The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fishponds, Bristol, in the Diocese of Bristol
by Mervyn Harding
The history of St Mary the Virgin, Fishponds, Bristol begins in 1820 when Fishponds was part of Stapleton parish, Gloucestershire, which needed a second Anglican place of worship.
Fortunately the Church of England already owned a small piece of land in Fishponds which it had bought in 1806 for £170 as an overflow to Stapleton churchyard. So a chapel of ease was built on this land and consecrated on St Aidan’s Day, 31st August 1821. It was known as Trinity Chapel, the Revd William Squire Mirehouse being its first and only Perpetual Curate. (He was also, from 1825, Rector of Colsterworth, Linc., Chaplain to Princess Sophia (aunt of Queen Victoria) and a magistrate). Judging from St Mary’s registers he spent most or all of his time in Bristol, paying a curate to cater for the spiritual needs of the people of Colsterworth.
Trinity Chapel comprised a nave, small chancel, tower and spire. At the west end was a gallery which held about 140 worshippers including an instrumentalist (probably on the violon). The nave accommodated about 550, most of whom were seated on narrow benches without backs, though the front four rows were reserved for the elite of Fishponds! These seats had backs. The chapel door/porch was situated in the south wall. The chapel also possessed a 3-decker pulpit, and the chancel had three stained glass windows.
By the 1860s the parish situation had changed and it was decided and approved by Queen Victoria in Council that Fishponds should become a parish in its own right. Trinity Chapel thus became the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin as from 14th December 1869, the first vicar being the Revd Arthur Benjamin Day from Lawrence Weston, Bristol. (The city boundary did not extend as far as Fishponds until 1897).
The the upgrading of status the south porch and doorway were blocked up, access to be gained by a tower door; the gallery was demolished and a small organ was introduced in the new, much larger chancel, the old chancel having been demolished and replaced with the addition of a sanctuary and High Altar including Communion Rails that were replaced by the presently-existing ones in 1953 in memory of the Revd Canon John Plumpton Wilson. The 3-decker pulpit was moved and eventually removed from the church completely in 1916. The benches, with and without backs, were replaced by the present pews (with no class distinction!).
The north aisle was added in 1902, the east end of which was made into a chapel dedicated to St Aidan in 1923. In the north aisle wall, close to this alter is a stained glass window of five lights in memory of Elizabeth with St John the Baptist, the Angel Gabriel, Our Lord, Our Lady St Mary, and St Aidan.
In 1909 and 1911 the parish was made smaller by the formation of the parishes of All Saints and St John the Divine.
The pulpit and choir stalls and and a low screen with entrance to the chancel was made in 1916 in memory of Robert Lowe Grant Vassall (1829-1913) of Oldbury Court. Part of the low screen was made into a Nave Altar in the late 1980s by David Godfrey.
About 1933 the south-west corner became a chapel for the Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament and dedicated to St Nicholas of Myra. The two chapel windows depict the Boy Jesus with his Mother, in memory of Mary Emily, wife of Thomas Kind Yalland of “The Manor House”, and St Nicholas or Myra in memory of the Revd Canon Clifford Plumpton Wilson, given by the people of St Mary’s.
There are seven stained glass windows in the Sanctuary depicting six Old Testament Prophets with Our Lord as the central light. Three are from the original Trinity Chapel, two are in memory of John Cox MD and Charlotte his wife, one given by Thomas King Yalland in memory of his parents John and Mary, the seventh in memory of the Revd Canon Harold Reginald Barnard AKC given by his many friends.
The lectern was a gift in memory of the Revd William Samuel Mackean, and The Stations of the Cross were given by Dennis Mervyn Kirley in memory of his wife, Ruby. The statue of Our Lord was given by the Hayward family in the 1930s and the statue of Our Lady St Mary with The Child Jesus by St Mary’s congregation in 1969 to celebrate the centenary of the formation of the parish.
The present organ was installed in 1939, the pipes being moved to the west end.
The night of the 18th December 1992 the choir vestry was, to all intents and purposes, destroyed by an act of arson. As a result the choir vestry was rebuilt with an upper storey, both floors being used as Parish Rooms and the north west corner of the church was given two inside walls and is now used as the choir vestry.
The Roundel on the south wall of the new choir vestry is an anonymous gift to celebrate the millennium and is a portrayal of Our Lady St Mary. The paintings of St Francis and St Clare on the artificial windows of the east-facing wall were paid for by Dennis Mervyn Kirley.
Parish Priests at St Mary’s
The Revd William Squire Mirehouse, Perpetual Curate
Clergy from Stapleton
The Revd Arthur Benjamin Day, Vicar
The Revd William Samuel Mackean, Vicar
The Revd Canon William Welchman, Vicar
The Revd Canon Clifford Plumpton Wilson, Vicar
The Revd Canon John Plumpton Wilson, Vicar
The Revd Canon Harold Reginald Barnard, Vicar
The Revd Canon Bryan Peter Barnes, Vicar
The Revd Dr Brian Leslie Curnew, Vicar
The Revd. Roger Graham Minson, Vicar
Clergy from East Bristol Partnership