REDCLIFFE CHURCH AND BASIN, BRISTOL

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THE church of St. Mary Redcliffe’s, Bristol, was founded in 1249, and not
completed till 1375, an interval of a hundred and twenty-six years. The founder was
Simon de Burton, mayor of Bristol. It is pronounced by Camden as “on all accounts the
first parish church in England.” It has, of course, undergone, in the long lapse of
generations, many changes, repairs and perhaps improvements. In the middle of the
fifteenth century, after having been seriously damaged in a storm, it was repaired by
William Cannynge the mayor; and, owing to the extent of these repairs, he has
established a just claim to the gratitude of posterity as the second founder, and to
commemorate the restoration thus effected, two beautiful monumental statues were
erected to the memory of himself and his wife in the church. This patriotic and pious
individual was five times mayor of Bristol, and makes a prominent figure in the
Chatterton controversy. It is to be regretted, however, that the spire was never restored,
which, with the tower, was originally two hundred and fifty feet high. So great was the
beauty of this sacred edifice, that it was celebrated over the whole country as a
masterpiece of art, and attracted numerous visitors ; nor has that admiration diminished
with the lapse of time, for there are very few individuals, curious in the mystery of
ecclesiastical architecture, who have not visited or studied the specimen here
preserved.

The church is built in the form of a cross; and the nave, which rises above the
aisles in the manner of a cathedral, is lighted by a series of lofty windows on each
side, and supported by flying-buttresses. The tower is large and richly ornamented, like
the remaining part of the spire, with carved work, niches, and statues. The principal
entrance is from the west front; but there are porches both to the northern and southern
sides. Of the first of these the interior is very beautiful; and it was over this porch that
the room was situated in which Chatterton, whose father was sexton of the church,
pretended to have found the poems which he attributed to Rowley, The length of
the church is two hundred and thirty-nine feet, that of the transept one hundred and
seventeen feet. It is remarkable that the transept consists of three divisions or aisles,
like the body of the church; and the effect thus produced is fine and striking, when
the spectator places himself in the centre and looks around him. The breadth of the
nave and aisles is fifty-nine feet; the height of the nave is fifty-four feet, and that of
the aisles twenty-five feet. The roof, which is nearly sixty feet in height, is arched with
stone, and ornamented with various devices. Although externally this church has all
the appearance of a massive structure, it has nevertheless, from its loftiness and the
peculiar beauty of its masonry, a light and airy appearance both within and without; and

justifies the high eulogium, which we have already quoted, as pronounced upon it by
Camden. Among the sepulchral treasures contained in this church, is the tomb of Sir
William Penn, father of the celebrated founder of Pennsylvania.

The business of shipbuilding is carried on to a very considerable extent in
Bristol; and stimulated by that spirit which has always characterized the magistrates
and merchants of Bristol, added to the vast improvements which have been so recently
affected, it is confidently believed, that this ancient city and port are now entering upon
a fresh epoch in their commercial prosperity.

The principal exports are derived from the neighbouring manufactures; and the
imports consist chiefly of sugar, rum, wine, wool, tobacco, coffee, turpentine, hemp,
and timber. The quay extends upwards of a mile along the banks of the rivers Frome
and Avon. Owing to the serious inconvenience and frequent damage sustained by
large vessels, when lying at low water in the river, a floating harbour was formed here
at great expense in 1804. To accomplish so important a design the course of the
Avon was changed; the old channel was dammed up to form the new harbour, which,
communicating the river, is accessible at all times, with sufficient depth of water for
vessels of the largest size. This great work, comprising the elegant iron bridges over the
Avon, was the result of five years’ labour, and an enormous expenditure; and, although
much benefit has accrued to the port from the success of so spirited an undertaking, still
the expectations to which it naturally gave rise, as to the extension of commerce, have
not been realized. This is attributable to various local causes.

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