CPAT logo
Back Home
Index to Denbighshire Churches survey

Denbighshire Churches Survey

Church of St Collen , Llangollen

Llangollen Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Llangollen in the county of Denbighshire. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ2167141975.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16870 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Llangollen Church, CPAT copyright photo 95C0040.JPG

Summary

St Collen's church, possibly founded as early as the 6thC or 7thC, lies in the centre of the town of Llangollen on the southern bank of the Dee. There is a surviving Early English doorway, but at the heart of the structure is a twin-naved Perpendicular church. A tower was added in the mid-18thC, and the building substantially enlarged in 1864-7. Some pre-19thC architectural features have survived - a couple of late medieval windows, the north aisle arcade, and a 14thC tomb recess - and some later wooden furnishings, but the great treasures of the church are the two late medieval roofs. The church occupies an irregularly shaped churchyard, clearly truncated in its present form, which contains a fairly typical range of monuments.

Earliest observable structure is a double-naved building of the Perpendicular period, on the basis of two surviving windows and perhaps the simple north doorway, though the Early English doorway on the south points to an earlier building. Hubbard thought there might have been a pre-Perpendicular double nave. The tower was added in the early 18thC and the building was enlarged to almost double size by the addition of a chancel, south aisle vestry and organ chamber in the later 19thC.

Externally the only medieval masonry is the outer wall of the north aisle with two original Perpendicular windows. The west and (?)east walls have been refaced and a new window inserted in the former. All the remaining external elements of the building are Victorian with the exception of the tower which appears to be of one build in the mid 18thC, though there are Victorian embellishments to its west and south sides.

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

History

In its position above the Dee, there can be little doubt that St Collen's church was established in the early medieval period; the event is generally attributed to the 6th or 7thC.

After the foundation of Valle Crucis Abbey in 1200, Llangollen was appropriated to the new monastery. A dispute of 1274 signalled the former importance of the church for it was recorded that Wrexham, Ruabon, Chirk, Llansantffraid and Llandegla were all dependant chapels.

In the Norwich Taxation of 1254 it was referred to as 'Ecclesia de Llancallen' and in the 1291 Taxatio as 'Llangollen' when it was worth in all 36 10s.

Surviving architecture points to a stone church of 13thC date, with further changes in the 15thC or early 16thC. Bardic stanzas refer to a serious fire in the church during this later period and presumably the present roofs, if not the twin naves, were a result of the subsequent renovation.

The church had a wooden tower of unknown date, containing three bells and a clock, but a Rural Dean's report in 1749 suggested this should be replaced. It appears, too, that there was a capel-y-bedd for the report reads: 'There is a building adjoining the tower, westward, called "The Old Church" in which the titular St Collen lies: which is likewise much decayed and, being of no further use, is proposed to be taken down and the materials to be used in building the [new] tower which is to be done in lime and stone, the expense being computed at 160".

About the same time a gallery was added at the west end of the church with seats for about one hundred people.

That the tower survived the 19thC restoration appears to have been due solely to cost implications. The builder remarked that it would 'require consider-able outlay to make [it] worthy of the new work'.

Glynne visited the church prior to restoration and recorded two windows with Decorated tracery, one at the west end of the north aisle. Part of the rood screen survived at the time, as did some carved bench ends.

The building was fundamentally remodelled by S. Pountney Smith in 1864-7 at a cost of 3097: sections of wall were taken down, the south aisle, chancel and chancel aisles were added. Pews and the west gallery were removed and new seating was added. The tower was opened up and a west doorway was created

In 1876 a sacristy was added at the north-west corner of the north aisle, and this is now the choir vestry.

Architecture

Llangollen church consists of a nave and chancel; north and south aisles of equal length (though the western end of the south aisle has been partitioned off to form an internal porch), and attached to these are short chancel aisles housing the organ on the south and a longer vicar's vestry on the north; a west tower abutting the end of the nave; and a north porch now converted into the choir vestry. A boiler house underlies the church at the west end.

