Horfield Parish Church

History of our church - A partial extract from the book "The ChurchGoer - Rural Rides or Calls at Country Churches" Published in 1850.

1850_viewThe original complete extract is held within the Parish Archives at the Bristol Record Office


I Had not been at Horfield, until my present visit, since old Sayer's time; I am afraid to say how many years ago. The reader is, doubtless, aware I allude to the writer of the History of Bristol. At the period to which I refer. I think be kept a school in the Old Park; at least he did at one time, and he had the perpetual curacy of Horfield, to which he used to go out on Sunday mornings, sometimes on foot, and sometimes in a pony-phaeton.

For a couple of years however, before death divorced him from his parochIal charge, he had grown too feeble to get through the service without some refreshment; and I recollect full well, just before going up into the pulpit to preach, he used invariably to walk across to the pew in which an elderly lady, his sister-in-law, sat, (I think her name was Turner or Tucker) and receive from her hands a little lump of sugar, saturated with some drops of brandy. Good old times those were; no-one wondered, no-one made a remark, and the little congregation (not more than a dozen in number,) looked as regularly for parson Sayer's soaked lump of saccharine as they did for the bidding prayer; though I confess, to me, for the first time, it had rather a curious effect, to see the old man walk across in his canonicals and hold his hand over the pew for his dole, while the worthy old soul within drew a little phial of Cognac from one pocket, and deliberately, drop by drop, let the due quantity fall on the fragment of white sugar, which she took from the other. The Rev. historian, having obtained his refresher, proceeded to mount the pulpit stairs, and, as he did, "munched, and munched, and munched," like the sailor's wife in Macbeth, his vivifying morsel.

Some old clergymen I have seen at times obliged to pause in the middle of the service,for two or three minutes together, to recover strength; and I recollect being one Sunday at Chew-Magna, when old Doctor A., of Bristol, arrived to do duty; the worthy and learned Doctor was then nearly fourscore years, and he had not proceeded half way through his sermon when be found nature begin to fail; so with the utmost self-possession and complacency he looked towards the singers who sat in front of the gallery opposite, and thus addressed them : My dear children, neither my voice nor myself are as strong as they were, and I feel tired from the long exertion; so be pleased to give us a stave, and by the time you have finished I shall have recovered my breath."

The rustic choir immediately arose, and gave him, not a stave, but the whole doxology; which finished, the Doctor said, with emphatIc gratitude, "Thank you, children", and proceeded with his discourse.

Old Samuel Sayer preached a very sound sermon when you could hear him; he, was learned and laborious, and a fair specimen of the old orthodox school, his love of the Church being only equalled by his hatred of heresy and schism.

Horfield in old accounts used to be reckoned two miles from Bristol; but if the building mania continues at its present rate, I suppose the city and the village will some day meet. On the occasion of my last walk I met a number of untidy girls and unshorn men on the road, returning to Bristol after a morning's cowslipping, and actually "oppressed with perfume," loaded with poles full of that pretty flower, which was being transferred from its sunny home in the pleasant fields to smoky murky shelves and dingy tap rooms in a crowded city. Nothing could be a. greater contrast than the difference between these brilliant and perfumed bundles and the unkempt and unwashed creatures who carried them, and on whose soiled and smoky cheeks the fresh air and exercise of the country could not call up a glow. I can conceive nothing more conducive to health or consistent with innocent recreation than a Sabbath morning's walk in the country to the poorer classes, (who are cribbed and cabined during the week in close and confined rooms in a crowded city,) if they would first wash and clean themselves;...

Writing in May, 1845, 'Churchgoer' describes Horfield as being:

"a place much improved, in fact, so completely metamorphosed, or rather that portion of it on which stands what has happily been called 'the sacred close', namely, the usual ecclesiastical group, comprising the Church, school house, and parsonage. It forms now as pretty and purely English a bit of landscape as you could see, standing some way in, on an eminence to the left of the main road, from which you get a glimpse of the little tower and parsonage, peeping out from, and bosomed by, beech and chestnut trees. The bells were ringing, and I sat for a while listening on the little wooden stile that led from the road into the fields, and almost loth to lose the influence of scene, and sound, and sunshine, by a nearer approach.

