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Denbighshire Churches Survey

Church of St Bueno , Gwyddelwern

Gwyddelwern Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Gwyddelwern in the county of Denbighshire. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ0746946682.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16789 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Gwyddelwern Church, CPAT copyright photo 527-28.JPG

Summary

St Bueno's church lies on the western edge of the village of Gwyddelwern about 2 miles to the north of Corwen, a site which was probably first used in the early medieval era. Its Victorian tower and rebuilt chancel tend to overshadow the late medieval nave with its surviving Perpendicular windows. Inside is a late medieval roof, a medieval font, some possible fragments of the medieval screen, and 18thC pew panels. The churchyard is now D-shaped and its gravestones have seen radical re-arrangement; originally, perhaps, there was a larger oval 'llan' enclosure.

Nave has surviving medieval masonry with two windows that are late 15thC or more likely 16thC (see below) on north side, and three more on south side; the west side has an inserted Victorian doorway. In the absence of any signs to the contrary it has to be assumed that the masonry and the windows are contemporary.

Chancel rebuilt leaving only plinth and priest's door from its medieval predecessor. Red sandstone plinth of chancel clearly different from nave plinth and suggests that the medieval chancel was of a different date from nave. If the Victorian windows are any guide the chancel could have dated from around 1300, though Thomas claimed that there were Early English windows until 1880.

Porch and tower are Victorian, built in 1880.

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

History

The siting, dedication and the curvilinearity of the churchyard provide strong circumstantial evidence for an early medieval foundation here. Nothing, however, is known of the early church.

The Norwich Taxation of 1254 records 'Ecclesia de Gwidelwern' with a value of 2; in 1291 'Ecclesia de Gwydelwern' had risen to 13.

In 1538 the induction of a new vicar referred to the church newly erected. Thomas thought this could refer to either the church as a whole or just the chancel. It seems applicable, however, to the nave (see below).

Prior to refurbishment, Glynne in 1849 recorded that the church had a chancel separate from the nave, a belfry with two flattened trefoiled openings for the bells, and a plain south porch, with internally a west gallery that carried an inscription of 1634. The nave windows had three lights with trefoiled heads, and the transomed east window with its five lights had old fragments of stained glass. The chancel walls leant outwards and there was a priest's door on the south. The roof was late medieval, comparable with that at Derwen. Some of the roodloft panelling was incorporated into the western gallery, there was Jacobean wood carving amongst the pews, and the walls were covered with coffin plates.

Substantial rebuilding occurred in 1880, undertaken by Kennedy of Bangor at a cost of around 2600. It included the addition of a tower over a new porch, and the rebuilding of chancel.

Architecture

Gwyddelwern church comprises a nave, a slightly narrower chancel and, abutting the south side of the nave, a porch with a tower and spire over it.

The church is oriented slightly south of west but for descriptive purposes 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted for the church, though not for the churchyard.

Fabrics: 'A' is of slabs and blocks of grey and grey-brown slatey shale with very occasional boulder stones incorporated; small slabs used to fill interstices; irregular coursing; quoins of roughly dressed blocks; occasional limewash remnants. 'B' is of small blocks of grey shale, showing some coursing. 'C' medium sized, thick slabs of grey shale, regular in appearance, some coursing. 'D' some shale but blocks of pink sandstone predominate.

'A' is medieval; 'B', 'C' and 'D' are Victorian.

Roof: slates with plain reconstituted clay ridge tiles. Stone cross finial to chancel.

Drainage: a gravel band about 1m wide on north and west, and up to 2.5m wide on the south and east (though not around the tower), beneath which it is assumed there is a drainage trench.

Exterior

Tower. General. Attached to south side of nave, and wholly Victorian in build. Above the porch is a tower with a broach spire of heavily pointed stone with blind (or blocked) windows in four faces and clock faces on south and east, and surmounted by a metal cross; all dressings in yellow freestone; pentagonal stair turret on west side; angle buttresses.

Nave. General. Victorian roof supported by corbel table in yellow sandstone. South wall has an obvious outward lean which is not matched on the north side.

North wall: chamfered plinth to height of c.1m, the chamfer of tooled shale; the plinth has more regular blocks of stone than the wall above, but both are classed as 'A'. From the west the features are: i) Victorian window in yellow sandstone, with three, stepped, trefoiled lights, hollow mouldings, a four-centred arch and a stopped hoodmould; possibly an accurate representation of the Perpendicular window that it replaced; equivocal signs of insertion, for much of the area around this window and ii) is pointed with a distinctive variegated mortar which fades out underneath iii) and above ii); ii) a blocked doorway with cyclopean jambs which are chamfered in line with the wall plinth; a four-centred arch fashioned from a single block of grey shaly slate; iii) square-headed window, two lights with two-centred, trefoiled heads, sunken spandrels; all in original pink sandstone with traces of limewash; bottom of the mullion perhaps replaced, but sill of shaley slate probably original; iv) three-light window with trefoil cusping, the head of the central light different from those outside it; set in what is almost a three-centred arch with an integral hoodmould; hollow chamfered dressings in pink sandstone are original with only the mullions and sill replaced.

East wall: what little is visible is in 'A', but the chamfer does not continue round this side, and south of the chancel, the short stretch of the east wall has been rebuilt.

South wall: mainly in 'A' though differential pointing and the masonry is less weathered. Chamfered plinth as north side. From the east: i) metal tie-rod with bracket fitted at angle; ii) window with a four-centred arch and integral hoodmould, three lights with two-centred, trefoiled heads, the central one again slightly different in form than the others; pink sandstone but mullions, sill and a small part of the hoodmould replaced in yellow freestone; iii) three light window as ii) but squatter, perhaps even deliberately lowered at some stage; same degree of dressing replacement as ii); iv) porch; v) window as iii) on north side, though round heads to lights, and a replaced mullion.