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

Fabrics: 'A' is of irregular and variably sized and coloured blocks and slabs of slate, shale and fine-grained sedimentary rock, randomly coursed; also occasional re-used dressed freestone and some pebble stones; limewash residues. 'B' is of dressed blocks of pale sandstone, irregularly coursed; ashlar for quoins and buttress faces. 'C' is of blocks and slabs of grey and brown slaty shale, some coursing; quoins of dressed yellow sandstone, and occasional blocks of sandstone incorporated into the masonry; rare limewash remnants.

'A' is medieval, 'C' is mid-18thC and 'B' is Victorian.

Roof: slate roofs with plain reconstituted clay ridge tiles. Cross terminals to chancel, both vestries, and to west end of north aisle.

Drainage: down-pipes, and slight hollowing beside the north walls which could be due to presence of a drainage trench though this is far from certain; tarmac and flower beds on the west, and flat graveslabs on the south give no clues.

Exterior

Tower. General. Known to have been constructed in the mid-18thC. Fabric C, though some walls, notably the south and west, show masonry zoning. Chamfered plinth at a height of c.1m. Then in four stages with horizontal courses of freestone blocks providing platforms for successive, and fractionally smaller stages above. Fourth course has plain projecting blocks at angles, like gargoyles, though no indication that they function as waterspouts. Above is a plain parapet with curious jar-like finials at corners.

North wall: round-headed doorway at ground level with freestone dressings, the keystone and the springers set proud of the remaining arch stones, and a groove around the inner edge of the outside face of the arch; studded door. Second stage also contains a doorway (?why), freestone dressings, alternate jamb and arch stones standing proud; sill projects and is supported on corbels; wooden doors. Stage three sports a clock face, partially supported by corbels (from an earlier sill?) and with a broken pediment over the top, Stage four has a belfry window with wooden frame and louvre, but a stone surround similar to that in the second stage.

East wall: standard belfry window.

South wall: Victorian two-light window with cusped tracery and hoodmould in first stage. Third stage has a clock face with the date 1853, but no corbelled sill or pediment. Standard belfry window.

West wall: built out from the wall face is a Victorian Gothic doorway, with complex mouldings, and a hoodmould with head-stops. Standard belfry window.

Nave. General. Other than the roof no external elements are visible.

North Aisle. General. Formerly the north nave of a twin-naved church.

North wall: Fabric A. Three windows; two have two lights with two-centred heads and cusped tracery, panels above and two-centred arches - authentic and original Perpendicular. Between is inserted a late Victorian three-light window with fancy tracery under a two-centred arch that has a hoodmould. Stepped buttress at north-east angle in 'B'.

East wall: rises about 0.6m above north-east vestry, but nothing to note.

West wall: wall is faced in 'B' and rests on a chamfered plinth to a maximum height of 0.4m. A Victorian two-centred arched window with two lights and a hoodmould with head-stops.

North-west Vestry. General. Supposedly a former north porch, although modern commentators think it was built anew in 1876 in Early English style. Faced in Fabric B, with chamfered plinth at base to a maximum height of 0.4m.

North wall: pair of Victorian lancet windows set back into the wall face, under complex moulded arches supported on small columns with capitals; two string courses, the upper one deflected to form a hoodmould, the lower one integrating the window sill.

East wall: plain, with a chimney rising up the side and bearing a stone inscribed W.G. D.D. 1876 (the initials of the patron William Griffiths). Two architectural fragments, probably from a Romanesque shrine, built into the wall.

West wall: four inset lancet windows, the details as the north wall.

North-east Vestry. General. Totally Victorian; all in 'B'.

North wall: wall built up from a chamfered plinth to height of 0.4m; buttress at north-east angle; doorway with shouldered arch; two-light window with cusped tracery and a two-centred arch with hoodmould and head-stops.

East wall: Victorian three-light window of standard form.

Chancel. General. All in 'B'.

East wall: Victorian five-light window in Perpendicular style; diagonal buttresses.

South wall: a single two-light window.

