Here Be Dragons – St Georges 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.