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Denbighshire Churches Survey

Church of St Peter , Ruthin

Ruthin Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Ruthin in the county of Denbighshire. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ1236258379.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16952 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Ruthin Church, CPAT copyright photo CS965320.JPG

Summary

The large church of St Peter's was established in the early 14thC at the northern end of the new borough at Ruthin; its collegiate phase came to an end at the Dissolution, but as a parish church it went through various phases of modification and change. Parts of the early 14thC walling survive, but the medieval chancel was demolished in 1663, and the later 14thC south nave was completely rebuilt in the 18thC and 19thC with the exception of the internal arcade. There is a fine range of monuments, a couple of mutilated medieval effigies and a little woodwork of medieval and early post-medieval date. The churchyard is irregular and contains little that is significant to this study.

Surviving from the first church of c.1310-1315 are the tower arches and columns of early 14thC Decorated type, with worn dressings and capitals; possibly a small window on the north side, and the north doorway facing into the gardens of the Old Cloisters.

The chancel was reputedly built at the same time in 1310, but if so why are its few surviving wall stubs in limestone when the nave appears to have been wholly in sandstone?

South nave first built in second half of 14thC; apart from the arcade, only the chamfered base at the east end appears to survive, externally. Remainder of the shell is 18thC and 19thC.

The old chancel was removed (in 1663). Later in 1722 the west walls of the naves were rebuilt, and at some point (?1722 or later) the south and east walls of the nave and chancel were rebuilt, the latter from the top of the chamfer upwards, with quoins set into the wall face against the old masonry. The south nave was then raised in 1810. New windows were put in place in the mid-19thC.

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

History

At the time of the conquest of Wales by Edward I in 1282, Reginald de Grey completed the construction of Ruthin Castle, created a chartered borough and in 1286 built the 'Capella St Petri' for the inhabitants of the town. This was dependent on the parish church of Llanrhudd.

The Taxation of Pope Nicholas in 1291 recorded a church and flourishing collegiate establishment at Ruthin with the startling value of 74.

In 1310 John de Grey built a collegiate parish church, separating it from Llanrhudd, and housing seven priests who at some stage, perhaps from the beginning perhaps later, belonged to the Augustinian order of Bonhommes. This presumably replaced the chapel built in 1286 and consisted of an aisleless nave, chancel, and central tower. College buildings lay to the north of the church.

A south aisle was added in the latter half of the 14thC, creating a double-naved structure. It extended as far east as the east tower arch of the earlier part, and necessitated the creation of the arcade inside the building.

Building damaged during the Glyndwr revolt at the beginning of the 15thC.

Roof of north aisle thought to have been constructed between 1485 and 1508 on the basis of the heraldry. That in the south nave considered to be later 16thC.

The establishment was suppressed, not with the houses of secular clergy, but at the dissolution of the lesser monasteries in 1536. Subsequently, the church seems to have been used for burial and chaplains and curates appointed to serve it and Llanrhudd. In c.1589 the church and college lands were purchased by Dean Goodman who refounded the Christ's Hospital almhouses.

The original chancel was demolished in 1663, perhaps as a result of general deterioration. Materials from it were used to build the town hall, itself demolished in 1863. The tomb of Lord Grey was probably removed at this time from its position below the tower.

Repairs to the church were authorised by the Crown in 1714 but it is not known whether any money was raised for those repairs. Work was undertaken in 1720-21 at the expense of the Myddletons of Chirk Castle, and in 1722 the west end was rebuilt by the Watkin Williams Wynn family; it has also been suggested that the south side was rebuilt around this time. In 1754 it was recorded that the steeple and part of the church were becoming ruinous and dangerous.

In 1810 the north and south naves were raised in height, reputedly to match the level of the chancel. In 1811 a west gallery was constructed in the north nave, and a further gallery in the north nave was added in 1823. A vestry east of the tower was erected in 1824 but demolished in 1859.