The view from the little churchyard, however, is far more beautiful; and for richness and extent surpasses, I think, anything in the neighbourhood.

The churchyard at Horfield is just what a country churchyard should be; no gloomy-walled burial ground, nor formal trim, town-garden-like affair: of rustic irregularity, it retains all the character of a resting-place of the dead, where the living might like to loiter away an hour in quiet and contemplation.

A simple hedge, overgrown with tangled woodbine and wild clematis incloses it and the little church, the gothic school house, and the old trees, which stretch their knotted arms over the green mounds where the 'rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep' while upon all the utmost care is bestowed, but so judiciously as to preserve its simple and country character.

A little walk, winding amongst well-grown shrubs, leads from the school to the church porch, and through this a troop of children in their rustic bonnets and grey shawls were passing as I entered the gate.

Near the door, and not far from the font, I found a modest seat amongst some quiet rustics, and joined in a simple and solemn service, in keeping with everything else I had witnessed in and about the place. It is true that a critical ear might have discovered a more perfect choir than the school children, but then they sang decently with an appearance of devotional earnestness, though unaided by organ or other instrument, and, what is still more rare than good singing, they conducted themselves properly.

The Church is a neat but small structure, being, if I may use the expression, a miniature cruciform building, having nave, cross aisles, and chancel. There is a pretty East window with some painted glass, and the fine old trees which surround the edifice, when seen from inside, impart to the worshipper in that little temple a feeling of sylvan and solemn seclusion enhanced by the reverential and subdued tone in which the services are read. Indeed, there was altogether about that little Church, and its simple congregation, an air of tranquility and retirement, which awakened in the heart, if no higher feelings, at least a sense of solemn repose.

In the cross aisles are small galleries, and the Church in other respects has rather a crowded appearance, the pulpit and reading desk interrupting the view of the altar.

In connection with the latter I have a word or two to say.

From my boyhood upwards, and long before there was a word about the matter, I had been in the habit of following my excellent Mother's example, and turning to the east on the Creed being read, and I still continue to do so, though I attach no particular moment to the observance or the omission of it; I, therefore, am far from objecting to a practice which I have always followed myself; still, were I the clergyman of Horfield, I should discontinue it, until such time as from the rearrangement of the interior I could could, more naturally and obviously comply with the custom, for at present the clergyman, in turning to the east, from the situation of the reading-desk, turns his face not to the altar, but close to and almost against the front panel of the pulpit, which to the congregation has an odd and almost absurd appearance. Of this, perhaps, the clergyman is not aware, but to my mind it certainly had a strange effect.

I found the Church neatly kept, the services decently and devoutly performed, the school children taught and clothed, and all through the exertions and liberality of a permanent Curate of some £80 a year; and I do, as I should do, and have done, whenever I have found disinterestedness and zeal united, commend both, without regard to party distinctions, which I have no desire to recognise.

The sermon over, I confess I was not a little alarmed, and thought of my lady friends, when I saw the preacher descend from the pulpit, and immediately proceed with the offertory sentences, while the churchwardens moved out of their pews with two mysterious little wooden boxes. As the late agitation throughout the country has made me quite nervous on this point, I took up my hat the umbrella, and was preparing to escape, half in fear and half in displeasure, when shame caught hold of the skirts of my brown coat, and said 'remain where you are', and I did remain, glancing, however, furtively and timidly around to see if Pope Gregory was anywhere in the Church: in the meantime the collection quietly proceeded, the churchwardens moving modestly from pew to pew, the clink of the poor man's penny and the farmer's sixpence, as they fell into the little wooden boxes, being the only sound that mingled with the reading of the offertory sentences. I looked to see the people rise up and leave en masse, but nobody stirred, and I concluded that the 'special reporter' of the London Times, who might well say with the man in the play 'poor people, they would never know half their misfortunes if it were not for me' had, as he passed by on the high road, in his clemency, or ignorance, or contempt, abstained from blowing his horn at the little Church amongst the chestnut and beech trees. By this time the box had reached me, I instinctively put my fore finger and thumb into my waistcoat pocket, and before I could recover my presence of mind I had committed the sin of dropping a small coin amongst the pence and half-pence of the rustics. "Well," thought I, as my alms fell from between my fingers, "if I have done wrong, I can't help it now; but can this be, after all, what they have been turning the world upside down about, what the City of Exeter has been all but burned for, and Henry of the ilk (Henry Phillpotts, Bishop of Exeter) has had his mitre nearly knocked from his head (or his head from under his mitre) and angry Editors have written and mobs raved about?

