45 years of music, 200 years of history
Just off Bristol’s famed Park Street and a short stroll from the city centre, St George’s offers a fresh perspective as a creative space for music and ideas. In normal times (fingers crossed they soon return) world-renowned performers travel across the globe for our unique acoustic and our beautiful parkland setting to bring our audiences moments to remember. That’s over 250 amazing moments every year.
In 2023, it will be our 200th birthday…but we haven’t always been a concert hall. Our Grade II* listed building started its life as a church in 1823. You can discover our full history in our interactive Heritage Space beside our Café Bar – and there are a few key moments from our story below!
In 1820, a new chapel was commissioned to be built in a burial ground between Great George Street and Charlotte Street. St George’s began its life as St Augustine’s Chapel.
By 1821, architect Sir Robert Smirke (1780 – 1867) created a daring and fashionable neo-Classical design for the new chapel. Smirke also designed the British Museum in 1823, though the Museum wasn’t completed for another 30 years. Smirke pioneered the use of iron beams for bearing heavy loads – such as those used in our galleries here at St George’s.
The building was completed in 1823. Then, the St George’s portico would have been visible from the harbourside and river below – a big statement for the centre of Bristol!
In 1832, St Augustine’s became St George’s Brandon Hill – a new parish church. Its congregation was made up of both the wealthy residents of Clifton, and the poor residents of the harbourside.
In the World War Two air raids of 1940-2, a bomb crashed through the ceiling of St George’s – but luckily didn’t explode. Next time you’re here, look out for the star-shaped light in our hall ceiling which marks the spot.
In 1975, a new programme of lunchtime concerts began at St George’s, endorsed by the BBC – St George’s Music Trust was created. The first evening concert took place in 1981.
On 8 March 1984, St George’s closed as a parish church.
1990s & 2000s
Across the 1990s, St George’s was transformed into a concert hall.
By 1995, the old church’s crypt had become a bar, toilets and lifts were installed. During 1998 and 1999, when funding was secured from the Arts Council and the Heritage Lottery fund, the church pews were replaced with seats, the stage was rebuilt, and the Box Office was created.
The turn of the millennium in 2000 marked the addition of contemporary music and jazz to the St George’s programme,and artistic ties were deepened with the BBC.
In 2009, the Building a Sound Future project was revealed, with plans to modernise and extend the old church building…
So, how do you improve on perfection? By 2012, designs were underway for our new extension, with architects Patel Taylor, who delivered a beautiful building which is sympathetic to the existing Robert Smirke architecture, yet is also bold and contemporary.
In 2018, our stunning pavilion-style extension was completed, with new gallery and performance spaces in our Glass Studio. For the first time, all levels of St George’s gained step-free access, and the new light-filled Café Bar welcomes everyone for delicious food, or a few drinks before the concert. Cheers!
Why not watch the Icon Films timelapse of our new building being created below?
Heritage Project: Fragments of St George's
Working with a group of people (over 55s) from the Bristol community, our aim for this project was to explore through creativity the ‘hidden histories’ of the venue and local area, and our place within this. Guided by a team of creative educators, including visual artists, creative writers and gardeners, the group engaged in a variety of creative processes in a fun and exploratory way.
The project took place just before the pandemic, and included gardening and sensory exploration, creative writing and poetry, making cyanotypes, collage, and animation. Watch some of the animations from the group below: