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Eastern Conwy Churches Survey

Church of St Digain , Llangernyw

Llangernyw Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Llangernyw in the county of Conwy. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SH8751267445.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16869 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Llangernyw Church, CPAT copyright photo 527-30.JPG

Summary

St Digain's church lies in a remote part of what was western Clwyd, some 12km to the south-west of Abergele. Without doubt it is an early medieval foundation - the churchyard carries two early pillar stones, though the church itself as seen today is not thought to be earlier than the 13thC. It may have been extended in the late medieval period, acquiring its unusual and distinctive cruciform shape at that time. It contains little of pre-19thC architectural interest apart from a roof which is probably late medieval and an original south doorway, all off the windows having been replaced or renewed. Excepting the Perpendicular font and a number of 17thC graveslabs, there is little to consider in the way of furnishings. The churchyard may once have described an oval shape but its edges have been shaved back and there is a large extension to the east. One of the yews is claimed to be the oldest living tree in Wales.

Llangernyw is unusual in this part of north Wales because of its cruciform shape.

The nave is claimed as 13thC, representing what may have been a single chamber structure. Transepts and chancel are thought to have been added in the later 15thC or even 16thC, but this is on the basis of the east window, authentic in its form but wholly Victorian in its fabric.

Indeed there are no original windows - apart from remnants immured in the east walls of the transepts - and the sequence must remain highly conjectural. Much of the masonry is of uniform appearance though not necessarily of uniform build, and it is conceivable that the upper walls have been reconstructed in several places. Overall the nave may be largely original, the chancel largely rebuilt and the transepts partly rebuilt, perhaps in 1720.

Some restoration by one of the Penson family in 1849. All of the windows and the porch are probably of this date while the south-west vestry was added at the end of the century.

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

History

Traditionally the church was founded by Digain, son of Cystenyn Gorneu, a 5thC saint.

It does not appear in the 1254 Taxatio but in that of 1291 'Ecclesia de Llanygernyw' was linked to Tremeirchion and Faenol, with a total value of 16 13s 4d. Little is known of the history of the church in subsequent centuries.

The gallery was removed from the west end of the church in 1845; a drawing of 1833 (in the rectory) shows the gallery lit by a dormer widow but no windows in the west wall. These were added in 1850 as were the buttresses that support the bellcote.

The vestry was built in 1881 and then reconstructed in 1895. In 1904 new heating equipment was installed and the flag floor was taken up.

Architecture

Llangernyw church consists of a nave and chancel of similar widths, north and south transepts, a porch situated half way along the north side of the nave, and a vestry attached to the south-west corner of the nave.

The church is aligned west-north-west/east-south-east but for descriptive purposes 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted for the church though not the churchyard.

Fabrics: 'A' is rough rubble, small to medium slabs with some blocks, mixed material including?limestone and quartzite and ranging in colour from off-white to grey and brown, random coursing; rare patches of limewash or render. 'B' is of regular slabs of grey slatey shale, regularly laid, some coursing. 'C' is as 'B' but the slate is less regularly laid.

'A' is probably medieval bur recycled in the 19thC - no differentiation could be made at this stage. 'B' is Victorian. 'C' could be 18thC and more specifically from 1720, depending on the weight attached to the scratched date on a lump of stone.

Roof: slates with fleur-de-lys ridge tiles; cross finials to south and north transept gables and above porch.

Drainage: hollows around north and west sides suggest filled trench; gravel strip along east wall also suggestive.

Exterior

Porch. General. 19thC Victorian addition. Fabric 'A' with tooled quoins. Dressed chamfer to plinth at a height of 0.3m.

North wall: two-centred arched entrance with stopped chamfers; cream sandstone dressings with a decorative 'relieving arch' in yellow sandstone; a light over the arch.

East wall: boiler-house lean-to against this side.

West wall: single window with a broad two-centred head in cream freestone; iron grille.

Nave. General. Victorian buttresses on west and south sides, using tooled blocks of shaley slate.

North wall: west of porch there are no features but a very uneven wall surface with heavy pointing; this is all in 'A' and includes one patch consisting only of thin slabs, perhaps infilling. East of the porch thin slabs are absent and the masonry is more blocky though again the fabric is rather heterogeneous. A single two-light window, the lights with foiled ogee-heads in buff-grey freestone, all Victorian; because of the heavy pointing and the roughness of the masonry it is impossible to determine signs of insertion. Heavy limewash traces beneath eaves.