These simple people do not, thought I, seem to be aware of the precipice on which they stand, and the little girl by my side who has just dropped her alms of one half-penny so artlessly and innocently into the box, is not, I'll be bound, (aware) that she has been doing that which has convulsed the Church to it's centre, and rocked the thrones of bishops beneath them. Nobody appeared to be aware that they were doing harm in giving their pence and sixpences to the services of religion and the poor; and as ignorance was bliss in their case, I thought I'd restrain my ambition to turn agitator, and withheld from instigating the congregation to burn the parsonage. I was told afterwards that there is nearly £60 a year collected in this manner in this little Church, but then there are some mysterious old ladies who occasionally contribute through the parson. The churchwardens having deposited the offerings in the alms dish, we were dismissed with the blessing.

I had passed through the little churchyard gate, and nearly reached the fields, when I heard someone running after me, ,and turning round saw a gentleman in black, whom I recognised as the churchwarden who had received my alms, panting and puffing, and trying to muster breath enough to hail me. It at once struck me that I had given, him a sovereign by mistake, and that he had come or been sent to make restitution; but no such thing, he was the bearer of a double invitation, one from the parson to dine, and another from himself to lunch.

"Venerable Sir", said he as soon as he could recover his breath, and lifting his hat with much politeness, "surely you will not pass the churchwarden's door without turning in to lunch. You must require some refreshment, as I perceive you do not employ John Bunyan (Joseph Leech's horse - he had walked to church from Bristol). Mr. Richards' (the Perpetual Curate) also requests me to say that there will be boiled beef and plum-pudding at the parsonage at five, if you will do him the favour to remain after second service, for dinner. (Was this churchwarden Francis K.Barnes of Horfield Lodge?)

"Spirit of Fabricus and Aristides the Just", said I, indignantly, "here is a palpable attempt to corrupt the pure source of impartiality and justice. What, Sir, don't you think I have a soul above boiled beef, even without the accompanying allurement of Plum-pudding? No, Sir, I'll even outrage my better judgement, and abuse your clergyman, to show my stern disinterestedness!" and I struck my walking-cane with indignation full two inches into the greensward.

The churchwarden of Horfield grew pale, nay, I believe he trembled at an old man's wrath, as he observed deprecatingly, that they had no wish to bias my mind, but merely to refresh my body. "I had doubtless by this formed my opinion of the parson and the parish?"

"I have, Sir," said I, "and it was a good one, but the invitation has spoiled it".

"Well", said he, smiling, "I thought the hospitality of a parish would never be a crime in the eyes of the Church-goer".

I smiled too, and with that smile I lost my resolution, reader; for I consented to return and lunch with the churchwarden: "but I repudiate the boiled beef" said I, "I renounce the plum-pudding, besides, I could not think of preying on a Perpetual Curate, who gives more than he gets from the Church". '

In a few minutes more I had tasted the churchwarden's "home brewed and double Glos'ter, and at three o'clock I found myself again in the little Church of Horfield: no longer, however, near the door, but seated in great dignity and state in the churchwarden's pew."

It is somewhat strange for us to realise that the making of a collection during the service was considered to verge on 'Popery' and is therefore some indication of the "High Church" introductions of the Revd. Richards.

A separate article giving details of these people is appended.

During the next 15 years or so further building operations took place in the parish, and the decision to build a large Army Barracks further led to the consideration of again enlarging the Church building, which it was feared would once more be inadequate to serve the anticipated increase in the number of worshippers.

Having decided upon making the extensions, and profiting by previous experience, on this occasion a Faculty was sought, which was granted on the 17th. October, 1846. According to the Faculty, the costs would again be met from voluntary contributions, although it is suspected that a large proportion came from the pocket of the Reverend Henry Richards.

