The name Kingsdown derives from the fact that this was where, in medieval times, the King’s cavalry would perform its daily drills. By the late 18th century, the area was becoming steadily gentrified as houses were being built here in what was an attractive meadow far above the smoky basin of the city. At the centre of Kingsdown itself was the grand St James Parade (which became Kingsdown Parade and Upper Montague Street/Parade). The “parade” was planned by James Lockier, the same man responsible for Royal York Crescent in Clifton. It was begun in 1791, with many of the houses being auctioned at the Full Moon pub in Stokes Croft below when Lockier went bankrupt.
By 1831 the Parish of St James had some 11,000 inhabitants with a church which would only hold 1,500. The vicar at that time, the Rev. Thomas T. Biddulph was greatly concerned to provide for the spiritual needs of his growing parish. A description of the foundation of the church can be found in Our History.
The first incumbent of the new parish of St Matthew, Kingsdown was Rev. J. B. Clifford, M.A. who remained for 43 years. He attracted a large congregation, sometimes so large that people were sitting on the pulpit steps. He was succeeded in 1879 by Rev. Wm. Butler Doherty.
An observer of the 19th century—who clearly knew his mind—didn’t much like what he saw. He wrote of the church’s surrounding area as being “on the confines of the sedate old-fashioned suburb of Kingsdown and the young, ever-expanding pretentious district known as Cotham.” The church, this observer wrote, was “evidently a sort of bastard Tudor, and presents externally a cold, gaunt and most unlovely appearance.” The art historian Nikolaus Pevsner was kinder, describing the church as typical of late Georgian Gothic complete with its embattlements, its iconic tower and internal galleries on three sides. The journal writer also tells us that he thought the church very “low” and the stained glass portrait of Charles Wesley, the hymn-writer will tell you this is a church that draws its inspiration in part from Wesleyan revivalism.
Whatever your architectural tastes, the crenellated tower of “St Matts” is one of the most recognisable features of Bristol’s skyline. As you walk into the city from Horfield you will often see it loom into view. When you can’t see it, you can often hear it: one of the original benefactors provided for eight bells which are still rung with great expertise on regular occasions.
It was after the death of Rev. Doherty in 1900 that Rev. Frederick Glanvill came. He was previously a C.M.S. Missionary in Ceylon and set the tradition for mission support. In 1914 Rev. Thomas H. Bland came who continued and further enhanced this work. He took a prominent part in the foundation of the Bible Churchmen’s Missionary Society (now Crosslinks)
When Mr Bland left in late 1946, he was followed by the Rev. W. Warren C. L. Orpwood who, like his predecessors, had previously been a missionary, in his case in Ruanda. His successor in 1953, the Rev. Stanley Short had also been a missionary. He and his wife had served in Burma for many years under the auspices of B.C.M.S.
Stanley Short retired in 1974, and the Rev. Dudley Powell came as his successor. In 1980, he moved to be vicar of St Michael, Stoke Gifford for a few years before going out to Albania as a missionary.
Due to plans for re-deployment of clergy in the Diocese, when Dudley Powell left in 1980, the Rev. Ray Brazier, the vicar of the neighbouring parish of St Nathanæl was appointed Priest-in-Charge of St Matthew’s, with responsibility for both parishes. This remained the situation until, in the mid 1980’s, the two parishes were amalgamated into one with the Rev. Brazier continuing as Vicar of the combined parish of St Matthew and St Nathanæl.
Ray Brazier retired in 2005 and was succeeded after a short interregnum by Rev. Mat Ineson who had previously been chaplain of Lee Abbey in Devon.
Mat Ineson moved to St Mary’s Stoke Bishop in 2014 and Marcus Nelson joined us from Belfast via a curacy at St Andrew’s Plymouth.
It is hoped that, at a later date, the history of the St Nathanæl’s and St Katherine’s parish can be added.