East wall: not present.

South wall: very heavy pointing to the extent that it is almost render. Fabric shows localised variations but generally classed as 'A'; wall face uneven and swells out slightly at base. Two windows; that to west has a two-centred arch, two cusped lights with a quatrefoil above; to the east is a single light with a trefoil above. Both are Victorian in pale freestone, weathering to grey.

West wall: two foiled lancets, one either side of a central buttress, all Victorian. These windows are clearly inserted and a lead strip has been implanted in the wall above them. Otherwise the masonry must be classed as 'A', though again some variety in shape and size of the stonework. At the base a chamfered plinth has been added to a height of 0.5m, faced in Victorian masonry and running around the buttresses. Top of gable rebuilt to accommodate a bellcote, again Victorian.

North Transept. General. Fabric best regarded as 'A' though tooled (?)limestone quoins, heavy pointing, and some limewash residue.

North wall: at the base a foundation projects for 0.1m to a height of 0.3m. Large window of four lights with reticulated tracery, a two-centred arch with head-stopped hoodmould, all Victorian. Base of the wall is in 'A' and could conceivably be rebuilt; the rest in 'C' and fairly homogeneous in appearance, except for the apex of gable above the window which is also in 'A', contemporary perhaps with the introduction of the Victorian window.

East wall: a significant part of this face is masked by ivy. 'A' appears to form the bottom 1.5m and above this is 'C', one stone having a date 1720 scratched on it. South of this wedge of 'C' is a disturbed window; there is a red sandstone dressing lying flat - it could be a lintel still in place but more likely a jambstone turned on its side; next to it, in yellow sandstone, is the inverted head of a late medieval window with double foiled lights, the spandrels infilled with mortar. Thus an earlier window broken up and filled in not with 'C' but with limestone lumps, which suggests that the blocking if not all of the re-setting of the dressings pre-dated the more general rebuilding in 'C'.

South wall: not present.

West wall: in 'A' with heavy pointing; a two-centred arched window with two cusped lights and a quatrefoil light above: a standard Victorian pattern, and some indications of window insertion.

Chancel. North wall: rendered wall face. A square-headed window with a cinquefoil-cusped light in Victorian buff sandstone.

East wall: generally in 'C', though possibly not the base which is all but obscured by gravestones propped against it. Victorian round-headed window containing three round-headed lights with cinquefoil tracery, foiled panels above, and framed by a hoodmould with horizontal stops.

South wall: wall mainly in 'A' though some 'C' spreads round the angle from the east face. The window is a Victorian replacement but there are no signs of insertion and it is possible that the upper part of the wall is rebuilt, though the lower part is probably original.

South Transept. General. Diagonal buttresses at the south corners. Heavy pointing serves to disguise masonry.

East wall: in 'A' though not entirely convincing as original masonry, and there does appear to be some 'C' south of a blocked window; probably original 'A' below the window but rebuilt around it. The window appears as a square head with a lintel made up of limestone and sandstone blocks, mixed sandstone jambs, a blocking of 'A', and two corbel-like projections (re-used stops?) above the lintel, the purpose of which is obscure.

South wall: wall foundation projects as on the north transept, but for virtually the whole length of this wall; the face largely in 'A' including some of the buttress masonry; heavy pointing. A Victorian four-light window as in the north transept, and the keystone of the relieving arch carries the date 1850.

West wall: appears to be all in 'A' and has a substantial protruding foundation. Victorian window the same as the double window in the nave south wall.

Vestry. General. In 'B' and attributable to 1895. Simple lancet light in east wall, a double lancet with transom on the south, and on the west a simple two-centred arched doorway.

Interior

Porch. General. Floor of large flagstones; walls plastered and whitewashed; roof of rafters and scissor trusses.

North wall: iron grille gates.

East wall: wooden seat.

South wall: main entrance to nave is a two-centred arched doorway with stopped chamfers, the same as the porch doorway and definitely Victorian.

West wall: seat as east side plus small window.

