[The Rural Rides of the Bristol Churchgoer is still in print and available from Nonsuch Publishing, whose
website is at tempus-publishing.com - Ed]
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Between September, 1843 and July, 1845, readers of The Bristol Times looked forward to back-page articles written by "The Bristol Churchgoer". After visiting most of the churches in the city of Bristol, he turned his attention to those in the surrounding countryside, commenting on their architecture, their furnishings, their congregations, their clergy and the sermons they preached.
His acute observation and acerbic wit give some delightful insights into the rural world of 160 years ago.
While the articles were being published, the identity of The Bristol Churchgoer was a closely kept secret. But it later transpired that he was the founder, owner and editor of The Bristol Times, Joseph Leech. An Irish Anglican, he was conservative and low-church by inclination, and quite sarcastic towards non-conformists.
His visits were made by riding out early from Clifton on his faithful cob, John Bunyan. On 10 May, 1845, he came to Wrington and later that year, on 27 July, he managed to attend services at Blagdon in the morning and Butcombe in the afternoon. Sadly, he seems to have visited neither Burrington nor the newly consecrated Chapel-of-ease at Redhill.
On his way to Blagdon, while riding amid "..the most picturesque scenery..", he regrets not having a fellow traveller "..to whom to say, 'How beautiful!'".
On his way down Redhill, as he "..passed the inn, which was once so famous for egg-flips..", he could not help comforting himself with "..the reflection, that there was something more lone than a solitary horseman - and that was, a wayside inn after a railroad had run away with its customers."
The Bristol Churchgoer's day at Wrington and his comments on the sermon of the curate, Mr Henry Thompson (on Deuteronomy, Chapter 6, verse 13: "Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.") must await another occasion, readers and editor willing.
My thanks go to Dr Martin Crossley Evans, Warden of Manor Hall, University of Bristol, for drawing my attention to The Bristol Churchgoer and for making bound copies of his Calls at Country Churches available to me.