Glynne visited in 1856 and provided an analysis of the plan. He remarked on the fine roof of the north aisle but also recognised that there was some coarse and more modern work with an inscription recording 'J.F., Churchwarden, 1731; D.D. Painter; E.O., Carpenter'. New Decorated windows had been inserted in the south wall.

Much which was done in the 18thC and early 19thC was obliterated in two separate restorations by R.K.Penson between 1854 and 1859, though at the east end, the stage of the tower above the blocked east arch is 18thC. Penson rebuilt the higher belfry storey, and added the broach spire. The steep roofs, the south porch, the round window at the west end and Decorated-style windows are by him, and includes tracery in the chancel window, which he reopened; the galleries and box pews were removed, the chancel refurbished.

Architecture

The church at Ruthin is a double-naved church consisting of a nave and chancel of equal width on the south, a second cell of similar width and length now forming a north aisle, an organ chamber and storage area, and a vestry at the east end, above which is the tower. Against the south face is a small porch.

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

Fabrics: 'A' consists of dressed limestone blocks of medium size; some coursing; quoins of mustard yellow sandstone. 'B' is similar to 'A' but the faces of the stones are pecked, giving a rougher appearance. 'C' is medium sized, regularly coursed blocks of dressed sandstone. 'D' is similar to 'C' but the blocks are better dressed and more regular, and have pecked faces; the colour of the sandstone appears to be slightly lighter. 'E' of well-dressed red sandstone, more regular than 'C', but of the same colour, mixed with limestone blocks; limestone for some of window dressings. 'F' is of small to medium, rather rough blocks of limestone, regularly coursed.

'A' is of 1722; 'E' is 18thC; 'B' is from 1810; 'D' is modern; 'C' is medieval, early 14thC, while 'F' is also probably medieval but of uncertain date.

Roof: slates with plain, grey ridge tiles, except for the porch which has red ridge tiles. No finials.

Drainage: a concrete and brick-lined drainage trench on the west and south sides, to a depth of 0.3m. Nothing visible on the east and north.

Exterior

North Aisle and base of Tower. General. Externally there is no differentiation between these two elements.

North wall: at the east end of the building, the lower part of the wall in 'C' with occasional stone replacement in 'D'. Base of wall is largely hidden by a raised flower bed which disguises a chamfered basal plinth; this plinth is of rough limestone rubble with occasional slates incorporated, the plinth of tooled sandstone. At about 2m off the ground is a string course, probably Victorian in origin, and 2m or so above this 'C' gives way to 'B'. This stretch of the north wall is about 10m long and is then interrupted by a house known as the Old Cloisters which abuts it. Close to the house wall the 'C' masonry rises higher than elsewhere to within 2m of the wall-top. Features from the east are: i) the stub of a wall projecting at right-angles, constructed in 'A' but with sandstone in the core; ii) a two-centred arched doorway all in red sandstone, the string course arcing over as a hoodmould. Chamfered dressings do not look to be of any great age and probably the whole doorway has been renewed, though Hubbard considered that there had always been a doorway here. Approached from car park by six steps. Just to the east of the door is a corbel-like projection, just below the level of the string course which, perhaps significantly, does not continue to the east of the doorway, though there is a much eroded slate slab projecting slightly and at the right level, perhaps the sole remnant of an earlier string course; iii) set into 'A' to the west of the door is a Perpendicular four-centred arched window in buff sandstone, four lights with cusped ogee-heads and panels above. There is some mullion renewal but the rest could be original though obviously re-set; iv) immediately to the west is a square-headed window with an incomplete label, two cusped two-centred arched lights with a vertical iron rod down each, and the lights themselves blocked in sandstone rubble. Buff coloured sandstone used for everything including the label; again the window is probably original, and is thought to be a Decorated feature from the first church; in any case it is re-set for around it are small infilling lumps of limestone and even a lump of brick.

