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Eastern Conwy Churches Survey

Church of St Michael , Abergele

Abergele Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Abergele in the county of Conwy. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SH9454477644.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16350 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Abergele Church, CPAT copyright photo 2381-10.JPG

Summary

St Michael's church lies in the centre of Abergele on flattish ground to the west of the River Gele. The building has twin naves with a west tower; in the fabric there is little to distinguish them, though the tower appears to be of different build. All have Perpendicular features, though most have been renewed or replaced. It is possible but far from proven that the naves are earlier than the tower, one or other of the former perhaps 14thC with Perpendicular remodelling, the latter 16thC. The church retains its medieval roofs, and contains some medieval sepulchral fragments and one 14thC slab, a few fragments of medieval glass, the lower parts of the rood screen and a Perpendicular font stem. Later fittings include a 17thC pulpit, a wooden chest and a good range of monuments. The churchyard is rectangular and raised on the east side, but there is a hint of an earlier curvilinear churchyard around the church.

The tower has several windows replaced in the 19thC as well as having its uppermost storey heightened. Other windows are almost round-headed and should be Perpendicular though they look later.

Both naves and chancels have similar masonry; two windows of Perpendicular style survive in the north wall, and the east windows though partly renewed are also Perpendicular; in the south nave there is perhaps one window with some original Perpendicular tracery; the cyclopean doorways are undatable (pace Thomas who thought them pre-Conquest), but the doorway giving onto the former annex/room on the south side again looks Perpendicular. Roof timbers and arcade are also Perpendicular.

The present porch added in 1879.

Parts of the following description are quoted from the 1986 publication The Buildings of Wales: Clwyd by Edward Hubbard

History

Abergele is recorded as a clas church in the early medieval period. Thomas records that the earliest ecclesiastical notice connects Abergele with Elfod (afterwards Archbishop of North Wales), who was said to have been granted some land by Maelgwn Gwynedd in the 8thC. Elfod was the founder of the church, and its dedication to St Michael, although early, was probably not the original one.

The Norwich Taxation of 1254 records "Ecclesia de Abergele cum duabus suis capellis" i.e. those at Bettws and Llangystenyn. The Lincoln Taxation of 1291 records "Ecclesia de Abergeleu cum capella sua scilicet Langustenyn est annexa prebende archidiaconi" as 34 6s 8d. Vicarial tithes were worth 10. The earliest recorded priest was David ap Kynwic who was appointed in 1304.

A blocked south doorway gave access to some form of extension, reputedly pre-dating the Perpendicular remodelling. This may have been a chapel for Edward Lhuyd at the end of the 17thC referred to "a chappel in ye ch.yard ". Thomas thought it the remains of a priest's lodging which was required to be built in 1304, but this view has not found general acceptance. Crossley suggested that there might have been an external rood stair here.

The exterior of the church continued to be whitewashed in the 19thC. The vestry was divided off for a day school about 1800 and was used as such until around 1836 when Glynne visited the church.

Restoration occurred in 1858 when the pillars and arches were scraped and cleaned, and the oak principals of the roof repaired.

The tower was raised in 1861, and windows and buttresses added to it.

In 1878-9 the whole church was re-floored, partly because the floor was giving way due to interments. It was re-seated with open benches, the chancel aisle adapted for the choir, the organ erected and a new porch put up. New windows were inserted, and the rear portion screened off for a vestry. The two closed doorways in the north wall and the priest's door in the south were revealed at this time. The architect was Arthur Baker, the cost 2500. A new heating system was installed in 1903.

Architecture

Abergele church comprises two naves and chancels of similar length, a tower attached to the west end of the north nave and a porch set almost half way along the south side of the south nave. The church is aligned fractionally south of true west.

Fabrics: 'A' consists of shaped limestone blocks showing some coursing. 'B' is predominantly of limestone but also includes occasional blocks of red, brown and grey sandstone.

Roof: the roofs are slated and have plain grey ridge tiles; cross finials.

Drainage: a band of limestone chips around the north, east and part of the south wall and a narrow band of limestone lumps on the south side west of the porch presumably cover drainage gullies.

Exterior

Tower. General. In 'A' with limewash residues, sometimes extensive. At the base is a plinth with an ashlar chamfer which is carried around the three walls and is Victorian; likewise the angle and diagonal buttresses of 1861 with olive coloured sandstone dressings, though they are keyed into the wall faces in places; on the south-east the angle buttress rises above the south nave roof. No string course except above the belfry windows and this is of olive-coloured sandstone that looks late. Uppermost courses from about the level of the belfry window springers and including crenellated parapet were added in 1861, a height of 6' according to Thomas. A flag pole rises from roof. Heating chamber is sunk below ground at the base of tower.

