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Admiral Sir William Penn (1621-1670) is buried, commemorated and celebrated in St Mary Redcliffe Church in Bristol, England. In 1600 his parents Giles Penn and Jeanne Gilbert were married in the same church and Jeanne was later buried in the family tomb.

Below the following slideshow of images is a short history of the Redcliffe district of Bristol.

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A short history of the area of Redcliffe, Bristol

Redcliffe was independent of Bristol until c.1255 when it was part of the Manor of Bedminster. The church of St. Mary Redcliffe rises 292 feet above the “red cliff” after which both the church and the district derive their name. During the later mediaeval period Redcliffe was divided in two by the creation of the Portwall. The wall was described as being eight feet thick and had two main entry points; one at Temple Gate and the other, Redcliffe Gate. During the 14th and 15th Centuries the Canynges family were one of a number of Bristol merchant families who lived in Redcliffe. They were responsible for the development of St Mary Redcliffe Church which, despite its large size, operated as a chapel-of-ease and was subordinate to St John’s of Bedminster. Bedminster was then in the diocese of Bath & Wells and in the gift of the prebend of Bedminster and Redcliffe at Salisbury. But in practice Redcliffe was treated as a City of Bristol parish. Bedminster was finally transferred from Bath & Wells to Bristol (then Gloucester & Bristol) by an act of 1837 which became operative in 1845

During the 17th and 18th centuries the Redcliffe area became a centre for industry. Its merchant families began moving north to suburbs or to rural retreats while still retaining their commercial interests in the district and by 1784 there were 600 families registered as living in Redcliffe. Thus: “The traditional home of glass making in Bristol was in the parish of St. Mary Redcliffe which was at the centre of shipping and industry. The narrow, crowded streets of Redcliffe were generally dirty, black and perilous to the passenger crowded by colliers, sandmen, sledges, sailors, carts and horses, as Redcliff Street was an important thoroughfare leading from Bristol Bridge up past the great Church of St. Mary Redcliffe, on to the village of Bedminster and then southward.”

St Mary Redcliffe church today is “High Anglican” – that is to say it is on the Catholic end of the Church of England spectrum  – and it is maintained to a large extent by ‘the great and good’ of Bristol through the “Canynges Society“. It is the church’s traditional dependence on right-wing financial support that prevents it from telling the full story of Admiral Sir William Penn including a full account of his political duplicity, involvement in the bloody colonisation of Ireland and Jamaica, and his ownership of slaves.

Note: Thanks to Jonathan Antony Sturges Harlow for the information on Bedminster’s incorporation into Bristol.

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