapel are almost impossible to find, but it was a Georgian gothic box. Their claims that it was plain do not ring true. Despite their often repeated recording of their suffering at the hands of the establishment, they continued to hope to be invited back into the fold, which possibly explains why their chapel was so un chapel-like. It seems to have been a calling card for Anglicans who never responded.
“The font of the chapel is of freestone built in a gothic style, with 2 large and 4 smaller windows. The entrance is from Mary le port churchyard, the only doorway at that time existing was in the centre, leading from a lobby, or back aisle, to the staircase of the gallery on either end. The roof galleries are supported by 4 large pillars; there are 3 aisles and 2 fireplaces. At the west end was a small vestry, which stood at the corner of the steps leading from Bridge Street. The pulpit is large, made of mahogany, with a star in the centre of the front; the coping of the pews, are also mahogany. There are 2 large brass chandeliers suspended from the roof, the gift of the late Messrs Thomas and Nicholas Hale but they are since removed. There were seats for 800 persons.”
The old church in Tucker Street was sold to the Bridge Trustees who paid £840 for the buildings, adding £260 out of respect for it being a religious house, in October 1786. It is not clear how much it finally cost, though estimates exist for £2200 to £2400
As with the Tucker St site, the chapel was built over commercial premises. Downhill, facing Bridge St, were warehouses with cellars beneath, 48 foot by 51, let out to raise funds for the chapel, similar to those of the later General Hospital on Guinea St. these are presumably what the anonymous pamphleteer of St Paul’s talks of having fallen down, though the chapel history makes no note of this. Perhaps the collapse was minor, or perhaps – as they fail to note who designed or built it, such details were simply not recorded.
In December 1786 these were let by auction and taken up by Bush Elton and Bush, the tenants at Tucker St, for the impressive sum of £40 pa. By 1793 they had agreed to pay £63 pa for the next 14 years, so it must have been successful. The main entrance to the church was uphill, the business premises entered from downhill, Bridge St, so the church and cellars worked as 2 separate buildings, which would seldom if ever have been in use at the same time. God and Mammon were kept determinedly separate, but God had the best façade. In 1821 the cellars were let out to a wine and spirit dealer, prompting Mr Mortimer the surgeon of ?Bath St to write a small poem [details
No record seems to exist who the architect was, and the Bridge Trustees clearly state Thomas Paty merely amended the plans; probably more in the role of enforcing building standards. Daniel Hague, responsible for St Paul’s church, was often involved on the site, settling disputes, removing rubbish etc so was probably the main mason. But it seems likely the house carpenter Chaunt may be the same who worked at …. Drew up the original design; he disappeared from the surviving records after the initial land negotiations.
The anonymous pamphleteer of St Paul’s claims this to be the work of the various Patys. The style fits with much of their other work, and they were capable of supplying the fittings as well as the building materials. They had laid out both Bridge and Bath Streets, so must have known the members of the vestry. And churches were often an incentive to develop an area, so they may have encourage the move.
But Bridge Street still failed to live up to expectations. It was a good place for business, and is a remarkable road in being the first stone terrace in the old city of Bristol, but the fine houses failed to materialise. Even Queen Square, home to numerous mayors aldermen and esquires, had specifically banned workshops and warehouses, yet these were still found there, along with various coffee houses.
The original plan had been for a second bridge to be built further upstream, which would have made Bridge Street a major thoroughfare, but most of the traffic seems to have used the old main roads; In 1814 the congregation purchased a warehouse at the east end of the chapel which they fitted up as a vestry room and soon after built 2 schoolrooms above it, so the area seems to have continued to be unpopular, thought the congregation was still thriving. In 1868 the Bridge St chapel was sold and the remnant of the congregation followed the tide of wealth out of the city to a new chapel facing Clifton down, on Beaufort St, yet another laid out by Thomas Paty, but now converted to offices.