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Flintshire Churches Survey

Church of St Mary , Cilcain

Cilcain Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Cilcain in the county of Flintshire. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ1763865160.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16747 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Cilcain Church, CPAT copyright photo 2390-37.JPG


St Mary's church occupies a sub-circular churchyard on the western edge of Cilcain village and is a double-naved structure with a western tower. Parts of the northern nave have been attributed to the 12th or 13thC, but most of the church including the tower is 15thC. The south nave has a spectacular Perpendicular hammerbeam roof, traditionally thought to have come from Basingwerk Abbey. There is a fragmentary font, perhaps of Norman origin, some broken 14thC sepulchral slabs, and a small amount of 16thC stained glass. The north nave is now partitioned off and used only as a vestry.

Original stone church of 13thC or even 12thC, but how much of this survives is unclear for the masonry phases are difficult to unravel. The tower and aisles are all in variations of the same masonry, but it is generally considered that, internally, part of the south wall of the north nave is original.

Thus the north nave is supposed to be the earliest but it was certainly improved with Perpendicular fenestration before being damaged by fire in 1532. Rebuilt but to a unknown degree in 1746.

The south nave is said to have been added in the 15thC, presumably replacing an earlier aisle.

Bottom portion of the tower is considered to be 15thC, but a round-headed doorway inserted in the ?18thC, and the belfry windows and battlements added in the 19thC.

South porch added 1888-9.

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


An early medieval origin is suggested by the morphology of the churchyard and perhaps the location.

The church does not seem to have been recorded in the Norwich Taxation of 1254, but it is documented in the Lincoln Taxation of 1291 as 'Ecclia de Kylkeyn' at a value of 11 1s 8d. Some of that 13thC building survives in the present north nave but there was a building programme in the 15thC which saw the addition of the south nave and the tower.

The north aisle was burnt down in 1532. It was rebuilt in 1746 at the personal expense of the Rev Davies, having stood without a roof for over 200 years.

It has been suggested that repairs to the roof in 1786-7, which included reslating, provided the opportunity for replacing an early roof with the carved and ornate timbers from Basingwerk Abbey, but there is no substantive evidence for this derivation though there can be little doubt that the roof was not originally designed for this church. At this time, too, a gallery may have been constructed at the west end of the south nave. Access was presumably by a staircase leading from the present alcove on the west side of the internal doorway that leads to the north aisle. The present reredos may have been fashioned from the front of the gallery. The priest's door on the south side of the church was blocked at this time.

Restoration work by Ambrose Poynter took place in 1845/6, and included work on the nave roof which was described in detail, as were other discoveries, in 'Archaeologia Cambrensis' in the following year.

Glynne visited Cilcain at an unknown date in the 19thC. He implies that the tower was largely brick-built but may be referring to the upper stage. Noted briefly are the rebuilding of the north wall, the Perpendicular east window and the arcade with its differing pillars. The tradition that the south nave roof came from Basingwerk is reiterated.

More substantial restoration was undertaken by John Douglas in 1888-9. This included removing the plaster from the inner wall faces, screening off the nave from the north aisle, reflooring the sanctuary and the south nave and replacing the pews. The south porch was rebuilt and fitted with iron gates and two diagonal buttresses were added to the tower. The brickwork on the top of the tower was replaced by stone and a new window was inserted into the west face. Windows were renewed on the east, west and south sides. The organ loft and west gallery were removed and the east end of the north aisle was partitioned off to form a vestry which included the organ. The churchyard was levelled around the church where necessary, and soil was removed from the church floor to accommodate a cellar for the heating apparatus at the west end of the north aisle. The church was restored at the expense of William Barber Buddicom, a railway engineer of Penbedw Hall, near Nannerch. He died before the restoration was complete and his widow carried on the work in his memory.

In 1935-37 repairs to the roof were carried out by F.H. Crossley.


The church consists of a double nave, though the north side is often termed a north aisle, a west tower at the west end of the north nave and a south porch. It is oriented north-east to south-west, but 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted here for descriptive purposes.

Fabrics: 'A' comprises irregular lumps of grey sedimentary stone (perhaps a siltstone), some limestone blocks, some buff coloured sandstone and some pebblestones; randomly cursed, rough appearance and much weathered. 'B' is similar to 'A' but contains red sandstone blocks in addition. It is not clear whether 'B' is simply a variation on 'A' or a fabric in its own right. 'C' consists of regular blocks and slabs of limestone, medium in size; some coursing.

Roofs:- slate roofs with black ceramic ridge tiles over the north aisle and porch, red over the nave.

Drainage:- renewed guttering and downspouts lead to soakaways. A concrete drainage channel runs the length of the north wall.


Tower - General. A squat tower. Lower courses in fabric 'A', and battered to a height of c.1m. Then a weathered string course c.2m above ground level, and an upper string course below the belfry; the upper part of the tower is in 'B' but the belfry string course marks the change to 'C'. Another string course with a cavetto soffit and then a battlemented parapet in ashlar surmounted by four corner pinnacles in buff coloured sandstone. Stepped diagonal buttresses in 'C' at western corners, added with the battlements during the 1888 restoration work, and a clasping buttress to the north-east angle. The tower is topped by a low pyramidal roof with a weathercock.

North wall:- doorway with round-headed arch, the jambs and voussoirs in limestone, and clearly inserted into the 'A' masonry. The lowest string course is broken and above this 'A' gives way to 'B'. Immediately below the belfry window the wall is rebuilt in 'C', a wedge of this masonry tapering down to a point. The belfry window has a square-headed frame, and the arch is four-centred with a wide, cusped, ogee-headed light below, all in red sandstone. Plain waterspout from the battlements.

East wall:- aisle roof rises to about half the height of the tower. Just below the second string course is a flat-headed slit window with dressings of buff-yellow colour. Belfry window of standard form except that it has two louvred lights.

South wall:- lower courses in 'A' but sandstone slabs tend to blur the distinction between 'A' and 'B'. The lowest string course broken and above this is a broad slit window, its jambs mainly of limestone and with rendered edges. Masonry in this part of the wall more 'A' than 'B'. Standard belfry window with two lights; battlements etc, and again the wall rebuilt in 'C' immediately below the window.

West wall:- heavily covered in ivy and some remnant render/limewash. Appears to be mainly 'A' with 'C' high up. The belfry window has a single light.

North aisle - General. The original nave, but narrower and lower than the present nave and chancel. Of 13thC origin but reportedly rebuilt in 1746. How much was rebuilt it is impossible to determine from the fabric.

North wall:- the masonry is 'B' type but with limestone predominating. From the west a doorway with moulded jambs and a round-headed arch all in buff-brown sandstone. Two windows of similar design with round-headed arches and east of the more easterly window a chimney rises above the eaves; the windows retain most of their original 18thC glass. At the east angle the wall face is inset indicating complete rebuilding over the last 1m, and the quoins are in the same coloured sandstone as the window dressings.

East wall:- the fabric is as the north wall. The east window small in relation to the wall as a whole: a four-centred arch with hoodmould over three cinquefoiled lights with panel tracery above, the panels with trefoiled heads; the jambs have hollow chamfers. Some original tracery survives though not in good condition; most jamb and archstones renewed.

South nave and chancel - General. Not differentiated externally.

East wall:- in a variation in 'A', but much of the wall hidden by vegetation. Later than the north nave, it has a clear juncture with the latter's east wall and is outset from it. The Perpendicular east window, larger than its counterpart in the north nave, has five cinquefoiled lights and panel tracery. under a four-centred arch with a hoodmould and weathered stops. Some of the jambstones and perhaps some of the tracery are original. Higher up in the gable are two holes of regular circular shape. Quoins at south-east angle are in red and yellow sandstone below and limestone above; only the yellow sandstone is original.

South wall:- masonry is as in the east wall but there is patching to the wall face which stands out. The features from the east are: i) a square-headed window in red sandstone; the four cusped lights are divided into pairs, each pair under a round-headed arch. Similarities with the belfry windows and dating from the restoration of 1888/9. Above this window regular blocks of limestone show the rebuilding that accompanied its insertion. ii) a priest's door with a four-centred arch, now blocked off in limestone; the arch stones in pink limestone, the jambs in buff-yellow and all showing signs of wear. iii) window as i) though it may be fractionally wider. Some re-use of yellow sandstone above and to one side of the window though none of the blocks are obviously dressings. iv) square-headed restoration window with three cusped, two-centred lights, all in uniform pink sandstone, and like the other two windows with a protruding sill of fired clay tiles. v) porch. The south-west angle has quoins which are predominantly of yellow sandstone.

West wall:- in a variation of 'A'. Some evidence at the top that the roof has been raised by around 0.4m, and explains why the window appears slightly off-centre (Note that there is nothing directly comparable at the east end). This window has a basket arch with three cinquefoiled, ogee-headed lights with cusped panel tracery, all 19thC.

South porch - General. Added in 1888/9 in 'C'.

East and west walls:- small windows to the same general design as the belfry with broad ogee-heads in pink sandstone.

South wall:- a four-centred doorway with moulded jambs and a hoodmould with simple out-turned stops. Below springer level is a zone of ashlar masonry across the front of the wall. Above the doorway a small window, comparable with those in the side walls; a lamp above it. The entrance is closed off by wrought iron gates with gilded decoration. These are of c.1720 manufactured by the Davies family of Bersham and were brought from Mold Church where they formed the entrance to the Wynne chapel, prior to the 1856 restoration.


Porch - General. Flagstone floor. East and west apertures in splayed openings. Boarded timber ceiling with simple rafters and purlins.

North wall:- four-centred arch to main church in red sandstone; chamfered dressings with double broach stops, 0.7m off the ground; some of the arch stones renewed; sharpening marks on some jambstones. Door itself may be 18thC.

East wall:- a wooden First World War memorial.

Tower - General. Narrower than the north aisle. A rough concreted floor, roughly rendered; whitewashed walls to a height of 3m which, with a projecting corbel, marks a floor now removed. Now open to the timber floor below the belfry and approached by a ladder. Owen noted that beams in the belfry were supported on corbels with heads and other engravings comparable with those in the nave roof (see below) - these have not been confirmed.

North wall:- doorway with segmental head to reveal, approached by one low step.

West wall:- one slit window.

North aisle - General. The original nave but now used for storage and at the east end a vestry has been partitioned off. Concrete floor with loose carpets, but a vault slab towards the east end. The floor level is below the ground level of the churchyard, and the vestry with its woodblock floor is one step above the general level. A boiler is sunk into the floor at the west end. All stonework exposed, except on the east wall which is partly plastered. The roof has seven bays separated by six arch-braced collars with king and raking struts; through purlins and boarded behind.

North wall:- four steps to the disused north door; voussoired arch to its reveal and also to the window reveals. In the north-west angle is a buttress rising to roof level - its significance is not clear (see also west wall below) On the wall a brass recording the rebuilding in 1746 and a benefaction board.

East wall:- lower part of the wall plastered.

South wall:- at the eastern end is a three-bay arcade in Decorated style with moulded two-centred arches of three orders, on octagonal stone piers with moulded capitals and splayed column bases; in grey sandstone with limewash traces still evident. West of the third bay is a juncture in the masonry indicating a change in the walling and it is believed that the western part of the south wall could be 13thC if not earlier. Cut through this is a cruder and wider bay in Perpendicular style, with a four-centred arch of two orders with plain chamfered responds rather than piers. Immediately to the west is another change in the masonry as a result of this insertion. West of this bay the early walling is broken also by a doorway which provides access from the nave to the north aisle. This has a four-centred arch with chamfered jambs and is presumably 15thC, though its stonework is similar to that of the Decorated bays. The recess to the west side of this connecting door was the site of a staircase to the singers' gallery which was removed in 1888.The bays of the arcade are now closed off by glazed wooden panelling inserted by Douglas in the 19thC; the lower panelling may have been made from reused pews.

West wall:- a narrow square-headed doorway leads to the basement of the tower and is approached by three steps. The doorway is dated to 1746 when the north aisle was restored. North of the door the wall is wider and as with the buttress in the north-west angle this is difficult to explain, though it has been suggested (on uncertain grounds) that it relates to the former gallery.

Nave - General. Floor one step below the porch and of flagstones including at least nine graveslabs ranging from 1669 to 1830, and one with an inset brass plate of 1768. Two rows of benches on flush woodblock floors. Walls show bare stonework. Roof of four main bays defined by hammerbeam trusses with arch-braced collars and the tympana above them pierced by cusped apertures. In between are four further arch-braced collars with queen struts and subsidiary collars and quatrefoils between the struts. Angels on the hammerbeams carry shields bearing emblems of the Passion, and there are secular carvings and grotesque forms of animals and human figures on the bosses and on the wallplates beneath the arched-braced trusses. All the timberwork is moulded including the purlins and rafters. Above the wallplates is blind arcading with cusped ogee-tracery, showing some signs of replacement. There are no angels on the extreme west hammerbeam - presumably they could not be accommodated against the west wall. The general belief is that the roof was imported from elsewhere for it does not relate to the arcade, the scale implies it should be at a greater height, and the unequal distances at which the principal rafters are fixed suggest that it was made for some other church. Tradition suggests it came from Basingwerk Abbey after the Dissolution, though this has been questioned in recent years. It was repaired and restored in 1846, and one of the westernmost shields bears the inscription 'WB MJ 1888'.

North wall:- arcade as described above under south wall of north aisle. The alcove at the west end has a blind two-centred arch and as noted above is supposed to have related to the gallery. Over the Decorated arches further east is a continuous hoodmould; at the west end it terminates in a head stop, the head a caricature of medieval date, though the hoodmould stone behind it has been replaced. Also on the wall is a Psalm board in Welsh.

