THE QUARTER JACKS
James Paty 1st is presumed to have been their carver in 1728. Then, they were on the Wine Street façade of the old Christ Church and looked down on Bristol’s High Cross at the very centre of the city. There had been Quarter Jacks on Christ Church for over a century before James Paty’s were erected. William Tyson recorded references among the church wardens’ paper to ‘Jackes’ in 1608 and to ‘Quarter Jackes’ in 1616 and to the tiling, sealing and plastering of the ‘Jack-house’ in the same year. Thus it is likely that the present figures were commissioned as replacements for much earlier figures. They do not so much belong ‘to a folk tradition-rather than a sculptural one’, as has recently been rather patronisingly suggested, but instead almost certainly deliberately echo the early seventeenth-century style of their predecessors.
A carver and mason, Paty was admitted a free burgess of Bristol in 1721 on payment of a fine, suggesting that he was not a native of Bristol, but the earliest of that remarkable dynasty of Patys, ‘Makers of Eighteenth-century Bristol’. It was his nephew, Thomas Paty, whose business declared the medieval church ruinous in 1783, and who designed the new building, begun in 1786. It was completed in 1790/1 by his great nephew, William Paty.
The Quarter Jacks were removed from the old building, and subsequently stored in the new tower. The poet Robert Southey was baptised in Christ Church in 1774 and he recalled the statues with affection in a letter of 1806. ‘I have many a time stopt with my satchel on my back to see them strike. My father had a great love for these poor quarter-boys, who had regulated all his movements for about twenty years; and when the church was rebuilt, offered to subscribe largely to their reestablishment; but the Wine streeters had no taste for the arts, and no feeling for old friends, and God knows what became of the poor fellows’. Southey also remembered seeing them represented on the stage ‘only stage quarter-boys and not the real ones’. This was a pantomime at the Theatre Royal, entitled Brystowe or Harlequin Marmer, when their appearance was greeted with ‘unbounded applause’. In 1813 there seems to have been an early attempt at their erection on the new church, but the expenses at £300 were too high. Some time thereafter, ‘Mr Oldham, a haberdasher of Wine Street’ purchased them from the vestry. He evidently lent them out for special occasions.
In the procession which was formed on 19th July 1821 in Bristol in honour of the Coronation of George IV these two figures were placed on a Platform decorated with laurel & accompanied by a banner and preceded the Gentlemen of Christ Church…… These Quarter Boys … were recognised by many persons & and afforded no small degree of pleasure.
In 1814 the figures were sold to a bookseller, Charles Frost of Broad Street, who sold them on to George Weare Braikenridge of Brislington, the great antiquarian collector. In 1908, one of his sons bequeathed them, and much of his remarkable collection, to Bristol Art Gallery. On 9 July of that year, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra visited the Art Gallery before opening the Royal Edward Dock at Avonmouth. A newspaper cutting from a day or two earlier reports that the statues: now stand over a doorway in the room in which the King is expected to lunch, so the boys will have the honour of
attending the civic feast given to Edward VII and his greatly beloved Queen…it seems a pity that they cannot be recovered and re-erected on Christ Church.
Four years later in 1912, the Bristol Art Gallery committee agreed to the conditional loan of the quarter jacks to Christ Church. The clock mechanism to operate the figures was presented in memory of the former Rector, and carved wooden corbels were made to support them.
The quarter jacks are jointed at the waist, and the upper torsos turn on pivots. They still work, but only as a result of repeated conservation work. As well as repainting there is evidence of extensive repairs in 1933, 1974, 1986 and more recently.
Bristol Museums and Art Gallery is the owner of these ancient Quarter Jacks. As you have read, it is a long and intriguing story
The Quarter Jacks were taken down in 2013 for redecoration and found to be in such a poor state that they cannot be allowed to be used outside again. The PCC are doing their best to get replacements made and re-sited in their original place, but this is a long process and will take a number of years to achieve.
Where are we now - September 2018
A few years ago we made contact with a very skilled wood carver who will be able to make replica figures, but this time from Laminated Oak, which will be much more stable than the mixed timber figures that we see here. Sadly, he withdrew his offer late in 2017 due to ill health, but we have been fortunate to find an alternative equally skilled wood carver who will take the job over, and his work will be in French Oak. Our next step was to apply for all the necessary permissions to have the replacements made and fixed back on the church. These need to be obtained from a considerable number of public bodies such as:- The Chancellor of the Diocese of Bristol, Bristol Diocesan Advisory Committee, Historic England, Bristol City Conservation and Planning Department, The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, The Georgian Group, The Victorian Society and Churchcare -The Churches Building Council.
All the consolations have taken place and approvals given so now we will need to start fund raising, and the latest costs we have shows that we are going to need about £125,000.00 at today's prices to get the work done. The Wood Carver suggests that he has about 12 months’ work, which will include a trial fitting with all the scaffolding and attendant costs that will incur, but it is a sensible safeguard to have this done before the figures are painted and finished. So watch out for some publicity which we really hope will encourage everyone to give as much as they can afford to get this long lost Bristol Landmark up and running again after nearly a 5 year lapse.
The Bristol Then & Now Facebook Group have set up a donation page to help raise the funds. Any donations would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.