The History of Holy Nativity

In the latter part of the 19th century the South side of Bristol was expanding due to industrial growth based around Temple Meads railway station and the Port of Bristol. The influx of workers needed to maintain new industries led to steady growth in the local population, and the previous hamlets of Knowle and Totterdown expanded to become suburbs of Bristol.

There was nowhere for this new population to worship. Fr Turton, a local assistant priest, was keen to provide a solution, so with the blessing of the Vicar of Bedminster a decision was made to erect a Mission Chapel dedicated to The Holy Nativity.

The site chosen was close to Arnos Vale Cemetery in Knowle, where a wooden church was built to serve the local residents, opening in 1865. From the start the Mission Chapel was well attended and grew significantly in size until it became necessary to find a larger, more permanent building to accommodate the congregation.

The location for the new church was on land donated by Messrs Goolden and Vowles on the Wells Road, Knowle, where the church has remained to this day.

In 1867 the existing Chapel was moved to the new site, and an appeal for building funds started. To save money the new church was developed in sections, with the nave of the old Mission Chapel being placed against the new chancel. The Mayor of Bristol laid the foundation stone of the new church on 18th June, 1870 and the new church was dedicated on Holy Cross Day, 14th September, 1871.

Fr R J Ives arrived in Knowle in 1874 to become the first ‘Priest in Charge’ and in 1883 the Parish of Knowle was created by an Order in Council. The same year the consecration of the church and the institution of Fr Hanbury-Tracy as the first Vicar took place on 4th June.

Through numerous dedicated and talented Parish Priests the church flourished and congregations increased dramatically, mindful of the Catholic Doctrine that Mr Goolden, who gave the land for the church, had indicated in his original agreement. To this day the church remains staunchly supportive of teaching the Catholic Faith within the Church of England.

In 1927 the Reverend George William Limrick Wynne joined Holy Nativity where he was to stay for thirty one years. He is regarded as one of the most famous priests to have served the parish, he was a gifted preacher and unequivocal in his teaching of the Sacraments.

Included in the will of the late Mr Edward Feltham, a Church Warden who died on 26th November 1930, were several bequests to the church that included £5,000 for the completion of the Spire (or Tower) in memory of the Reverend Robert Ives.

Nearly ten years to the day, and during the first heavy air raid on Bristol on 24th November 1940, Holy Nativity became the first church to be destroyed in the city. The raid began at around 6 pm and the first hour of the attack marked the destruction of the church. Due to the blackout regulations introduced some months earlier Evensong had been brought forward to 3:30 pm and this undoubtedly saved lives. By chance the Tower, Clock and Bells survived the destruction and it was said that as the flames consumed the church the clock continued to chime.

Services were transferred to St Katherine’s and also to the Convent Chapel, before the Parochial Hall was prepared as a Temporary Church from August 1941.

Approval to the builder’s tender to rebuild the church was given in December 1950, so the architect was instructed to proceed with the application for a licence. By the beginning of 1954 a licence had been issued for the rebuilding of the Church in the sum of £57,805. This was significantly short of the estimated £60,992 for rebuilding fabric. An addition grant was made from the War Damage Commission, but it was clear that there would be a substantial shortfall and a restoration fund was started. On the 6th June that year, the Church Council approved the signing of the Rebuilding Contract, with the work expected to begin in early July, and finish in November, 1955.

The Service for Laying of the Foundation Stone took place on Whitsun Eve, 28th May 1955. It began in the Chapel of the Holy Nativity (the Parochial Hall) before Clergy, Choir and Congregation proceeded to the site.

The final service in the Temporary Church was Evensong on Sunday 19th January 1958. The following Saturday the restored church was consecrated by The Right Reverend F.A. Cockin the Lord Bishop of Bristol and took place on the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, 25th January 1958. This remains our Festival of Dedication and is celebrated every year.

This History of Holy Nativity was originally compiled by Alex Prosser and was published in book form back in 2015. It was abridged by Nick Gibbs for the website.

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