To the west of the Old Cloisters, the wall face is predominantly of 'A' with occasional blocks of sandstone; there is heavy smudge pointing and some stonework has been replaced in modern ashlar; this includes a single course running for virtually the whole length of the wall, about 1m below eaves level. At the base of the wall the chamfered plinth looks to be all limestone and much of the actual chamfer has been replaced in ashlar. Almost overlapped by the west wall of the Old Cloisters is a doorway with a two-centred arch in worn red sandstone, and a second course of sandstone blocks following the curve of the arch and perhaps acting as a relieving arch; an old heavily studded doorway. The doorway is about 1m off the ground and there is no indication of the chamfered plinth below it. West of the door is a two-centred arched window with two cusped lights and a hoodmould, all in Victorian red sandstone.

East wall: wall is built of 'F' and set into this is a high four-centred arch of two orders with foliate capitals and a hoodmould with head-stops; wholly in Victorian red sandstone. It is blocked in 'B' and in this is a two-light two-centred arched window with foliate stops to the hoodmould. Projecting from the north-east angle of the wall is the truncated wall of the former chancel, also in 'F'; some sandstone shows, probably the remnants of a window surround. On the outer side of this wall is a projecting corbel.

West wall: in 'A' (and dating to 1722) to eaves level but the gable above this and around the window is in 'B'. The window has a two-centred arch, four lights, reticulated tracery and a hoodmould with foliate stops; all in deep red sandstone and of [Victorian date]; above it a relieving arch. A circular window is set high in the gable. Set into the wall almost directly below the valley between the two west gables is a laminating panel of freestone, its purpose unclear but its former inscription probably commemorated the rebuilding of 1722. Concealing the base of the wall is a boiler room and storage shed.

Nave and Chancel. General. Treated as one because no external differentiation between the two cells.

East wall: at the base of this wall is a worn chamfer which must be the survivor of an earlier wall. Above this the wall is of 'A' to eaves level with the gable in 'B'. Set in this is a four-light window with a two-centred arch of standard Victorian form, set in an infilling of 'B'. North of this are large sandstone quoins of 18thC date built into the wall face, beyond which the masonry changes to 'F', and a core of rubble incorporating sandstone lumps indicates the position of the south chancel wall.

South wall: in 'A' with a chamfered plinth and above this at the base of the window sills a string course of dressed blocks. One window to the west of the porch, four to the east; these have two-centred arches, three lights and reticulated tracery of varying types, hoodmoulds with badly weathering stops, all in deep red sandstone, all Victorian, and all inset into an earlier wall for the surrounding infill of smaller masonry is clearly evident. Stonework beneath eaves level is extremely sooty for the whole length of the wall.

West wall: chamfered plinth to height of c.1m. Masonry as west wall of north aisle, with 'A' up to eaves level and 'B' for gable. A two-centred arched window of three lights with a hexafoil light above, and in Hubbard's view earlier in style than its counterpart in the north nave, and could even be work of 1310 re-set; hoodmould and relieving arch as in north aisle; deep red sandstone; but contrary to Hubbard, all of the window is Victorian.

Porch. General. Of Victorian build in 'B' with sandstone dressings; flamboyant ogee-headed doorway with foliate stops to the hoodmould and small capitals on the two orders of small pillars.

Tower. General. 1st stage above the former crossing is in 'E'; then a stepped chamfer to the 2nd stage, and finally a spire which is a variation of a broach spire with small dormer windows at the cardinal points, and smaller ones, higher up, on the other four faces. Weathercock on top.

North wall: first stage has a two-centred arched window with louvre boards in?stone, a stopped hoodmould, and the whole is inset into the wall face with a corbel table over the top forming a 'lintel'. A clock face over the window.

East wall: in the 1st stage is a small lancet with an angular head. Otherwise a standard belfry window with a clock face over the top.

South wall: standard belfry window but under this is a large bronze plate, presumably blocking off a window or recess.

