St Mary-le-Port Church


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


Ordnance survey map of St Mary-le-Port Church
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

City of Bristol (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
ST 58992 73026

Reasons for Designation

A parish church is a building, usually of roughly rectangular outline and containing a range of furnishings and fittings appropriate to its use for Christian worship by a secular community, whose members gather in it on Sundays and on the occasion of religious festivals. Children are initiated into the Christian religion at the church's font and the dead are buried in its churchyard. Parish churches were designed for congregational worship and are generally divided into two main parts: the nave, which provides accommodation for the laity, and the chancel, which is the main domain of the priest and contains the principal altar. Either or both parts are sometimes provided with aisles, giving additional accommodation or spaces for additional altars. Most parish churches also possess towers, generally at the west end, but central towers at the crossing of nave and chancel are not uncommon and some churches have a free-standing or irregularly sited tower. Many parish churches also possess transepts at the crossing of chancel and nave, and south or north porches are also common. The main periods of parish church foundation were in the 10th to 11th and 19th centuries. Most medieval churches were rebuilt and modified on a number of occasions and hence the visible fabric of the church will be of several different dates, with in some cases little fabric of the first church being still easily visible. Parish churches are found throughout England. Their distribution reflects the density of population at the time they were founded. In regions of dispersed settlement parishes were often large and churches less numerous. The densest clusters of parish churches were found in thriving medieval towns. A survey of 1625 reported the existence of nearly 9000 parish churches in England. New churches built in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries increased numbers to around 18,000 of which 17,000 remain in ecclesiastical use. Parish churches have always been major features of the landscape and a major focus of life for their parishioners. They provide important insights into medieval and later population levels or economic cycles, religious activity, artistic endeavour and technical achievement. A significant number of surviving examples are identified to be nationally important.

Although much of it is in ruins, and it has been partially excavated, St Mary-le-Port Church will still contain archaeological information and environmental evidence relating to the church and the surrounding landscape in which it was built. St Mary-le-Port is one of the five ancient central Bristol churches. The church is a focal point of a central area of the city, lying only about 400m to the west of the castle, and close to Bristol Bridge, an important crossing over the River Avon. Excavation has shown that this area was integral to occupation and activity in the transition from the Saxon to the medieval period in Bristol. Evidence of Saxon occupation both on and adjacent to the site of the church, including a hollow way just to the north of the church, has also been uncovered in excavations. Such works have furthermore revealed that the church lay in a thriving industrial area in the late Saxon and early medieval period, and would have formed a focus for the local population at that time. Archaeological investigation has shown that the origin of the church lies at least in the 11th or 12th century, thus placing it earlier than suggested by surviving documentary references. This evidence demonstrates that St Mary-le-Port Church in its development reflects the continuous development of this part of Bristol, from the late Saxon period to the 19th century. The church lies in a pleasant landscaped area of the town, next to the river. The remains are one of the landmarks of Bristol and can be visited freely and provide a valuable amenity for the city dweller and visitor alike. SOURCES: P Rahtz and L Watts, Mary-le-Port, Excavations 1962-3 (1986)


The monument includes the buried and visible remains of a medieval church lying on a slightly elevated promontory in the angle of the confluence of the Rivers Frome and Avon. The church includes a tower, nave, north aisle, chancel and cellar. It stands in ruins as the result of bombing raids on Bristol during World War II, apart from the church tower at the west end, which is intact and dates to the 15th century. This tower is also a Listed Building Grade II. It is supported by a modern concrete arch, and is built of sandstone rubble with dressings of ashlar in three stages. The south east corner stair turret with its double arcaded top and crocheted pinnacle is all ashlar, as is the arcade parapet of the rest of the tower and the corner pinnacles and corner buttresses. There is a doorway in the west wall at ground level, above which is a four light traceried window. The two upper stages each have a two light window in each stage, except for the first stage in the east wall where the nave lay. The foundations of the church are still visible to the east of the tower; they comprise a nave which is reached by six steps from the base of the tower; at the east end of the nave is a low level window on the south wall. Here three steps rise from the nave to a partition wall which runs from the north wall to half way across the nave. In the north east corner of the nave is the cellar of a house, thought to have been for the priests. The north wall of the church stands to about 2.3m high, with one bay visible. At the west end, behind the tower, is a drop down to a modern passageway. A corner of the Norwich Union Building cuts through the south wall of the church and into the nave for a distance of approximately 2m. Archaeological excavations in the 1960s by Philip Rahtz have revealed several periods of building and alterations. The first evidence of what may have been a church on the site were found as stone foundations dating to the late Saxon or early Norman period. This was a simple rectangular stone building in a street of timber ones. The first definite church on the site is dated to the 12th century, and consisted of nave, arch, chancel and possibly a tower between the arch and chancel. This church was in the care of Keynsham Abbey, and together with the nearby St Peter's was an important focus of the early town. A market soon developed around the church. In the 13th century, the church was re-built yet again, with the addition of a north and south aisle, transepts and a new tower. The present tower was added at the west end in the 15th century, and the cellared house was incorporated into the north east corner. By 1877 after further building and restoration, the church had acquired the plan it has today. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling: these are the notice board at the east end of the church, iron railings and modern paving stones and constructions. The ground beneath all these features is, however, included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 1 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Watts, L, Rahtz, P, Mary-le-Port Bristol Excavations 1962/3, (1985), 28-30
Watts, L, Rahtz, P, Mary-le-Port Bristol Excavations 1962/3, (1985), 95
Notice board on site,


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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