North wall: at ground level is a small, rectangular window of modern design. Next a square-headed, two-light window, the lights with two-centred cusped heads and smaller lights above, and over, a label with lozenge-shaped stops; all dressings in Victorian, olive-coloured sandstone as the buttresses. Above is a small square-headed window, its two lights with near circular heads; the mullion has been replaced but the rest though in olive sandstone shows some weathering and is earlier than the window below. Next a large belfry window with a two-centred arch, complex mouldings, louvre boards and, over the upper half, a clock face. Above is a hoodmould with face stops and a decorative relieving arch. Most of the wall fabric appears relatively homogeneous though there is paler limestone from below the main window to just above the window below and this could be renewed masonry.

East wall: apex of north nave roof rises to a line just above the base of the second window up on the north side. The lowest window on this side is equivalent to the third window on the north, with replaced mullions, almost round-headed lights and sunken spandrels, and a flat head. Belfry window as on the north but no clock face so complex tracery visible.

South wall: at ground level is a doorway with a pointed rather than four-centred arch, though probably Tudor nevertheless; the much worn jambs are in yellow sandstone as are the large archstones; the latter are framed by slabs of sandstone set on edge which are tilted slightly to give some protection from water run-off for the whole of the doorway projects from the wall by 10-15cm and might be inserted. Above at a height of c.3m is a square, sunken aperture formed by weathered slabs of brown sandstone. Next a flat-headed two-light window of the same type as on the north and east walls at this level; again only the mullions have been obviously replaced. Then a large roundel framed in four blocks of freestone with a label, now showing signs of weathering; the roundel is blocked in different masonry and does not appear to be of any great age. Above is a standard belfry window but the upper half is again covered by a clock face.

West wall: close to ground level is a two-light window with flat head which is in olive-coloured sandstone but compares closely to higher windows on the other sides. Next a Victorian two-light window with traceried heads, a label with projecting stops and all in buff sandstone. Then a flat-headed two-light window, the lights with segmental heads and the dressings probably chamfered; similar to the lowest window on this side, but the dressed stones are thinner. Above is a standard belfry window without a clock face. No evidence that any of the windows, except perhaps for the obvious Victorian ones, are inserted.

North nave and chancel. General. Constructed in 'B', though with some variation in quantity of non-limestone masonry; for instance towards east end of north wall almost wholly of limestone; with heavy pointing in places.

North wall: from west the features are: i) window with four-centred arch with hollow chamfers, three slightly stepped trefoiled lights, hoodmould; all dressings look recent; ii) blocked doorway with segmental arch, cyclopean head and massive jambs all in limestone; present height to soffit about 1.3m; iii) window with two-centred arch, three lights with two-centred heads having cinquefoil tracery, small panels above, chamfered dressings in buff-grey freestone; a relieving arch turned in limestone blocks above; all Victorian and the wall has paler limestone masonry beneath it which may be replacement; iv) window with a four-centred arch, hollow-chamfered dressings, three lights with four-centred heads, weathered hoodmould; an original Perpendicular window which has seen the replacement of its mullions and perhaps the window heads; v) window with four-centred head, four ogee-headed cinquefoiled lights, sub-arches and quatrefoils above, and a hoodmould with plain stops; olive-coloured dressings of Victorian date; vi) blocked doorway with segmental arch, all of massive blocks of dressed limestone but without chamfers; height to soffit again no more than 1.3m; vii) as window i), though Hubbard strangely claimed this as the only non-authentic window on this side; viii) small, modern shed; ix) window similar to vii) but trefoiled heads are original in a buff sandstone; the mullions and jambs in pink sandstone are renewed though some doubt over the jambs; the olive-coloured hoodmould is the most recent of all; xi) diagonal buttress in dressed limestone with olive ashlar for quoins etc.

East wall: wall founded on large blocks of limestone with smaller blocks integrating some sandstone at higher levels, particularly above the Victorian flying buttress which supports the junction between the east walls of the two chancels. The wall is dominated by a large east window with a two-centred arch, above which is an olive-coloured Victorian hoodmould; contains five lights with ogee and round heads and cinquefoil tracery, and sub-arches with panels above; the jambs are in pink sandstone and could be original, the tracery and mullions do not look right yet some of the tracery could be original.

South Nave and Chancel. General. Fabric 'B'; most of the relict limewash now stripped off the west wall. Cell appended to south wall and now defined by two stub walls and a length of walling parallel to the south wall and 7m from it. RCAHMW dismissed this as the 14thC priest's house (see above), but in the absence of any signs of a wide arch into the nave, could not confirm it as a south chapel or chancel.