Nave. General. Floor of regular stone flags, no obvious graveslabs; benches set on flush wooden boarding. Walls plastered and whitewashed. Roof of nave and chancel is continuous, 11 bays all with arch-braced collars springing from wall plates; those over chancel have texts in gold letters; two tiers of short windbraces. Age probably late medieval, 15thC or early 16thC. Parkinson (NMR report) has suggested that the layout of the seating which focuses on the crossing may reflect an early post-Reformation situation.

North wall: window embrasure with segmental head, but all Victorian. Long benefaction board of 1748 stretching from north-west corner to doorway.

East wall: modern screen (1938).

South wall: from west: graveslab of 1612 pinned to wall; ii) simple two-centred arched doorway with splayed embrasure (external face in vestry hidden by wooden surround); iii) stoup with deep rectangular bowl with rounded corners and modern chamfered arch to its niche; iv) two splayed windows and two 20thC memorials, one to war dead.

West wall: two window embrasures and the lead strip above them which is visible externally protrudes through to the interior; three graveslabs of 1619, 167? and one indecipherable.

Chancel. General. One step up to sanctuary and one to altar. The crossing contains choir stalls, the pulpit etc. Plain panelling around sanctuary walls probably derived from box pews. Vaults exist under sanctuary according to local informant. Walls and roof as nave.

North wall: splayed window to sanctuary with mural tablet of 1893 on a splay.

East wall: splayed window, and a text in gold and black painted on the wall at springer level.

South wall: splayed window to sanctuary.

North Transept. General. Flag floor and wooden boarding under benches and stalls. Walls and roof as nave, but purlins replaced, and the roof timbers generally may be more recent.

North wall: splayed window and three graveslabs pinned to wall, of 1671, 1734 and 1768.

East wall: organ, mural tablet and a Welsh, metal ?prayer board.

South Transept. General. Very much as north transept though choir stalls raised.

East wall: another Welsh ?prayer board plus 19thC brasses.

South wall: splayed window.

West window: splayed window.

Churchyard

St Digain's church is set in an elongated churchyard; it was enlarged in 1850 and there was a long extension to the east in 1884, but there is an overall curvilinearity to the core which is somewhat disguised by lengths of straight boundary. The area within the old churchyard is level, but outside the southern boundary the ground falls to a valley, and on the east side, too, the valley influences the ground fall.

Boundary: hedge on west set on a retaining wall about 1m high; the hedge on the north is joined by a retaining wall opposite the transept and there is a drop of over a metre externally - this continues to the north-east corner of the churchyard. On the east is a scarp which is perhaps 1.8m high above the new graveyard, and is largely natural, part of the river terrace, At the south-east corner is a slight curved scarp which could signal the original boundary bank diverging from the river terrace. On the south is a retaining wall at least 1.5m high.

Monuments: these are quite well spread on the north and east though there are several localised concentrations; they continue sporadically on the west (where there are numbers of ledgers) and south. Others are stacked against the east end of the church indicating some re-organisation. There is a chest tomb of?1665 on the south side of the church, and later 18thC ledgers at the east end, but there are documented records of tombstones from 1612 and 1619.

Furniture: immediately to the south of the church are two pillar stones, of the 7thC-9thC, both with crude incised crosses. Owen described these stones and also noted the pair of boulders, still surviving, on either side of a chest tomb, about "20 yards away", which he thought were prehistoric.

Earthworks: scarp on east is old churchyard edge.

Ancillary features: stone lychgate of 1745, with wrought iron gates on the outside, slate-capped benches along the sides and a small rectangular window on the south. Tarmac path to porch..

Vegetation: the 'oldest known tree in Wales', reputedly 4000 years old. Certainly it is a massive specimen and realistically must be medieval. Two bush yews by porch, three yew trees along the old east side, and others around the south and east sides, together with other mature trees.

Sources consulted

Church notes
CPAT Field Visit: 12 September 1996
Ethall 1969
Faculty: NLW 1850 (churchyard)
Faculty: NLW 1879 (vestry)
Faculty: NLW 1884 (churchyard)
Hubbard 1986, 217
NMR Aberystwyth
Owen 1886, 118
Quinquennial Review: 1987
Thomas 1911, 320
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 Llangernyw 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 ( 22:01:20 ).
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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