Organ chamber. General. In 'B'. Shouldered-arch doorway on south together with a two-light window; a two-light window in the east wall.

South Aisle. General. In 'B', with a chamfered plinth at c.0.4m. Entirely a Victorian construction.

East wall: one small window.

South wall: three Victorian windows, each of slightly different design; main entrance to church towards west end has a two-centred arched doorway with complex mouldings, set proud of the wall face; five buttresses.

Interior

Porch. General. Partitioned west end of south aisle. Black and red tiled floor; walls plastered and whitewashed. Roof: see south aisle.

North wall: fine Early English doorway, retained in situ when south aisle constructed; groups of shafts in two rectangularly arranged orders; corner shafts keeled, and four-centred arch mouldings continue the same profile; elementary foliated caps similar to early 13thC ones at Valle Crucis (Hubbard); decoration rather weathered and one stone of the capital on the west side has been replaced by an undecorated block.

East wall: partition.

South wall: slightly splayed doorway embrasure, Victorian stonework.

West wall: north-west angle has buttress-like projection rising the full height of the wall; a survival of the medieval nave?

Tower. General. Floor of standard tiles (see above); walls roughly plastered and whitewashed; wooden ceiling at height of c.6m.

North wall: stair turret set in this wall which is thickened across the north-west angle. One brass of 1890.

East wall: round-headed tower arch of two orders, springing from wall.

South wall: splayed window embrasure (Victorian).

West wall: main doorway (Victorian), not splayed.

North Aisle. General. Wooden block floor with benches raised on wooden boarding; standard wall finish, with heating pipes running down the side; roof of six bays on hammerbeam trusses, with intermediate collar trusses for which the principals rise from wall plates; carvings on underside of trusses, particularly the intermediate ones.

North wall: north doorway with four-centred arch to soffit, the door itself with broad horizontal and vertical ribs is of considerable age, and has a peephole: it has been suggested that it could date to before 1625 when 'rights of sanctuary' ceased. Three windows: the central one has a splay and a plaque beneath it records its erection in 1897; the other two have virtually no splay and are original. At the east end is a 14thC tomb recess, probably in situ; heavily moulded with a cinquefoiled inner arch, and a group of short shafts with fleurons in their caps; crocketed gable and end pinnacles. The wall also supports two benefaction boards, five memorials and monuments (1683, 1711, 1795, 1810 and 1846), a hatchment and a painting of the Madonna and child.

East wall: large Victorian two-centred arch of two orders gives access to vestry.

South wall: four-bay arcade of broad four-centred arches, octagonal pillars with moulded capitals and large bases; a respond at the west end, and at the east beyond the last bay, a small Victorian half-arch, supposedly of the 1860s.

West wall: splayed window.

North-west Vestry. General. Formerly the sacristy. Carpetted floor; walls with standard finish; roof of two bays with one arch-braced collar truss with a king strut, resting on corbels; all the timberwork is painted blue.

South wall: a two-centred arched doorway with chamfered dressings but no stops. For the door itself see above.

North-east Vestry. General. Two steps up from north aisle. Carpet over tiled floor which has some heating grilles; roof of close-set collars and scissor trusses. East end divided off by stone partition to provide an inner vestry. All Victorian architecture, the arcade bay giving on to the chancel, an imitation of the Perpendicular north aisle bays. The east window supposedly reproduces the former Perpendicular east window.

Nave. General. Wooden block flooring at front and rear, carpet down aisle; numbered benches raised on wooden boarding. Fine hammerbeam roof of six bays, similar to but more elaborate than that in north aisle. Hubbard describes it thus: hammerbeam trusses (which hardly function as such) alternate with principals which have collars but no arched-bracing. Much carving: bosses, angels, cusping above the hammerbeams. Cornice of trail motif, and linenfold frieze. Masks, beasts and figures, and both secular and sacred subjects at the feet of the alternate trusses. The two easternmost hammerbeam bays (over the earlier chancel) are very elaborately treated. Many of their members are enriched, and at collar level is an exquisite panelled ceiling of filigree Celtic intricacy. The nave roof is said, most improbably, to have come from Valle Crucis. Curious wall-post brackets do suggest the possibility of some post-Reformation re-assembly, but there is no other evidence of importation apparent, and nave and aisle roofs seem to belong together (fuller descriptions appear in the listed building report and elsewhere).

