Hi from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic
Today was our first day in Bristol so we drove down to the Bristol Docklands to have a look and get our bearings. We drove under the Clifton Suspension Bridge which is a real sight to see.
On our way, we drove past St Alban’s church and stopped to find the church micro. We arrived at the church between services on Palm Sunday. The vicar and the staff are very happy for us to visit. St Alban’s church had a lot of stained glass windows especially the East window which was modern and particularly lovely. It is called “Te Deum” by Arnold W. Robinson. Arnold was a student of Christopher Whall and we could see his influence in the work. The gilded wooden reredos depicting St Alban, St Mary, St John and St Oswald was designed by Richard Nickson. St Oswald’s chapel has a wonderful reredos made from Beer stone while the window depicts the life of St Oswald, the 7th century King of Northumberland. There were also lovely angel bench ends and poppy heads in the chancel.
Beside the church is an older church but when it became too small for the congregation the new church was built. The old church now serves as the parish hall, and home to the Alban Players, a keen local amateur dramatic society. The churches are surrounded by houses but when the mission church was first built there were still some fields around the site. At first, there was a tin church erected in 1891, then the first stone church – the eastern two-thirds of the nave of the old church – was begun by the laying of a foundation stone on 6th February 1892.
We parked the car on Spike Island in the Bristol Docklands paying £5 for 5 hours even on a Sunday. I will never complain about the parking costs at home again. LOL. The car park was right beside the Brunel’s SS Great Britain built in 1843 and a great place to start our walk around the Docklands. We walked along looking at the boats and longboats. One of the boats was a floating cafe. ‘The Matthew’, a replica of the caravel sailed by John Cabot in 1497 from Bristol to North America, was ferrying a group of tourists on a trip along the river, a very cool sight.
There was a steam train running along the wharf and while we were looking for a geocache one of the train conductors came over to talk to us. He showed us where the cache has been but thought it was missing. We certainly were unable to find it.
After crossing the Prince St swing bridge and Pero’s Bridge we wandered around Millenium Square where there was a lovely fountain and several artworks including an Energy Tree and a big round shiny ball outside the planetarium. There were several sitting and standing statues made by Lawrence Holofcener which looked extremely realistic.
I especially loved the Bee ‘n’ Beetle pollinator home. They are maintained by the Bristol Incredible Edibles. Our home town of Geraldine in New Zealand was the first town in New Zealand to adopt the Incredible Edible ideology and we have been on the lookout for it in the UK and even suggested to a councillor in Hastings that this might be a good idea. So it is great to see that Bristol has over 40 edible gardens in parks, street corners and station platforms. The food that grows there is free for anyone to take and eat. We have seen many of bee ‘n’ bug homes in this country and it seems like quite a popular thing. You cannot have too many bees!
We walked to the other side of the square and found our first “Nuts Around Bristol” geocache. It is a whole series around Bristol using fake nuts as the cache container. By the end of the day, we had found two others.
Bristol Cathedral was close by so that was our next visit as it closes early on Sunday’s for evensong. In 1140 Robert Fitzharding founded St. Augustine’s Abbey which after the Reformation became Bristol Cathedral. It was not a big cathedral and did not have many stained glass windows but it did have some lovely features. The chancel floor was a tiled mosaic of green, grey, white, black and red marble in a variety of wonderful designs. There were black marble steps with huge fossils and the sanctuary tile work is even more impressive in cream, yellow, red, brown and grey colours. The quire was carved dark wood with modern uncarved misericords. The beautiful choir screen was designed by John Loughborough Pearson in 1905. The red tapestry seat covers were embroidered with grapes, crowns and scenes of everyday life. Some were designed like misericords with a main design in the middle and two other circles to each side.
The high altar and stone reredos was also designed by J.L. Pearson and had five sedilia on each side. Many of the artworks, crosses and other ornamentation were covered for Lent and these will not be removed until Easter Saturday so it is unlikely that we will be able to see them. However, there was plenty that we could see like the lovely stone pulpit created in 1868 by architect George Edmund Street.
There was a modern stained glass by Keith New in reds and greens in 1965 which particularly took our attention. Keith was also responsible for three green lights in Coventry Cathedral which we have also seen and green has continued to be important in his stained glass, as well as pastel and acrylic paintings. Underneath this window is the tomb of Mary Spencer Grosett who died in 1820 which had a very realistic stone Bible on top. It was so realistic that Mike tried to turn the pages.
