Visiting St James Priory, Bristol

Posted: 18 January 2024

As we celebrate a century of existence as an organisation, we have revisited articles from our annual journal to draw inspiration for our events programme. For 2024 we have curated a series of events we trust will captivate participants and serve as a tribute to our rich past.

In 2015 Historic Buildings & Places, then the Ancient Monuments Society, published an article on ‘Saving St James’s Priory, Bristol’ by Sandra Manley. Just 7 years later we are visiting the Priory to see if indeed the site was saved. 

To give a bit of background, St James Priory was founded in 1129 by Robert Fitzroy, Earl of Gloucester and the illegitimate grandson of William the Conqueror, and is considered to be the oldest Building in Bristol. The Priory was home to an order of Benedictine monks during the Middle Ages, until it was dissolved by Henry VIII. Many of the buildings were destroyed during the Reformation, with only the west end remaining, becoming a parish church which is still in use today.

The church is Grade I listed, in particular for its Norman and Romanesque architecture. Many original features can be seen, for example, the 12th century oculus, the nave arcades and clerestories, although various additions to the architecture were made during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Following WWII, usage of the church declined and it was declared redundant in 1984, subsequently falling into disrepair. A five-year conservation project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, was completed in 2011, and since then the church has become a vital part of the community, a special place of worship and healing, which also provides unique services to support people recovering from alcohol and drug addiction.

Join us in Bristol on Tuesday 20th February to see this incredible historic church or read more about it in our Transactions Vol 59, 2015.

Explore the full digital archive of our Journal here.