Pip n Jay in History
This church is probably the oldest centre of Christian worship in the Bristol area, and was built outside the original city walls just beyond the castle. A small Benedictine priory stood here in the year 900, and the chancel area of the present church is thought to be the site of its chapel. St. Philip’s Church was most likely built by Robert Earl of Gloucester. He also built the Priory Church of St James and in 1126 rebuilt Bristol Castle. The first official mention of the church is in 1174 when it is described as one of the 'fees' (fiefs) of William Earl of Gloucester. Of that early church, only the font remains. The oldest part of the present building dates from the early thirteenth century.
The district around Bristol was first made a Church diocese in 1542 (the city having previously been in the Worcester diocese), and St Philip's came within the responsibility of the first Bishop of Bristol, Paul Bush. A hundred years later the church was nearly destroyed in the Civil War. On 17th July 1643 the colonel in charge of the Parliamentary army in Bristol ordered the demolition of two churches St Philip's and St Peter's fearing that Royalist troops would use them as a base for attacking the castle, as cannon could be placed on the roof.. However, before this order could be carried out, Prince Rupert arrived with 20,000 soldiers. A small iron cannon ball that was found by workmen in the church tower in 1915 could well be a relic of the Civil War. Contemporary records suggest that the Parliamentary soldiers also used the church to stable their horses.
The vaulted tower on the south side is of Early English style, with its bottom layers dating from the late twelth century. It formed the main enterance to the church with entry via the West door. The building still features its wagon roof and carved wooden bosses made from oak given by Richard II
The church as viewed today, exhibits many features that the Victorians added or changed including the large bathstone clad columns which support the roof structure, and tombstones set in the walls. During this period the churchyard had become full and in 1867 plans were made to neatly level it and form pleasant gardens. This was carried out some thirteen years later after detailed records were made showing the exact position of the graves and vaults. A book was also compiled where all legible inscriptions on tombstones (and partly legible) were recorded. However, over 100 stones were totally illegible. A few were placed on walls inside the church and act as a memorial today. Many of the rest were used as paving slabs in the churchyard and have worn badly over the last 100 years. This explains the driveway and lawns seen today on entering the churchyard.
In 1751, building began on a new church to serve that part of the parish of St Philip's that lay outside the old city boundaries. In the great church-building movement of the mid nineteenth century, five more daughter churches were built within twenty-five years. The congregation from one of these, Emmanuel Church, was reunited with Pip 'n Jay in 1934 when sinking foundations caused the buildings to be closed down.
During centuries of worship Pip 'n' Jay was a place where many people found peace and joy and where God was very real to them. But after the Second World War the size of the congregation declined rapidly as fewer and fewer people lived in the parish. By 1960 huge maintenance costs and a small, mainly elderly congregation led the diocese to consider closing the church. One plan was to use the building as a potato warehouse - a sure sign that the church had had its chips! However, God had other plans....