East wall:- one step up to the chancel. The change in the style of the roof (see below) is not in line with the division, for the last of the hammerbeams is about one metre to the east.

South wall: - tracery in most easterly window could be old, the rest replaced. The arches of the reveals consist of long limestone slabs: and there is a general impression that some of the reveals have been rebuilt. The doorway is slightly splayed. One memorial of 1718 in the reveal of the most easterly window. Elsewhere on the wall a First World War brass memorial.

West wall:- Decalogue and Psalm boards below the window, and to the south side of the window a corbelled 'buttress' rises up the wall and behind the roof, and presumably indicates a chimney.

Chancel - General. One step up from the nave, with further steps to the sanctuary and to the altar. The 19thC tiled floor includes two marble slabs to Thomas Hughes (d.1826) and Thomas Mostyn Edwards (d.1832), and encaustic tiles. Longitudinal choir stalls with carved fronts rest on herringbone woodblock. The simple wagon roof of two bays is coved with decorated purlins, moulded ribs and quatrefoil tracery. Above the wallplates are friezes of running foliate ornament, and much of this is earlier than the roof itself. Over the sanctuary the panelled background is painted red.

North wall:- the easternmost bay of the Decorated arcade is filled with the organ (installed in 1912 by Rushworth and Dreaper to replace a small organ brought from Llandyrnog church in 1888). The hoodmould over the arcade continues from the nave and terminates in a Victorian floriate design of pink sandstone.

East wall:- wood-panelled reredos, and the wall above this is plastered and painted. Monuments of 1731 and 1832 on the wall.

South wall:- a wooden sedile set in a recess below the south window. A bench with a carved head set against the south wall covers the head of an arched reveal. This is presumed to be the priest's door, yet the arch is very broad and could be for a tomb recess. Also two 19thC marble memorials and one 19thC brass.


The churchyard is a raised oval enclosure. Closed for burials, and a modern cemetery consecrated in 1899 is located on the north side of the village. The ground was levelled around the church during the 1887 restoration and in 1973 work in the churchyard included the removal of headstones and kerbstones.

Boundary:- a stone revetment wall, up to 2m high on the north side but less high elsewhere. Repaired in the 1980s.

Monuments:- scattered marked graves and areas of graves now laid flat and grassed over, though some upright markers to both north and south. The south path is lined with graves of 18thC and 19thC date laid flat. The car parking area is surrounded by re-sited grave slabs also of 18thC and 19thC date, the earliest noted of 1731. Along the south side of the church slabs laid flat include 1737 and 1739 examples.

Furniture:- east of the chancel is the stone pillar of the old cross, c.0.3m square; it is octagonal with broach stops at the base, and part of the socket remains. When Owen recorded it in the later part of the 19thC it was on the south side of the church, was reinforced by an iron band and, at over 7 feet, was considerably higher than today. He attributed it to the 14thC. The stone plinth for a sundial, c.1m high and sans plate and gnomon, has a rectangular section and chamfered edges, and is sited to the south of the chancel.

Earthworks:- the churchyard is raised up to 1m on the west and the east, 1.5m on the north, and up to 2m on the south.

Ancillary features:- the east lychgate has limestone walls c.2.2m high supporting 19thC timber framing over a pair of decorative iron gates. Slit apertures in the side walls and cobblestones set in the entrance. A hearse house of about 1810 adjoins the lychgate. A tarmac path leads up to south porch. There is a single western gate and to the north of it a pair of double gates lead into a car parking area created at the west side of the churchyard.

Vegetation:- mature poplars and horse chestnuts overhang the churchyard on the north and west sides.

Sources consulted

Anon 1847
Cadw Schedule of Listed Buildings 1995
Church guide: n.d.
CPAT Field Visits: 7 November 1996 and 15 December 1998
Clwyd SMR
Faculty: St Asaph 1887 (NLW): restoration of church
Faculty: St Asaph 1899 (NLW): addition to churchyard
Flintshire County Record Office: Parish Records D/GL/472
Glynne 1884, 182
Gresham 1968, 125, 133, 147, 173, 210, 241
Hubbard 1986, 337
Neaverson 1953-54, 10
NMR Aberystwyth
Owen 1886, 7
Quinquennial Report 1986
RCAHMW 1912, 14
Thomas 1911, 367
Westwood 1846
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 Cilcain Church may also be found on the St Asaph Diocese website.

The CPAT Flintshire 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 ( 22:01:53 ).
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 -, website -

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