The Church of St. Michael with St. Paul was designed in the Early English style of Gothic architecture by the city architect C.P. Manners, who is said to have been inspired by the ornamentation and general appearance of the Lady Chapel at Salisbury Cathedral.
Construction of the present church (the fourth on the site) began on 21 April 1835, and the church was consecrated on 4 January, 1837. By reason of its confined site, and the fact that the building is much larger than its predecessors, the church stands North and South, instead facing East towards Jerusalem.
Religious worship has been carried on this site for many centuries. Walcot Street follows the course of the ancient Roman road, the Fosse way, and there are many traces of Roman settlement in the area. However, the first definite record that a church existed on the site is an entry, dated about 1180, in the monastic rolls of Bath Abbey, A monk named Arnold was appointed as the church's Rector; as a fee for his office he had to pay the Prior one pound of wax annually.
Nothing more is known about the first church; why it was built in such a vulnerable place outside the city walls or why it was dedicated to St. Michael. It may have been built around 973, when King Edgar was crowned in the Abbey, and that St. Michael was chosen as an appropriate patron saint to "guard" the main approach to Bath via the north gate.
The first church on the site appears to have fallen into decay, and the second was built between 1370 and 1400. The wealth which made its construction possible may have come from the wool trade which was making England prosperous at the time. Broad Street derives its name not from its width, but from the colony of broad cloth weavers who lived there.
This building remained in existence for about three hundred and fifty years, and was the centre of a vigorous parochial life. The Churchwardens' Accounts date from the years 1349 to 1572. The series of registers of births, marriages and funerals began in 1569 and continue to the present day. These records are among the oldest in the country.
St. Michael's was famous for its mystery plays, and some of the painted cloths used as scenery were held in stock. The Rectors were Benedictine monks, and the Rectory was situated somewhere in the area now occupied by the Hilton Car Park.
They were evidently fairly independent, and one of them had a dispute with the Prior of the Abbey about the ringing of the church bells. Those days had their darker side as well, and about 1450 a service was held to reconcile and bless the church 'lately polluted by the shedding of blood'.
The Reformation and the Dissolution of the Monasteries brought changes to St. Michael's. In 1539 the Prior of Bath had to surrender his entire monastic establishment to the Crown, and the monks were pensioned off. The Abbey itself was stripped of its glass and metal ornaments, and the lead from its roof. The Abbey was then allowed to fall into decay and was not restored until 1618.
In St. Michael's, the altars were demolished and its holy pictures were sold. It did not, however, suffer from the same vandalism that ruined the Abbey. It was a parish church, and not the church only of the monks, as was the Abbey.
The last Rector appointed until the old dispensation in 1531 was a monk named William Fyscher. There is then a blank in the list until 1583. However, the records reveal that during this period St. Michael's continued as an important church in the life of the city.
Little further is known of this second church, despite such dramatic events as the Civil Wars of the 1640s, when defences were set up at the north gate. The building appears to have become dilapidated and too small for its congregation. An old print shows it as it was in 1731, with a square battlemented tower and a thatched roof, and a churchyard to the north.
It was suggested that the church should be rebuilt, and John Wood, the famous Georgian architect, offered to design and build a replacement, on condition that space as allowed in the new church for the pews of his tenants. In a Vestry meeting on 14 January, 1731, the parishioners construed his offer as a patronising slur and, much to his indignation, refused it. Instead the new building was designed by one of the churchwardens named John Harvey, a stone-cutter, and consecrated in 1743.
As might be expected, the design was heavily criticised by John Wood. There were jibes that it was so ugly that a horse would refuse to be taken past it unless blind-folded! However, modern criticism has been rather kinder
This third church of St. Michael's is associated with several famous people. The parents of Robert Byron were married here, and the famous actress and singer, Elizabeth Linely, who eloped with the playwright Sheridan from the Royal Crescent - one of the most romantic stories of Georgian Bath - was baptised at St. Michael's.
Structural defects, and the fact that it had, like the previous church, become too small to cater for the growing population of the parish, led to the demolition of the building in 1835. The new church was consecrated on 4 January, 1837 at a ceremony attended by the City's Mayor.
Under the energy of its then curate, the Rev. John East the church widened its activities and opened a school in Broad Street which continued in being from 1841 until 1913. In 1843 St. Michaels became an independent parish with John East as its Rector - the first since the days of the Reformation. He remained at the church until his death in 1856, and is buried in the crypt.
The Rev. H.J. Heard became rector in 1894. (He was father to the novelist Gerald Heard). Such was his skill as a mountaineer that he was able to scale the spire and inspect damage done to it as a result of a heavy rainstorm. Much was done during his ministry to beautify the interior of the building.
Money for this work was given by Miss Ellen Taunton Little, who also gave the church the handsome and capacious hall in Walcot Street. (This hall was sold in 1990 and the proceeds used to renovate and re-order the crypt which now has a large hall, several meeting rooms and a kitchen, and is used extensively by the church).
During this period the church formed organisations for thrift, women's work, social meetings and entertainments. The clergy also encouraged the organisation of games and sports clubs.
Time has greatly altered the parish of St. Michael's since the present church was consecrated in 1837. The ratio of shops and offices to private buildings has considerably increased. The church itself was fortunate to survive unscathed during the Second World War, unlike many other churches in Bath. It was in fact a physical as well as a spiritual refuge, because the crypt became a large air-raid shelter.
In 1951 the parish was amalgamated with that of St. Paul's Church (now Holy Trinity, Queen Square) - hence the full name of St. Michael with St. Paul. The majority of the present congregation live outside the parish, and the church's ministry is increasingly to those who work in the city centre in the daytime, and to those who visit Bath as tourists from all over Britain and the rest of the world.
In 2006/7 the church closed to carry out a major reordering that included removing the pews to make a flexible space for services and events, replacing the gallery, rebuilding the entrance and installing a lift to provide full access into the building, putting in facilities for a cafť, restoring the organ and commissioning artwork to welcome visitors into the church.
St. Michaelís is now open seven days a week, welcoming visitors and hosting events and seeking to serve God by offering hospitality to everyone and anyone.