Christ Church was founded at the end of the 18th century in the fashionable, prosperous city of Bath, a city very attractive to the wealthy visitors who took the waters and engaged in a variety of pleasurable activities. The city’s churches prospered by charging pew rents, which meant, however, that the poorer people could not afford to attend church. To remedy this, a group of socially inclined men opened a voluntary subscription fund to build a new church in which the ground floor should provide seating free of charge for any who wished to attend services, while the gallery seats would be let at a price sufficient to pay clergy and other staff. Early supporters included the Archbishop of Canterbury, the great evangelical and campaigner against slavery William Wilberforce
, and Martin Stafford Smith, godfather of John Keble
, a founder of the Oxford Movement
. The physical structure and appearance of the fine Georgian building remain today, but not the social engineering!
When it was completed in 1798, Christ Church was a typical late 18th century “preaching house”, with a gallery, a central pulpit and a small free-standing altar. About 70 years later, after the influence of the Oxford Movement
and in a typical act of Victorian exuberance, the house next to the east end of the church was bought and demolished to make way for a large apse, in a much more Catholic style. This eclectic mix of Catholic and Reformed remains in the make-up of the congregation to this day. Christ Church today is defined as a proprietary chapel
, sometimes known with slight amusement as a “Peculiar in Ordinary”, owned by a charitable Trust
. It lies geographically within the Parish of St Swithin’s, Walcot
, but has no organisational link to that church beyond St Swithin’s having a representative on the Trustees.
The historical oddity of Christ Church having no geographical area of responsibility is becoming less strange as people commonly travel well outside of their parishes, particularly in cities, to attend churches which they feel meet their spiritual needs. In recent times Christ Church has sought to play a full role in the life of the Deanery and Diocese
, donating a sum to the Diocesan Common Fund equivalent to a parish share and taking up places on Deanery Synod. We have strong links with our neighbours at St Stephen’s, Lansdown
, and St Mary’s, Charlcombe
, through the formation of a Local Ministry Group