West wall: difficult to see, but 1st stage presumed to be the same as the other faces, and the 2nd and spire stages as standard.

Interior

Porch. General. Stone slab floor, scissor truss roof, all Victorian. West wall carries a wooden plaque recording the Incorporated Society for Buildings and Churches' grant in 1853.

Nave. General. Aisle and cross passage has carpet, wood block flooring elsewhere, and one heating grille in front of chancel step; pews raised on wooden platforms. Walls plastered and painted. Late Perpendicular roof of four bays with camberbeams and all the members moulded; 96 panels, each sub-divided into four, but these are plain unlike north aisle; richly carved and painted bosses, but without the variety of the north aisle. The camberbeams are supported on wall posts resting on plain stone corbels. The intervening ribbed beams -three per bay - are also supported on smaller wall posts and corbels above the arcade, but disappear into the wall on the south side.

North wall: arcade of four bays; two-centred arches with hoodmoulds and head-stops (see north aisle description). In extreme north-west corner is a niche - presumably for a stoup - with chamfered sandstone dressings and a cinquefoil head, which is half blocked by the west wall; late 14thC?

South wall: three splayed windows and a plain doorway of Victorian build. A few 19thC monuments.

West wall: in south-west angle is a flat-headed Perpendicular doorway with ribbed chamfers and much weathered (?)heads in the spandrels. The plan suggests this gave on to a mural chamber. Above and also across the angle is a corbel table supporting the last wall post.

North Aisle. General. The last bay of the aisle is partitioned off to form the organ chamber and a store. Floor of aisle carpetted, the pews as in nave, covering most of the aisle. Walls as nave. Elaborate late Perpendicular roof (late 15thC/early 16thC) of five bays separated by the principal camberbeams which as in the nave are supported on wall posts resting on plain stone corbels; again the intervening ribbed beams are also supported on smaller wall posts and corbels above the arcade. There are 120 large panels, each sub-divided into four small panels. 408 of these are carved with traceried circles, and with arms, badges, and inscriptions; families represented include the Stanleys. The most westerly large panels - 18 in all - are painted rather than carved, and it is believed that this was done perhaps by a local painter in the early 18thC (see section on history above).

North wall: two splayed windows, the more easterly in the organ chamber/store. Numerous monuments, and an alcove with a memorial panel (1918) and a brass of 1877 marks an original north door. In the extreme north-east corner there is a considerable thickening of the wall which now supports a wall post of the last truss, but must originally have had a different function. Does this indicate rebuilding?

East wall: a large two-centred tower arch, of two orders, and a hoodmould with stops in the form of heads; worn capitals; now filled in with a wooden panelled screen etc. Earlier 14thC.

South wall: five-bay arcade, hexagonal piers with notches in the diagonals, capitals having the characteristically Decorated scroll mould; hoodmoulds and head-stops which serve to link adjacent hoodmoulds; the most westerly has a foliate stop rather than a head. On the reveal of the west respond is a sunken stone panel with a much worn inscription to Symon Thelwell (d.1586).

Arcade wall has a slight outward lean, and there is also a slightly disconformity in the wall face just above the line of the corbels. The most easterly bay is blocked by the organ and is hardly visible, but as with the north-east corner there seems to be a wall thickening in the angle, though this does not rise to ceiling height and is of uncertain origin. Behind the organ is a piscina, which, though of 19thC date, had a medieval predecessor.

West wall: splayed window with relatively modern dressings. Possible disconformity in wall face in line with springers of window and perhaps equivalent to change in external masonry.

Tower. General. Ground floor now used as vestry. Wooden board floor at same level as north aisle. Bare walls except where arches panelled over; sandstone masonry to arch springer level, then limestone. Ceiled just above apex of arch and supported on both corbels and RSGs. Tower arches of early 14thC, and in pink or red sandstone.