East wall: the window is very much the same as its counterpart in the north nave, but is easier to examine because the protective grilles cover only the glass, not the stonework (in contrast to the north nave window). Mullions and arch stones have been replaced, some of the tracery looks weathered, but the writer is not wholly convinced that this is original.

South wall: from the east corner the features are: i) diagonal buttress of standard form; ii) three-light window with four-centred arch, the lights with ogee heads and cinquefoil tracery, and panels above; hoodmould with simple stops; this and the mullions are renewed, and the tracery too could be 19thC but there can be no certainty; pink and buff sandstone dressings throughout; one of only two windows on this side depicted by Lloyd Williams and Underwood in their drawing of 1872; iii) window with two ogee-headed lights and cinquefoil tracery, and a quatrefoil above; hoodmould with simple stops; olive-coloured stonework all Victorian; iv) below ii) the stub of a 2m-wide wall projects for c.1.5m; built in limestone rubble to a height of c.0.5m with render on the well-built inner face and little of the outer facing left; flower bed on top with some modern mortaring; v) window as iii); vi) blocked doorway with pointed, almost four-centred head; dressings of iron-stained grey sandstone showing a slight chamfer; vii) wall stub, higher than iv) at 1.3m but projecting only 0.7m; viii) window with four-centred arch, three lights as the two-light window to the east (v), but with panels above; ix) porch; x) three lancet lights forming a group, their two-centred heads in dressed limestone without chamfers; mullions and sill in buff-olive freestone and the window reminiscent of cyclopean doorways elsewhere in church; shown in Lloyd Williams & Underwood's illustration (1872); xi) two-light window as iii) and v).

West wall: two-centred arched doorway approached by one down-step; doorway has cyclopean head and jambs all in unchamfered grey limestone. Above the arch is a much weathered projecting stone, probably originally a corbel; it appears to have been a head though its features are now not discernible. High up in the gable is a single narrow, round-headed light; its arch stone seems to be of iron-stained sandstone, the jambs probably of concrete.

Porch. General. Modern with wooden studs and panels below and three groups of three glazed windows above on both east and west sides.

South wall: double wooden doors under a cambered tie-beam with carved struts; ornamental barge boards.

Interior

Porch. General. Floor of red tiles with carpet over; wood and glass sides; roof of three bays, the inner trusses with arch-braced collars, the outer ones with arch-braced tie beams and that above the south door to the church carved with the date 1879.

North wall:= south wall of the church; cyclopean doorway with a two-centred arch and no chamfers to the dressed limestone. Rest of wall is heavily pointed.

East and west walls: wooden benches.

Tower. General. Not accessible. Only entrance from churchyard. Salter's plan suggests that the tower stair is built not into the thickness of the wall but occupies the south-east portion of the interior.

North Nave. General. Rear (west) part of this and the south nave partitioned off as vestries. Interior of vestry floored in wood with heating grilles. Floor of nave is tiled in black and red with carpet over; flush wooden block floors under benches. Walls plastered, painted and grooved to give block-like appearance. Roof of 11 bays formed by arch-braced collars with cusping on the principal rafters and the raking struts; the arch braces spring from plain wall posts which have thickened terminals; two tiers of small cusped windbraces. Most of the heating apparatus - radiators and pipework - is above ground.

North wall: slight outwards lean to wall; westernmost window (in vestry) contains medieval glass fragments. Former western door has splayed embrasure and bare masonry; former eastern door is similar and the soffit is pointed. Third window from west has embrasure exhibiting older stonework, unlike those of Victorian date which have ashlar. Wall monuments from 1671 through to 20thC brasses.

East wall: low screen.

South wall: six-bay arcade with four-centred, chamfered arches, complex moulded capitals, and octagonal columns on octagonal bases. The most westerly bay which now separates the two vestries is divided from the rest by a short section of wall rather than by a pillar, and this bay is thought by Hubbard to be a 19thC feature dating from the main restoration of 1858. Projecting from the wall by this bay is plastered masonry which carries up to eaves level; it does not support a truss and its function remains unknown. Above the second most westerly arch is a block of stone acting as a corbel for the truss above it, the only corbel on either wall. Sharpening marks on the respond at the west end of the nave.

West wall: featureless tower wall.

North Chancel. General. One step up from nave, one further step up to altar. Carpet over tiles, and benches on tiles too. Walls as nave. Roof of four bays similar to nave but arch bracing springs from hammerbeam wall-posts, and no cusping to struts above collars; windbraces in place; brattishing at wall-plate level in the easternmost bay.

North wall: one window which again shows older stonework in its embrasure. Wall supports two memorials of 1783 and 1804 and a large monument to the Hesketh family which incorporates blank arcading and surrounds the window.

East wall: window and one wall monument of 1733.

