In the Name of the Father, Two Sons and Perhaps an Uncle
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.