Bristol’s harbourside church community of Saint Stephen is deeply rooted in Christian devotion, founded within the ancient sacred city on the banks of the rivers Frome and Avon. Our task is to enable others to reconnect with faith through, but not exclusively, simplicity, creativity and engagement. God is intimately involved in the life of the city through myriad cultural landscapes.
Designated by English Heritage as a grade I listed building, Saint Stephen’s church lies on the ancient riverside boundary of the Anglo Saxon sacred city. Work on diverting the river Frome to form Bristol Harbour was completed in 1248. In the same century Saint Stephen’s was developed by a Benedictine cell from Glastonbury Abbey.
The harbour church was totally rebuilt in 1470 by the parishioners and the Abbey of St Peter Gloucester.
In 1703 the Great Storm (which blew down Eddystone lighthouse and damaged Widecombe-in-the-Moor and Fairford churches amongst many other buildings) damaged the roofs, clerestory and the pews of the nave and south aisle. The storm also caused an immense high tide which flooded the church to a depth of five inches.
The uniform appearance of the perpendicular town church was perfected again in the various late 19th century restorations (1875-1898). These unaccountably destroyed the original six-light east window, replacing it with the current one of five lights.
Saint Stephen’s tower- now peeping over Bristol city offices – used to be a visible landmark to seafarers. It was built in 1470 by by John Shipward (d.1473), four times Mayor of Bristol, the same year the church was rebuilt. The tower’s parapet has been restored three times, following storm damage in 1703 , in 1914 and again in 1970.
The tower is typical of Somerset churches, but with the addition of a Gloucestershire crown of arcaded battlements, four angle pinnacles and openwork parapet. There are similar examples at Gloucester Cathedral, Cardiff St John and much more locally Thornbury and Dundry parish churches. Without its 152 feet tall tower, the church would be visible only from St Stephen’s street as office buildings hem it in – so the tower is a modern landmark too.