A church has stood on the present site since Norman times, this probably being the third, but in 1786 the medieval building, which had a history of instability, was judged beyond repair and pulled down.
St Philip & St Jacob Church is considered to be the oldest centre of Christian worship in the Bristol area, and was built outside the original city walls just beyond the castle. A small Benedictine priory stood here in the year 900 AD, and the chancel area of the present church is thought to be the site of its chapel.
It was most likely built by Robert Earl of Gloucester who also built the Priory Church of St James and in 1126 rebuilt Bristol Castle. The first official mention of the church is in 1174 when it is described as one of the 'fees' (fiefs) of William Earl of Gloucester. Of that early church, only the font remains. The church we see today is a 13th century structure with alterations made nearly every century after that. It exhibits many features that the Victorians added or changed including the large bathstone clad columns, which replaced the early English arcade style, that support the roof structure, and tombstones set in the walls.
During this period the churchyard had become full and in 1867 plans were made to neatly level it and form pleasant gardens. This was carried out some 13 years later after detailed records were made showing the exact position of the graves and vaults. A book was also compiled where all legible inscriptions on tombstones (and partly legible) were recorded. However, over 100 stones were totally illegible. A few were placed on walls inside the church and act as a memorial today. Many of the rest were used as paving slabs in the churchyard and have worn badly over the last 100 years.
Kemy's Aisle on the north east end of the building was once used as a side chapel however due to growing demand for children's work, in the 1970s partitions were installed to make separate spaces which could be used for Sunday Club. Demand for spaces to use for groups not just on Sunday grew and in the 1980s the extension to the south side was constructed which housed contemporary toilet and kitchen facilities, as well as meeting rooms and offices.