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Denbighshire Churches Survey

Church of St Mary , Bettws Gwerfil Goch

Bettws Gwerfil Goch Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Bettws Gwerfil Goch in the county of Denbighshire. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ0323646598. At one time it may have been dedicated to St Elian.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16701 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Bettws Gwerfil Goch Church, CPAT copyright photo 11072007-048

Summary

St Mary's church at Bettws Gwerfil Goch is a small structure which may have been established in the 12thC though there are traditions of an earlier foundation dedicated to St Elian. It shows some evidence of enlargement internally, as well as considerable signs of rebuilding about 1882. Medieval furnishings and fittings are restricted to woodwork probably derived from the rood screen, but there are also 18thC woodwork, traces of post-medieval wall paintings, and an early 18thC brass. The churchyard is rectangular and retains a few 18thC grave markers.

Earliest walls survive to varying height though their date is uncertain - traditionally 16thC. All windows except the round-headed window at the west end of the south side are Victorian. Upper part of west wall rebuilt in 1981. Externally, nave and chancel could be of one build, but internally buttress-like features at nave/chancel divide suggest that the building was extended in the medieval period; possibly the inclusion of larger blocks of masonry might signal this extension at east end but would require, too, the rebuilding of the south wall. Original porch dated to 1606, but restored in Victorian era.

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

History

The chapel incorporates the name of Gwerfyl, daughter of Cynan, lord of Meirionydd (d.1173), and she herself is thought to have died around 1200.

Present dedication is to St Mary but Thomas claimed that the original dedication was to St Elian, on the basis of a number of nearby place names. The implication is that an earlier, possibly early medieval, church was rebuilt by Gwerfyl or her husband but there is no evidence to corroborate this sequence.

It appears in the Norwich taxation of 1254 as 'Ecc'a de betos' and in the 1291 Taxatio of Pope Nicholas as 'Ecclia de Bettus Guervyl'.

The church prior to 1879 was a single cell with a south porch; it had a simple west bellcote, round-headed windows of 18thC date - though Glynne in 1849 referred to a Perpendicular east window and a north doorway with the date 1695 over it.

Another 19thC report claimed the north doorway was round-headed, and that adjacent was a flight of steps to a doorway leading to the gallery.

The church was restored by John Douglas of Chester in 1882 at a cost of 1100. The north door and stair were removed, a vestry added with chimney, box pews taken out, windows replaced, floors relaid, wall trenches dug, buttress added on south side, a heating chamber excavated to a depth of 18", plaster removed from walls, a new screen erected, and a new bellcote and lychgate added.

The Victorian bellcote with spire taken down after 1985 quinquennial review.

Architecture

Bettws church comprises a nave and chancel in one, a south porch and a north vestry of the chancel.

The church is oriented west-south-west/east-north-east but for descriptive purposes 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted here. Accurate orientations are used in the description of the churchyard.

Fabrics: 'A' comprises grey and iron-stained slabs of shale, some of it laminating like slate; quoins in similar material but larger and better dressed; occasional pebble stones; most of stone is medium-sized but occasionally larger inclusions; random coursing; flecks of limewash still adhere to stonework. 'B' consists of more uniform slabs of stone than 'A' with few if any pebbles; some coursing.

Roof: slates with stone ridge tiles; stone cross finial at east end.

Drainage: some suggestion of a drainage trench along part of south side, but nothing evident on north; tarmac around west side, concrete on east.

Exterior

Nave and Chancel. General. Considered as one because there is no external differentiation.

North wall: in 'A'. Features from west are: i) 19thC or later square-headed window in pale yellow freestone of two lights with cusped ogee heads; decorative relieving arch in edge stones and the 'tympanum' beneath filled with similar stone; indications that window inserted. ii) square-headed window with two wide ogee-headed lights, the dressings as i). iii) most of walling above the two windows rebuilt in 'B' and close to the vestry the whole wall face appears to have been replaced in this material; it is possible too that within this a second rebuild associated with the chimney that rises above the vestry. iv) vestry. v) east of vestry the chancel stonework has larger blocks of shale, a variation on 'A'.

East wall: base of wall in the larger shale masonry seen on the north side, giving way to 'A' below the window. The east window has a four-centred arch, three lights with ogee heads, and panels above, all in pale yellow freestone; above a hoodmould with head stops. Window wholly Victorian and infilling around it in 'B', and possibly the whole gable rebuilt from springer level.

South wall: in the larger variation of 'A' and the fabric altogether cleaner, less weathered. Features from east are: i) window as most westerly window on north side and having the same infilled 'tympanum'; upper part of wall above this probably rebuilt. ii) buttress in rough masonry (at nave/chancel divide) though with Victorian coping stones. iii) window as i) but longer; section of wall from buttress to porch has heavy concrete pointing in contrast to chancel wall. iv) porch. v) small round-headed light, the arch turned in edge stones; probably 18thC but the only pre-Victorian window to survive. vi) south-west angle beyond this reconstructed in rougher masonry.

West wall: wall whitewashed; at base a projecting foundation course on a slightly different alignment. Wall to a height of c.2m has some coursing. Upper part of wall and the gable rebuilt in 1981, and contains one rectangular window with chamfered dressings in dark yellow freestone.

Porch. East wall: in 'A', though some irregular blocks. A small window with a single light, a smaller version of window ii) in north wall of nave.