West wall: in 'A' with wall battered to a height of around 2.3m, but this is facetted back to take west door. Two-centred arched doorway in yellow freestone, all Victorian. Masonry around doorway is 'B', rising to just above batter level, and indicating that new facing stones put in place when doorway constructed. Rest of the wall, then, is in 'A' but it is well laid: could it be rebuilt?

Chancel. General. Roof line about 0.5m lower than nave.

North wall: double chamfered plinth in 'D', the lowest chamfer at ground level; wall above upper plinth in 'C', but top of wall has some re-used 'A' and this angles down towards the chamfer in the north-west corner and must have been rebuilt. Two Victorian windows with two lights, Y-tracery and chamfered dressings, but one is in yellow freestone, one in pink with a mullion replaced in yellow.

East wall: double plinth which appears to be in 'A', but rest of wall in 'C'. East window has two-centred arch over five lights with cinquefoil tracery, transom and panels; in yellow sandstone and completely Victorian.

South wall: double chamfered plinth in 'D', with rest of wall in re-cycled 'A'. Two windows as on north side, and again the sanctuary window is in pink freestone with yellow sandstone repairs. Close to nave is a narrow priest's door, blocked in 'C'; the lower jambs with stopped chamfers are worn and original, the upper ones more recent. The two-centred arch is much weathered, but could conceivably be replacement. Either way the doorway has been retained from the earlier chancel and built around.

Interior

Porch. General. Under tower, Victorian. Stone slab floor; unplastered walls with buff-yellow freestone dressings; modern roof.

South wall: wooden plaque recording the 1993 restoration of the spire at a cost of 47,000.

West wall: foundation stone of 1880 for the tower.

Nave. General. Walls lean outwards. West end partitioned off with open panels to create vestry etc. Patterned floor tiles, with carpet down aisle and over part of west end; heating grilles; only the front benches raised on wooden boarding. Walls plastered and whitewashed. Roof of six and a half bays with ribbed arch-braced collars springing from wall plates and cusped raking struts; two tiers of small cusped windbraces. On the underside of the arch-braces are carvings: one of an angel, two animals and two floral, but nothing on the sixth, the most westerly. Late medieval, probably 15thC or later.

North wall: splayed windows. Two marble memorials, one of 1753, the other of 1839, a 19thC painting of a vicar, and an incumbent list commencing in 1535.

East wall: wide four-centred chancel arch in buff-yellow freestone, and it has one order of marble pillars with freestone capitals. 19thC rood screen, and a tie-rod inserted in 1981.

South wall: splayed windows plus benefaction board.

West wall: segmental-headed door embrasure, and at roof level a collar has been plastered over and any arch-bracing removed. Two 19thC photos hang on wall.

Chancel. General. One step up to chancel, two to sanctuary and one to altar. Encaustic tiles on floor, carpet down the centre; choir stalls raised on wooden boarding. Walls painted light blue. Roof of two bays with arch-braced collar trusses without struts, and two floral motifs on the underside of the more westerly truss; wind braces as in the nave; wall plates decorated but worn. The second truss has cusped rafters and collar and is panelled over, marking the start of a wagon roof over the altar; decorated purlins and heavily decorated wall plates.

North wall: two windows, that to east inset in the wall, the inset continuing down to ground level. West of it and affixed to wall is a pew end with 'T.H. 1743'.

South wall: Victorian aumbry. Two pew ends on wall, one of 1705, the other inscribed but undated.

Churchyard

The churchyard is D-shaped, level, very well kept and is still used for burial. It is set on the edge of the valley floor with the valley edge rising a short distance to the east.

It is probable that the churchyard has been reduced in size though there is no confirmatory cartographic evidence. Both the north and west sides are straight contrasting with the curving perimeter elsewhere, and if this curve was projected westwards an oval enclosure of double the size would result. In the pasture to the west of the churchyard there is a hint of a very low curving scarp. Further work is necessary to confirm that this is indeed the earlier boundary, but Owen drew attention to a different boundary line late in the 19thC.

Boundary: a well constructed, mortared stone wall with flat coping slabs around the whole churchyard. The external ground level is generally lower, between 0.3m-0.5m and only on the east is there no external drop.

Monuments: monuments are dense in places with neatly aligned gravestones - indicative of complete re-organisation - and only in a few places (e.g. at the west end of the church) are marked burials sparse. Memorials are predominantly upright and there are virtually no chest tombs: these appear to have been dismantled and laid flat immediately to the south of the church. Earliest gravestone noted from 1738, and many others of 18thC date.

Furniture: south-west of the church is a pillar for a sundial, square with chamfered edges, a plinth of two steps; the bottom one carries the inscription 'RP GT WR WAR 1760'.

Earthworks: ground within the churchyard undulates slightly but nothing of significance. Around the east side there is some internal banking to the churchyard wall.

Ancillary features: double metal gates and a kissing gate at the north-east, a small iron gate at the south-west; tarmac paths link these gates with the porch.

Vegetation: one yew tree of moderate age south-east of the church, and one or two other bushes within the churchyard.

Sources consulted

CPAT Air photos: 95-004-0018, 0026, 0028/0030, 95-C-0123/0125
CPAT Field Visit: 17 October 1996
Crossley 1945, 158
Faculty: St Asaph 1879 (NLW)
Glynne 1884, 270
Owen 1886, 72
Quinquennial Review 1985
Quinquennial Review 1993
Ridgway 1997, 89
Thomas 1911, 153
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 Gwyddelwern 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 ( 22:01:30 ).
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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