The Lady Chapel was wonderful with the tombs of three Abbots, a three-arched reredos with shields and a string course of heads. Everything in the Lady Chapel is highly painted. The East window was of Mary and Child with four saints on each side and Jesus crucified above. Also in the entrance to the chapel is an unpainted tomb of Bishop Paul Bush who died in 1558 and was the 1st Bishop of Bristol.
Some of the stone characters around the cathedral are thought to have been done by Adam Locke, the master mason of Wells Cathedral.
When we arrived we saw some of the clergy rehearsing a special service which would take place later in the day. There was a lady minister sitting in a central chair behind the nave altar. I later saw that the current Bishop of Bristol is Vivienne Faull and realised it was the Bishop that we saw sitting in the Bishop’s chair. As we left the cathedral, a group of dancers were rehearsing in the West End.
We wanted to do the church micro for the cathedral but when we looked it up we found that we needed to reenter the cathedral as all the clues were to be found on the inside. Most of the clues we knew where to look but we were glad to reenter as we had missed the cloister, the chapter house and the garden which the multi took us to. After I worked out the numbers I found that the final was 1.8 km away so we are not sure whether we had the right answers after all.
As we walked to St Mary’s church in Redcliffe, we went to Queens Square where we saw a statue of King William III on his horse by John Michael Rysbrack in 1736 and found another “Nuts about Bristol” geocache. We also passed a Quaker cemetery garden complete with a 14th-century hermit’s cave. In 1346 a hermit called John Sparkes lived in the caves and prayed for his benefactor Lord Thomas of Berkeley. Several other hermits lived in the caves between the 14th and 17th centuries.
The land where the hermit’s cave now stands was acquired by the Religious Society of Friends or Quakers in 1667 and was used as a burial ground until 1923. The gravestones from the former burial ground are now stacked in the hermit’s cave. The earliest recorded memorial is dated 1669 and the latest 1923, with the ages of the dearly departed range from eight months to 99 years.
St Mary’s in Redcliffe is a huge and wonderful church with every window full of brilliant Victorian stained glass windows. Little of the early stained glass remains but the medieval glass in the west window of St John’s Chapel survived. The Victorian stained-glass windows were created by some of the finest studios of that period. Works by William Wailes, Clayton and Bell, Arthur O’Connor and Hardman & Co to name a few, adorn the church. In the Lady Chapel, all the five windows were by Harry J. Stanmere between 1959 and 1965, and when you look at the East window from the nave the top of the window in red and yellow shines out about the sanctuary screen which is truly impressive.
The church building was constructed from the 12th to the 15th centuries, and it has been a place of Christian worship for over 900 years. In one entranceway there were some metal gilded gates made by William Edney in 1710 and topped with a heraldic cartouche and an arm holding scales and a snake. There is a modern font in the shape of an ark with a wooden cover and on the wall a Charles II royal coat of arms.
The nave and aisle ceilings are fantastic with gilded bosses. The 19th-century black oak pulpit is carved with twelve saints all around it. The quire bench ends and poppyheads are lovely and feature many winged mythical beasts.
The other fascinating thing in the church was the “chaotic pendulum” which depicts the uncertainty of life. This chaotic device is driven by a flow of recycled water, runs continuously and is extremely beautiful. The recycled water slowly flows into the centre of the cross beam which tips to let it out but which way will it tip?
We really enjoyed visiting this church and collected the numbers for the multi too and walked the short distance to an easy find at the final with great views of the city and the river.
On the way back to the river we found that we were standing beside a red sandstone wall with a cave door in the wall. There was an earthcache there too. There is a system of caves in the sandstone called the Redcliffe Caves which were dug into in the Middle ages to provide sand for glass making and pottery production. There are apparently tours taken through the cave system. King Alfred is thought to have sheltered in these caves which are now beneath the Phoenix car park. We completed another earthcache here.
We also saw the Redcliffe bridge which is a bascule bridge. It is a movable bridge which swings up to allow boats to travel underneath. As it has a balanced counterweight it can open quickly and requires little energy to operate.
On our way passed the M shed, we entered into the museum where we saw some very interesting things including the Bristol Lodekka bus but by then we were getting very tired from so much walking.
We tried to do a “Nuts About Bristol” cache beside the car park at 11.30 am when we arrived but there were a lady and her children sitting there so we thought we would try again later. Five hours later we returned to the spot and the same lady and children were still sitting there. We were shocked and wondered if they were homeless. We returned to the car and were about to leave when Mike noticed that she had finally left so we rushed over and found the cache straight away, nice and easy. Thank goodness! We like the “Nuts About Bristol” caches and will try to find some more.