South wall: metal gates beneath segmental-headed archway on wooden wall posts which are set against the terminals of the side walls. Above is a tie beam (the base of which is the arch) and raking struts, faintly cusped. Welsh inscription on beam from Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians. Victorian in date, comparable with lychgate truss.

West wall: rests on projecting basal foundation; lower part of wall original, upper part including window, comparable to that in east wall, rebuilt.

Vestry. General. In 'B'. North wall has a small window similar to window ii) in north wall of nave and, above it, a small slit window. East wall incorporates a three-centred arched doorway, the dressings of standard freestone and with a slight chamfer. The west wall is plain but has a chimney rising above it.

Interior

Porch. General. Stone slab floor but with a line of tiles, some encaustic down centre. Bare walls. Roof of simple purlins and rafters, though the former are older and chamfered; two trusses, that at the entrance more recent than that over nave doorway which has a tie-beam carrying a date of 1606, together with some graffiti initials which are presumably more recent.

North wall: threshold one step up; massive, cyclopean doorway with four-centred arch and single jamb stones in tooled shale, chamfered with simple stops.

East wall: stone bench along wall; splayed window with stained glass, Victorian.

West wall: as east wall, but also a projecting slab in north-west corner a little above the bench level, a support perhaps for a stoup. Above is the standard wooden plaque of the Incorporated Society for Churches and Buildings dated to 1879.

Nave. General. Floor of small tiles partly covered by matting and carpet; benches set on flush wooden blocks. Walls bare. Roof of four and a half bays with arch-braced collars springing from wall beams and having cusped raking struts and the upper parts of the principal rafters also cusped. The most easterly truss just to the west of the screen has a ribbed and moulded soffit, the others plain chamfered. On soffits of all arch braces are foliate bosses in the centre and different carvings on the sides, some with heads, one a serpent, another foliate. Some of these have gone and there has been some replacement of the timber, but basically a late medieval roof.

North wall: internally battered to eaves level; two splayed windows; at east end where screen set across the chancel, the wall projects inwards like a buttress although in reverse, effectively a near vertical face for a maximum distance of 0.3m at top (matched by similar feature on south side); this could have been to facilitate the construction of the rood loft given the wall batter but it could also be the stub of an earlier east wall. Hanging on the wall are plans from the faculty drawings of 1879.

East wall: screen of late 19thC date.

South wall: battered wall as on north side. Doorway does not have a splay but has segmental head. Two splayed windows, that on the west with a stepped splay to the base. Immediately to east of the doorway is a change in the masonry which tends to suggest that something may have been filled in, but the evidence is not clear-cut.

West wall: at a height of just over 2m wall is inset, perhaps to act as support for west gallery. At one point set into the upper part of the wall is a semi-circular stone plate like the base of a wall memorial - if so the memorial itself has gone.

Chancel. General. Two steps up to the chancel, one to the sanctuary one to the altar. Floor has tiles, encaustic ones in the sanctuary. Bare walls but with a batter that is not so marked as the nave. Roof of two and a half-bays, the first truss also moulded as the adjacent one in the nave but the remaining two plain because there is evidence that they once carried barrel vaulting over the altar. The last two bays also have panelling above the wall beams; the panels in the more westerly bay are plain, but those above the sanctuary have decoration including animal carving - perhaps derived from the rood screen, because they would have been invisible when the barrel vaulting was in place.

North wall: a large semi-circular arch gives access to the vestry which is masked by curtains; arch must be 19thC. To the east a small rectangular recess acts as a credence.

East wall: splayed window. One 19thC brass.

South wall: one splayed window with seat below it. One brass of 18thC date in wooden surround. Traces of wall paintings on bare stone, at least one word visible as well as patches of colour.

Vestry. General. Wooden floor with carpet, bare walls, plain roof of purlins and rafters. Fireplace in west wall. Benefaction board over arch on south side.

Churchyard

Bettws churchyard is small, raised and rectangular, the only hint of curvilinearity being at the west corner. Well maintained. Located on a spur with the ground falling away to Afon Alwen on the south-west and a tributary stream on the south-east.

Boundary: hedge on a retaining wall on the north-east, a retaining wall too on the south-east and on the south-west. Buildings on the north-west.

Monuments: variable density of monuments throughout the yard. Chest tombs to the west of church are quite densely packed; one railed tomb north of vestry. Some 18thC stones survive but these are sparse and mainly in poor condition. The earliest, of 1723, is set in concrete near the vestry door.

Furniture: none observed.

Earthworks: surface undulates but nothing of significance. Some internal embanking behind perimeter wall in places. Churchyard raised - to a maximum of c.2m on south-east - on all sides except perhaps for north-west.

Ancillary features: small lychgate with stone walls and timber roof on north-east, Welsh inscription. Second entrance on south-west with simple iron gate and seven steps up into interior of yard. Concrete and tarmac paths.

Vegetation: a few bushes, the last yews felled in the 1970s.

Sources consulted

CPAT Field Visit: 18 February 1997
Crossley 1945, 157
Faculty 1879: NLW/SA/FO1 & Merionydd R.O. GAS/Z/PE/24/27 & 28
Glynne 1884, 268
NMR Records
Quinquennial Review 1985
Ridgway 1997, 39
Thomas 1911, 136
Williams 1994
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 Bettws Gwerfil Goch Church may also be found on the St Asaph Diocese website.


The CPAT Denbighshire 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 ( 22:01:22 ).
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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