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St Saviour & St Mary (Highbury Chapel)



The Anglican parish church of St Mary today occupies one of the early Congregational churches of the city. The church was born out of the unification of the parishes of St Mary the Virgin, Tyndall's Park and St Saviour, Redland. Maybe the purchase of the then redundant Highbury Chapel was a symbol of a new beginning, but meant the closure of the two other buildings.

From the architectural historian's point of view Highbury Chapel is an important building, the earliest example of a design by one of the soon-to-become leading Victorian architects, William Butterfield (he was the nephew of W.D.Wills, who with his brother H.O.Wills paid for the building). However, subsequent extensions and enlargements mean that some imagination has to be used to conceive the original appearance. The foundation stone was laid on 3rd October 1842 and the chapel opened on 6th July 1843. Butterfield chose the C15 Perpendicular style and this is the only non-Conformist church that he designed. His church was rectangular, five bays long, with aisles and no tower. In 1863 the building was enlarged, an apse was added, together with a south transept and tower, all designed by E.W.Godwin. A cloister connected the church to the Lecture Hall behind. A gallery followed in the south transept in 1865.

A further enlargement followed again in 1893 to celebrate the jubilee, the architect being Frank (later Sir Frank) Wills. He dismantled Godwin's apse and rebuilt it one bay to the east, adding an organ chamber to the north and creating a similar bay on the south. Sadly this enlargement damaged the cloister walk and entrance to the Hall and in fairness to the architect was not what he originally proposed, wanting to site the organ on the west gallery.

Inside the view to the west gallery is much as Butterfield left it, slim arcades, steeply pitched roof and gallery. The view to the east shows Godwin's rebuilt apse and the extra added bays unfortunately slightly lower and less ornamented. Glass by Powell in the apse was repaired by Joseph Bell & Sons of Bristol after war damage.

The west window has four figures, including one of Martin Luther (second from right). This glass was inserted in 1950, replacing a window destroyed by a bomb blast in the war.

The east respond of the north arcade was carved into a memorial for Rev. Arnold Thomas d1924 by Eric Gill, showing a seated Shepherd with three lambs.

There was some damage in air-raids in World War Two (most of the stained-glass was destroyed) but this was repaired. The chapel closed in 1972. The church was purchased by the Diocese of Bristol c1975 and became the Anglican St Saviour & St Mary, Cotham. Few alterations have been made to the building since then, although the fine pulpit was removed at some stage before or after the sale, and the rood suspended over the nave altar is with the latter new.

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page updated 28th September 2001