History of the church

The ancient parish of Westbury-on-Trym

Holy Trinity Church, together with the nearby College of Deans, was home to a collegiate community under the Bishop of Worcester until 1544. Holy Trinity Church is grade I listed and it can be seen from the list description of the church that the building is of great historic and architectural importance. It is the most significant historic building in Westbury-on-Trym forming the centre piece of the conservation area with its tower being a landmark in the middle of the village.

Holy Trinity Church is significant for a number of reasons. It has been the home of an ancient worshipping community, which though of limited means was given a church of architectural distinctiveness, more than a parish church, that was imitating Wells cathedral in its apsidal plan form. It has a great variety of styles due to the various periods of construction.

It has been established that there has been a Christian settlement on the banks of the river Trym since the 8th century, pre-dating the settlement of Bristol. The first church was probably from the Saxon period, but was destroyed and a new monastic community established by Oswald, Bishop of Worcester in 962 AD. In 1093 AD, the church was repaired and re-dedicated by Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester. In 1194 the church became a collegiate church under the direct responsibility of the Bishop of Worcester. In the 15th century Bishop Carpenter transformed the church in the Perpendicular style.

The basic fabric of the church is medieval. The North and South aisles and the nave date from the 13th century. Other parts, the St. Oswald’s chapel at the east end and the Sanctuary date from mid 15th century. The crypt at the East end is medieval in origin and it is situated below an apse, which is polygonal, an unusual construction. This form of construction is discussed at some length in the Bristol Record Society’s 2010 publication ‘Westbury-on-Trym: Monastery, Minster and College’ (1), and is a rare form of construction that only happened with any frequency in Anglo Saxon and early Romanesque eras (2). It is suggested that Holy Trinity Church was built, rebuilt or adapted in the late eleventh century and was given an apse and crypt imitating other grander monastic buildings in the then diocese of Worcester.

Externally the polygonal apse is the most elaborately decorated part of the 15th century rebuilding. Buttresses, with moulded bases and pinnacles stand on its corners. Behind the pinnacle is a pilaster which is broken up by a string course, and where the pilasters cross the roof parapet are gargoyles.

In the South Aisle evidence of the 13th century construction can be seen in the three sedilia (seats built into the wall), a piscina (sink) and three Early English lancet windows east of the South porch. The South porch entrance dates from this time. Works undertaken in the Carpenter era, (15th century) included the tower, western extensions to the nave aisles to join the tower, a Lady chapel, enlargement of the east end and raising of a clerestory. There was some reordering in Victorian times, and changes made to the upper part of the tower, including a spirelet, and to the crypt.

The completed repairs to the East end of the church affect the parts of the church that are of particular historic and architectural significance.

Several guides to the history of the church and its stained glass have been published. Please see the Publications page for more details.


(1) Westbury-on-Trym: Monastery, Minster and College Nicholas Orme and Jon Cannon Bristol Record Society’s 2010 c/o Regional History Centre, University of the West of England.

(2) ‘Is this the lost Anglo-Saxon Church, of Westbury-on-Trym?’ Jon Cannon, British Archaeology 114, September /October 2010.