The Hermitage Of St John Redcliffe

At the bottom of Redcliffe Hill on the Western side of the roundabout is a small park - which in 1665 was granted to the Society of Friends (Quakers) by King Charles II as a burial ground. Towards the rear of the park, partially obscured by trees and shrubbery is a cliff face and in this face is a small archway which leads to a small cave hewn out of the red sandstone. This cave is known as St John’s Hermitage, where in 1346 Thomas Lord Berkeley placed John Sparkes, a Hermit, to pray for him and his family. This small cave was still inhabited in 1648 and on the right hand side of the chamber is a memorial tablet - "Here Lyeth the Body of Christopher the Monk or Christopher Birrchhead of this city Marriner who died the 16 Day of the 8th month in 1669."


Behind the green door (now a barred gate) of the Hermitage is a 12 foot diameter cavern some 8 feet high with a rough seat carved in the red sandstone. It is the first reference to the caves 1346!

We now move on to the late 1960’s and it is decided to build a Pub on Redcliffe Parade, in fact directly above the caves The Merchant Venturer now called the Colosseum. As usual in the construction of a building the first task was to dig the foundations. To their surprise they found the caves! To make good involved drilling eight large holes and filling them with concrete to form a stable foundation for the pub. So you look through the little grill window into the 1346 Hermitage and you see the Old Quaker gravestones on the floor and the late 1960’s concrete ruining this antiquity.

Photographs : Alan Gray

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