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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