St Mary-le-Port Church
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1021385
Date first listed: 31-Mar-1949
Date of most recent amendment: 19-Oct-2009
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: City of Bristol (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference: ST 58992 73026
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
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)
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
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,
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: 28888
Legacy System: RSM
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