Brief history of St Andrew's


For about 800 years, St Andrew’s church towered over the Clifton landscape. The original Norman church first appears in the historical record in 1154 and it was rebuilt twice before St Andrew’s was destroyed by the Luftwaffe on 24 November 1940, during the Bristol Blitz.

Back in 1154, the parish of Clifton stretched from Jacob’s Wells to Durdham Down and the small Norman church served the scattered rural population until 1676. Although the 500 year old building had survived the Siege of Bristol, it was starting to decay, so a new church was built on the original foundations.

By the end of the seventeenth century, visitors attracted by the Avon Gorge, St Vincent’s Rock and the curative properties of the Hot Well swelled the congregation. To accommodate these growing numbers, a north aisle was built in 1716 and fifty years later in 1768, a south aisle was added, funded by wealthy local residents in return for private pews.

With the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the population of Clifton continued to expand. St Andrew’s once again proved to be too small and in 1816, the foundation stone for a new church that would seat 1600 people was laid next to the existing building. The total cost, including a new graveyard to the north of the new church was £18,000, most of which was funded by the sale of private pews.

As well as three church buildings, St Andrew’s had three graveyards during its 800 year history. The first burial ground, which surrounded the original church, had become overcrowded by 1779. Eight years later in 1787, the Society of Merchant Venturers, which owned the land, eventually granted a plot for another graveyard at the foot of Honeypen Hill and this was extended in 1808.

The third and final parish graveyard lies on either side of Birdcage Walk and was consecrated – along with the new church – in August 1822. The graves belong to those who lived and died in Clifton from the 1820s to the end of the nineteenth century, during which time the area was transformed from a fashionable health resort into a prosperous suburb. The gravestones and memorials across the churchyard help trace this history and through the stories of the dead, we can piece together a picture of life in nineteenth century Clifton.

This new churchyard was diligently developed and maintained by generations of churchwardens, most particularly by Dr Arthur Prowse, who was a churchwarden from 1888 to 1915. A keen amateur botanist, Dr Prowse appears to have followed the latest theories on the lay-out of cemeteries and by the end of his period in office, St Andrew’s parish churchyard was known as one of the most beautiful in the country.

On 20 June 2010, The Times and Mirror reported that St Andrew’s churchyard was, “the most carefully tended burial place in the whole city, with its magnificent avenue, well-mown turf and beautiful shrubs.” The Western Daily Press agreed and on 18 April 1911 wrote that the churchyard was, “a lovely sight.” The parish, it said, “had every reason to be proud of the place.” We still are.