North wall: two-centred arch of two orders, the inner one springing from much worn capitals, the outer from the wall reveal. Hoodmould with somewhat worn head-stops, that on the east shared with the eastern arch. The arch is blocked off and within this but off-centre is a plain, segmental arched doorway, with some limestone blocking as low as the top of the arch.

East wall: tower arch, two-centred, with two orders, so strongly articulated as almost to be separate arches (Hubbard); filleted shafts with foliated capitals, slightly worn; shared hood-stops to hoodmoulds. Blocked off and a slightly splayed two-light window set in it.

South wall: tower arch as north side with very worn capitals. In the blocked recess is set a deep, two-centred arched doorway, with chamfered mouldings; this too has been blocked, the blocking containing some limestone. Above the arch is a rectangular doorway, blocked in rough grey limestone. To the west is the tower stair doorway, a low two-centred arch, chamfered dressings without stops and all in red sandstone.

West wall: tower arch as east wall with very worn foliate capitals.

Chancel. General. One step up to chancel, two to sanctuary, three to altar; stone floors with carpet over; choir stalls raised. Walls as nave. Roof is a continuation of that in nave but painted blue. However, the bays are narrower with 18 panels rather than 24 to each bay and the camber beams have more decoration, and there is a little more variation in the bosses. Painted decoration dates from the restoration of 1965-6.

North wall: one bay of the arcade filled with the organ. Several elaborate marble memorials.

East wall: splayed window and two memorials.

South wall: two splayed windows, triple sedilia; four 17thC and 18thC memorials.

Churchyard

St Peter's lies not within its churchyard, but on the northern edge of an irregular enclosure. On the west side is an iron railed enclosure containing a few selected graves; to the south is part of the yard entered by the gates of 1727 (see below), but largely devoid of visible graves; and on the east are further graves in ground that slopes gently down towards Christ's Hospital. It is reported that the churchyard was closed in 1919/20. North of the church is a carpark, the Old Cloisters and its garden, and it is not evident whether any of these 'secular' areas were ever incorporated in the original churchyard.

The churchyard towers over Prior Street running around its western side, an indicator of the natural slope down to the River Clwyd but also the fact that the churchyard has been deliberately levelled up.

Boundary: on the west the boundary is a retaining wall varying between 2m and 3m high, the height of the churchyard above the road along this side. There are buildings to the south, a limestone wall to the south-east, buildings and walls on the east and a further wall on the north-east.

Monuments: to the west and south-west of the church, in a railed off area monuments are well spread and consist almost exclusively of table and chest tombs; these appear to be 19thC, but some worn examples could be later 18thC. On the south are sparse graves, usually marked by ledgers and in some instances clearly removed from their original positions. Similarly to the east there are flat slabs with one chest tomb, the majority 19thC.

Furniture: flag pole near south gate, with a lamp just to the south-east. In front of the almhouses to the east of the church is a sundial of 1990, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the founding of Christ's Hospital.

Earthworks: nothing of significance.

Ancillary features: the main churchyard gates constructed from 1720 and erected in 1727 by Robert Davies of Wrexham and paid for by the Myddletons of Chirk; restored in 1928; main gates between two-dimensional piers and smaller side gates, the work above them building up to the central overthrow; much scrollwork. Tarmac paths.

Vegetation: a few deciduous trees on the south side of the church. Yews on the east and south but mainly small.

Sources consulted

Archaeologia Cambrensis 1859, 143
CPAT Field Visit: 08 November 1996
Crossley 1946, 41
Glynne 1884, 180
Gresham 1968, 165; 238
Hubbard 1986, 273
Knowles and Hadcock 1971, 203
Lloyd Williams and Underhill 1872. pls 47-48 & 50
NMR, Aberystwyth
Neaverson 1953-54, 9
Quinquennial Report 1989
Quinquennial Report 1995
Randall 1984
Soulsby 1983, 233
Thomas 1911, 117
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 Ruthin 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 ( 22:01:38 ).
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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