The scheme covered by the Faculty involved the lengthening of the Chancel, and the formation of two Aisles, the width of the existing transepts back as far as the Tower. A new South porch and entrance was to be formed, the Vestry in the old North Transept to be opened into the Church, and the three Galleries were to be removed.

The Architect engaged was William Butterfield, a young man of 33 who was already known locally for his work at Highbury Chapel, Cotham, and more particularly at St. Mary's, Coalpit Heath, the roof line of which is very similar to his Horfield design.

Work was commenced in January 1847 by the removal of those galleries, and the extension of the Chancel. Fast workers must have been employed, as the Church was re-opened for services on Thursday, February 11th, 1847, when glowing accounts of the new Chancel, with it's Piscina and Sedilia, together with stained glass in the East and North and South Chancel windows appeared in the local papers.

Copies of the reports in the Bristol Mirror and Felix Farley's Bristol Journal are appended.

It is curious to observe that both papers refer to "St.Michael's Church" particularly as many people are surprised that it does not have this dedication, on account of it's high altitude. The earliest references appear to show the dedication to Holy Trinity.

Meanwhile, the new aisle walls were being erected outside of the existing nave walls, and the church continued in use until September 5th. when the last services were held.

The foundation stone for the new work was laid on September 9th. by the local Member of Parliament, Robert B. Hale Esquire.

The new Chancel must have been temporarily blocked off from the Nave, as service appear to have been held there whilst the old walls were knocked through, and the existing pillars and arcades erected.

The works were completed in December 1847, and the new Church was consecrated on the 22nd. of that month by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol.

The new building comprised of Nave; North and South Aisles, with Chancel, together with the ancient Tower. The Faculty provided for a Chancel Screen, and for the PUlpit and Reading Desk to be sited on the North and South sides respectively.

It also refers to a door to the Vestry Room on the North side, and one window, whereas on the South side there were to be two windows and a door.

Presumably this accounts for the fact that on the North side there is one pointed arch window in the centre with a round arch window on either side. This could probably be due to the North door referred to in the Faculty being formed into a window at a later date, and a further window opened at the West end of the same wall when the Choir Vestry was built in 1887. Until then, there would have been adequate light from the two West wall windows, as is shown by the present light at the West end of the South aisle, where the corresponding North window is taken up by the porch.

The existing door in the Tower was retained, but the main entrance was, as now, through a South porch.

The length of the new Nave was 48 feet, with a width of 40 feet, and the Chancel was 24 ft. 6 ins. long. A marble slab with a black cross in the present Chancel marks the site of the 1847 High Altar.

Unfortunately, as in the case of the 1831 re-building, all the plans, accounts, Builders details etc. have disappeared.

The Eastern part of the Church as seen today dates from 1893, when the Crossing Tower, central parts of the Transepts, and extension to the Chancel, were built.

By this time, of course, the considerable number of new houses built in the 1880'S and 1890's had resulted in the rapid increase in the population of the Parish, which had more than compensated for the part of it which was lost by the creation of the parish of Bishopston in July, 1862.

Nowhere in the records is the original position of the Organ shown. This was a small single-manual (probably without pedals) given some time prior to 1831 by The Reverend Raymond Barker, who was related by marriage to Dr. Pusey.

A new Organ, built by Palmer of King Square, Bristol, was dedicated in 1885, the old one being given to the Parish Church at Elberton, Gloucestershire. The new organ cost £325, which translated into today's values, made it quite an expensive instrument. The present Organ, although rebuilt by Percy Daniels of Clevedon, was basically by Vowles of St. James's Square, Bristol, who took over Palmer, so some of the pipework of the 1885 instrument may well be still in use. The instrument has more recently been improved by Cawston of Dursley.

Looking back to the newspaper reports referring to St. Michael's church, it is interesting to recall that the Revd. Samuel Seyer's father was rector of St. Michaels (City) at the time the mediaeval church was demolished in 1774 prior to it's rebuilding. One wonders whether he saved the window in question, and gave it to his son who installed it in Horfield upon his appointment there. Where is it now? Also, had this any bearing on the choice of St. Michael by the Rev. Richards when he built this church to serve what was to become the parish of Bishopston?

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