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Bristol Branch
Bristol (St Mary-le-Port)

Name or Dedication: St Mary-le-Port

Location: Bristol, Gloucestershire

Grid Reference: ST589730

The first church on this site was built in Saxon times, a simple rectangular stone building in a street of timber ones. Enlarged soon after the Norman Conquest when a market developed around the church, the chancel and possibly the tower were added sometime before 1170. The church was at this time under the control of Keynsham Abbey. It was rebuilt again in the 13th Century with the addition of the north aisle and a new tower, the latter being replaced with the present structure in the 15th Century. The Sanctus bell was probably cast especially for this tower. The north door was added in 1633, and was accessed via an archway between the shops on Mary-le-Port Street that had a clock protruding above.

Six bells were installed in 1749 with two trebles being added the following year, although these weren't a great success as their harmonics were so audible above the notes of the other bells. The overall poor tone of the ring was apparently not helped by the use of an unorthodox material – possibly corrugated iron – for the tower roof.

The church was restored and further enlarged to its final form in 1877, but on the night of 24th November 1940 it was almost entirely destroyed by an incendiary bomb, only the tower and a precarious section of the south wall (which was later demolished) surviving. The site was badly neglected and served as a car park for many years, until it was excavated in 1962 when the former Norwich Union offices were built around it. The new office building featured a full-height window facing Bristol Bridge to allow passers-by to see the church tower behind, but this has been boarded up since the building was vacated some years ago. A dark corner of Castle Park, created in 1978, provides public access to the ruins.

It is said that when the church was bombed in 1940, the tower formed a chimney for the resulting fire and the heat was so intense that it melted the bells down the walls. The metal is supposed to survive to this day. In any case, what bell metal was salvaged was scrapped in 1953.

Bells previously hung for full-circle ringing

The bells of St Mary-le-Port, Bristol
BellWeightDiameterNoteFounder Date
15 cwt 29 inF William Evans 1750
25½ cwt 30 inE William Evans 1750
36 cwt 30¾ inD William Evans 1749
47 cwt 33 inC William Evans 1749
58 cwt 36 inBb William Evans 1749
69 cwt 38¼ inA William Evans 1749
713 cwt 41¼ inG William Evans 1749
819-2-15 46 inF William Evans 1749

Additional bells

Additional bells at St Mary-le-Port, Bristol
BellWeightDiameterNoteFounder Date
Sanctus1 cwt 17½ in  Roger Purdue I 1623

Source: Bell data from "The Church Bells of Gloucestershire" (Revd Henry Thomas Ellacombe, 1881). Key note of ring and diameter of Sanctus from Nick Bowden. Weight of tenor from the Keltek Trust; all other weights estimated personally. Further information from "Bells & Bellfounding" (X-Y-Z, 1879), ChurchCrawler (Phil M. Draper) and an information board in Castle Park.

Where the exact weight of a bell is known, it is given in the traditional way using the British imperial units of Hundredweight, Quarters and Pounds (cwt-qtr-lb) in which there are 28 pounds in a quarter, four quarters in a hundredweight, and 20 hundredweight in a ton (one hundredweight is equal to approximately 50.8 kilograms). However, if only an approximate or calculated weight is known, it is given to the nearest quarter of a hundredweight.

A bell's diameter is measured across its mouth (open end) at the widest point and is given in inches (to the nearest quarter of an inch), one inch being equal to approximately 2.54 centimetres.