Monday, 15 October 2012

St Michael's Without, Bath

St Michael's Without is one of Bath’s most prominent city centre churches, dominating the view along Northgate Street. Recently re-ordered, it also houses a busy café, just one aspect of an equally vibrant parish life.


There has been a church on the site since at least 1180, the original being outside the city walls. This was rebuilt between 1370 and 1400, although we know little of its design. By the 1730s this was both too small and dilapidated for the existing congregation, but an offer of a design by the architect John Wood was turned down and the third church was built in 1742 to plans devised by its churchwarden John Harvey. Wood inevitably criticised the design, and it was said that that it was so ugly that a horse would refuse to be taken past it unless blind-folded!

It was not long, however, before this church followed the fate of its predecessor (being both too small and structurally unsound). It was demolished in 1835, and the present church built to designs by G P Manners, and completed in 1837. To make better use of the site, the new church was orientated north-south, with ritual east to the north.

The church

The church is an early essay in neo-Gothic, but the style is somewhat eclectic: Pevsner calls the tall, slender tower ‘crazy’, with its spire perched atop an octagonal lantern, with extraordinarily tall stepped lancet windows. The interior has similar windows, but is more conventional, with an aisled nave leading to a polygonal apse and plaster rib-vaulting. This is picked out in cream and is perhaps the church’s most attractive feature. The interior is light and airy, though there are few fittings of note.

The interior has been re-ordered with chairs and the tower room and rear of the nave are now used for a café and bookshop. The church has a strong emphasis on mission, described in displays at the back of the church.

St Michael Without, Broad Street, Bath BA1 5LJ

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