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Guided visit to St Mary the Virgin at Henbury, Bristol 10th May 2024



A small group of Soroptimists – Sally, Denise, Ivete, Lynda and her husband Martin – were guided through St Mary’s Church, the churchyard and village hall on a wonderful sunny day.


St Mary’s history dates from the Anglo-Saxon period around 692 in what was then known as ‘Henbury in the Saltmarsh’. It was then a large parish going as far north as Aust.

The first Norman building was succeeded by the present one which was begun in the 12th century.

In 1806 the medieval font, which is now in the churchyard, was replaced by the current black marble font.


Well known residents of the churchyard include the novelist and  Egyptologist Amelia Ann Blandford Edwards whose obelisk is decorated with the Egyptian hieroglyph “Ankh”, as a symbol of the cross because it had the similar shape. The meaning of “Ankh” is “life”.

Amelia Edwards was instrumental in the foundation of the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1882. It was reorganised as the Egypt Exploration Society in 1919, and it remains the UK’s premier body in the study, excavation and publication of Egypt’s monuments.


No monument however is more poignant or more visited than that of Scipio Africanus, a pagan and a slave, servant to Charles William Howard, the Earl of Suffolk’s and Bindon and his wife Arabella Astry, who died in 1720 aged just 18 years. Within 18 months his master and mistress, both under 30, had also died, all three possibly from smallpox.

Monuments to slaves are few and the legend on the stones implies that Scipio was a valued servant.

It has been suggested that, given his circumstances, it is likely that as a child his life began not in Africa, but in the Caribbean.


We are left in no doubt about the involvement of the city of Bristol and its influential local families in the transatlantic slave trade.


After the church visit we got together at Denise and Duncan’s garden for a most enjoyable and relaxed picnic. We couldn’t have chosen a better day.

Thank you Sally for organising this lovely morning for us.