North wall: arcade. Three close-set corbels project over the second pier, for which no obvious explanation. The only fitting is a marble mural tablet of 1851.

East wall: iron screen, plus large Victorian chancel arch.

South wall: a three-bay arcade of Victorian date, imitating its medieval counterpart in the north aisle, plus a much smaller infilling bay at the east end. Early English south door is simpler on inside with only one moulded order, and a two-centred arch.

West wall: round-headed tower arch.

Chancel. General. Two steps up from nave, one more to sanctuary and one to altar. Floor incorporates encaustic tiles but carpet over much of chancel; raised choir stalls. Wagon roof of 24 ribbed panels, painted blue.

North wall: Victorian, two-bay arcade, the more a blind arch with a credence.

South wall: splayed window with sedilia and piscina beneath. One bay of arcade filled with organ and two small windows above.

South Aisle. General. Wooden block floor, raised benches. Roof of three bays plus a half bay over the inner porch; Victorian hammerbeam trusses supported on stone corbels.

North wall: arcade.

East wall: two-centred arch completely blocked by organ.

South wall: wall supports wooden war memorial plaque and Ladies of Llangollen memorial (1937).

Churchyard

Llangollen churchyard is a polygonal enclosure with the church tucked so far into the extreme eastern corner to the extent that it is not to possible to walk around the complete circuit. It is a reasonable assumption that not only has there been some minor encroachment on the west side where the buildings of the Hand Hotel appear to impinge on the shallow arc of the original boundary, but also that chunks of a larger enclosure have been cut away on the south and perhaps the east as well.

The present churchyard is well maintained and relatively level, though the ground drops away gently on the north side of the church towards the Dee. Ignoring the topographical modifications imposed by the development of Llangollen, it appears that the church was established on the edge of the river valley.

Boundary: on the north it is a well-made, mortared retaining wall (now a listed structure) which below the chancel is around 3m high, but this gives way to a stub wall surmounted by railings around the east side of the chancel. Elsewhere buildings and low walls form the churchyard boundary, but on the south side there are railings and a hedge. The churchyard shows signs of being raised on the north and east, but on the south the ground either side of the boundary is level, another sign perhaps that the perimeter on this side has been moved in the last few hundred years.

Monuments: marked graves are spread throughout the churchyard though not very densely. There are a few very late 18thC monuments on the north side and a stone of 1737 is pinned to the north wall of the north aisle. Chest tombs are quite common on the west and there has also been some clearing of stones back to the wall edge. Further 18thC examples lies to the south of the church, the earliest noted being 1769.

Furniture: modern sundial and gnomon (1988) set on a waisted stone pillar which stands on an earlier three-step circular base.

Earthworks: none.

Ancillary features: a modern lychgate on the south opposite the main entrance, unattractive wrought iron gates on the west and iron gates supported on octagonal iron piers at the south-west. Tarmac paths, but a brick path from the lychgate.

Vegetation: five yew trees of no great age scattered around the south and west sides; other deciduous and coniferous trees throughout the churchyard.

Sources consulted

Cadw Schedule of Listed Buildings: Llangollen 1989
CPAT air photo: 1995,95-002-0007/0009;95-005-0008/0011; 95-C-0040/0041
CPAT Field Visit: 29 October 1996
Crossley 1946, 31
Faculty: NLW/SA/FB/3: 1863
Ffoulkes-Jones 1980
Glynne 1884, 188
Hubbard 1986, 219.
Quinquennial Review: 1986
Quinquennial Review: 1994
Radford 1959, 93
Thomas 1911, 282
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 Llangollen 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 ( 22:01:47 ).
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.

Privacy and cookies