The refurbishment marks the beginning of a series of works to preserve and promote the historic Bristol building.
St John’s, which once stood on the quayside of the river Frome – now culverted under the City Centre - is the only remaining medieval entrance to the Old City of Bristol. It was built into the city walls in the fourteenth century, as a place for travellers to offer a prayer before a journey.
St John’s is an important landmark that sits on a key pedestrian route, linking the Centre with Broadmead. The church is cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust and volunteers open it daily to the public.
In recent years, however, the church’s archways and conduit (fountain) head have become a focus for graffiti and antisocial behaviour, which has damaged important historical features and made the area feel less safe. Efforts are now being made to both highlight the church’s history and protect it against vandalism.
A new lighting system has now been installed in the previously dimly-lit archways, towers, spire and conduit head of the church. Lighting in the central arch now highlights the medieval portcullis slot. It is hoped that lighting the church will help to encourage people to identify and use the arches connecting the Centre and the Old City.
At 6pm on Wednesday, 6 November, officials from the church and council and members of the public gathered to switch on the lights for the first time. The ceremony was followed by a bell-ringing peal attempt, refreshments, and volunteer-led tours of the church.
Councillor Nicola Beech, Cabinet Member for Spatial Planning and City Design, said:
“St John on the Wall is the only remaining gateway into the medieval heart of Bristol. It’s an important part of our city’s heritage and we’re looking at ways to protect and restore it for the future.
“Lighting the church’s historic archways is just the first step towards making St John’s a more prominent and cherished part of the Bristol street scene.”
Next, the stonework around the archways will be deep-cleaned and the conduit head - a drinking tap built to connect the church to a spring on Brandon Hill over 700 years ago - is currently being cleaned to remove graffiti. A low bronze screen featuring the medieval symbol for water will be installed to protect the conduit and reflect the building’s history.
The works were coordinated by Bristol City Council and funded by s106 money from the redevelopment of the former Magistrates Courts opposite the church – now the Courtrooms student accommodation.