In the early 1800s the map of Bristol looked very different from today's. The busy centre of the city, with its narrow cobbled streets and courts, was still a mixture of business premises and dwelling houses.
Most people lived very close to their place of work. The stylish Georgian houses of Portland Square and Brunswick Square were the residences of the masters of industry such as the Wills.
These industrialists later moved to the fashionable suburb of Kingsdown, which still has many architectural gems. What we think of as the suburbs today were mostly small villages or groups of houses outside the city. Cotham was developing fast and there was a huddle of poorer houses in the area known as The Quarry, between Durdham Downs and the west side of Blackboy Hill. These were built into the quarry whence much of the stone came to build the big houses of Clifton.
Gradually the area between Cotham and Clifton was built up. This contained the homes of the middle classes, moving further out from the city centre, the respectable citizens with large families, two or three servants, often a carriage and pair and a comfortable income. One has only to look at the houses in Burlington Road and the Whiteladies Road end of Apsley Road, to feel oneself in a spacious age of leisure and taste. Each house would be the home of but one family, with rooms for the servants in the attic. Tucked behind in narrow streets, are smaller, simpler houses of the less well off.
Highbury Chapel, founded in 1843, was a thriving and wealthy church under its patriarchal first minister, the Rev David Thomas. It had amongst its membership some of the most influential Bristol gentlemen such as Mark Whitwill, E S Robinson, and several members of the Wills family. They engaged in much philanthropic work and one of their projects was the formation of a Sunday School for the deprived children in the Quarry area, which met in the local day school.
In 1860 the church meeting of Highbury decided that a Congregational Church was needed in the rapidly expanding Redland area. A suitable site was sought and a desirable one found on the corner of Redland Park and Whiteladies Road, a piece of land which was part of Mr Garaway's market garden, and it was purchased for £700.
The foundation stone was laid on 11th June, 1860, by Mr Richard Ash, the service being conducted by the Rev David Thomas of Highbury. The cost of the building was tendered at £4200 which included the buildings, gates, enclosing walls and railings. Thanks to the generosity of the people, rich and poor, who came to the service on the day the church was opened and consecrated, the last £600 of the cost was given, so it opened free of debt. The building which over the years had several alterations and additions, was essentially the same until its destruction in 1940.
On 1st November, 1861, the church was formally established with 49 members and the first two deacons elected, Mr Wilberforce Tribe and Mr Samuel Derham. Readers will hear more about Mr Tribe and his family later in the book, as they played a great part in the life of the church throughout the years.
In 1862 the church felt it was ready to call its first minister. On 9th February of that year a young man aged 23, just leaving Cheshunt College, preached at Redland Park and on 8th June the church meeting unanimously decided to invite him to be their pastor. He accepted in a devout and humble letter, asking the congregation to support him with their prayers.