South wall: two further bays of the arcade; sharpening marks on the easterly respond and on the adjacent pier to the west.

South Nave. General. Tiles with carpet over them as in north nave, and flush wooden block flooring under benches. Walls as north nave. Roof of 11 bays as north nave but terminals of wall-posts are differently finished except for one truss near the east end, and may have been largely replaced; also only the two easternmost trusses have cusped struts and principals, further evidence of renewal. Walls beam(s) were found beneath plaster cover during earlier renovation, but these at a lower level than the present wall posts implying the roof may have been raised.

North wall: arcade.

East wall: screen.

South wall: wall has outwards lean. Main doorway has internal splay of dressed limestone rubble. A large number of 17thC-19thC wall monuments and tablets.

West wall: plain apart from window in gable.

South Chancel. General. One step up from nave, one to sanctuary and one to altar. Floor tiled with some encaustic patterns in choir, but carpet over parts and wooden boards beneath stalls; encaustic tiles throughout sanctuary. Walls as nave. Roof of four bays with hammerbeam wall-posts supporting trusses; brattishing at wall-plate level in easternmost bay.

North wall: two bays of arcade, plus one monument of 1721.

East wall: window and one 20thC memorial.

South wall: two windows; one 18th and two 19thC wall memorials.

West wall: screen.

Churchyard

Abergele churchyard is flat, of medium size and is basically rectangular in shape. It is bisected by a public footpath edged by railings, running from north-east to south. An obvious extension has been added beyond the former north-western boundary.

The River Gele flows towards the sea about 150m to the east.

Boundary: the boundary consists of a mortared stone wall. This is internally embanked on the east and south-east and has been subsequently terraced. Beyond the wall the ground drops by at least 1m on the south-east and probably 2m on the north-east, while on the north-west the graveyard extension is nearly 1m lower and is separated from the old churchyard by a retaining wall. Only on the south-west is there little apparent difference between the internal and external levels.

Monuments: the churchyard south of the church has been largely cleared leaving only a few chest and other tombs in place. Many slabs have been used for paving and gravestones have been cleared away to the edges. The earliest graveslab recognised dated to 1733. North of the church the memorials have been left in place, and are uniformly spread though not densely. The earliest is of 1758, but a much worn slab could be of earlier 18thC origin. In the north-western path beyond the footpath graves are more randomly spread and there has been further clearance to the perimeter wall.

Furniture: a sundial east of the path to the lychgate. The dial has St Michael's embossed on it, and with the gnomon could be relatively recent. It is supported on an octagonal pillar on which are carved 'E.J. P.H. 1817 Ch Wds'.

Earthworks etc: foundations of south wall of small annex to south nave survives about 7m from church beside a path.

South of the porch is a faint curving scarp, and to the north of the north nave but discernible only from a distance are the possible traces of something similar. Thus a possibility of a smaller curvilinear churchyard.

Ancillary features: timber lychgate dated to 1887, with twin wooden gates, and decorated barge boards at the front; inscription on a tie-beam truss. Concrete path to porch.

Vegetation: several yews - two on the south, one on the north and one to north-west - but none of any great age. Other bushes, mainly evergreen, around perimeter and that part of the churchyard to the north-west of the footpath has small trees and some undergrowth within it.

Sources consulted

CPAT Field Visit: 13 and 18 December 1996
Crossley 1946, 7
Endersby 1984: church guide
Faculty: St Asaph 1878 (NLW)
Faculty: St Asaph 1903 (NLW)
Glynne 1884, 257
Gresham 1968, 129; 131; 145; 216
Hubbard 1986, 97
Lloyd Williams and Underwood 1872, pl 37
NMR, Aberystwyth
Neaverson 1953-54, 3
Quinquennial Review Report: 1993
Ridgway 1997, 30
Salter 1993, 44
Thomas 1913, 188
Click here to view full project bibliography

Please note that many rural churches are closed to the public at certain times. It is advisable to check when the church will be open before visiting. Information about access, or how to contact parish clergy, can often be obtained from the relevant Diocesan Office which can be found through the Church in Wales website. Further information about Abergele Church may also be found on the St Asaph Diocese website.


The CPAT Eastern Conwy Churches Survey Project was funded by Cadw as part of an all Wales survey of medieval parish churches.

This HTML page has been generated from the Cadw Churches Survey database & CPAT's Regional Historic Environment Record - 17/07/2007 ( 22:01:11 ).
Further information about this and other churches surveyed is available from the Regional Historic Environment Record, Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust, Curatorial Section, 7a Church Street, Welshpool, Powys, SY21 7DL tel - (01938) 553670, fax - (01938) 552179, email - chrismartin@cpat.org.uk, website - www.cpat.org.uk.

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