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Flintshire Churches Survey

Church of St James , Holywell

Holywell Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Holywell in the county of Flintshire. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ1853376276.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16797 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Holywell Church, CPAT copyright photo 559-21.JPG


The church of St James in Holywell first appears in the records in 1093, but there can be little doubt that tradition is correct in attributing its origin to the early medieval era. The present building has a 14thC or 15thC tower, with aisles and galleries that were added in 1769-70, together with an apse of the later 19thC. Inside is the 16thC effigy of a priest, a chest and a range of memorials from the 17thC onwards. The churchyard sits in a churchyard which it shares with St Winefride's Chapel and much of which is overgrown, though monuments from the mid 17thC have been preserved.

Tower said to date from the 14thC, though the windows in the tower are Perpendicular.

The aisles, and perhaps the whole structure other than the tower, were rebuilt in 1769-70. Reputedly the gallery pillars retain earlier stonework, but this has not been proved.

The apse was added in 1884 and the north vestry in 1905.

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


The church is said to have been founded by St Beuno in the 7thC and dedicated to his niece, St Winefride. The 'Churche of Haliwell' is first recorded in a documentary source in 1093, when the wife of Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester, added the church to her husband's previous bequest to the monks of St Werburgh's at Chester.

In 1254 in the Norwich Taxation 'Ecc'a de Halliwell' was valued at 4, and in 1291 at 18.

The late 14thC or 15thC church, of which only the tower and parts of the nave remain, may have been a triple-naved structure.

The old church underwent a substantial restoration in 1715 when the roof was re-timbered, the floor flagged, the steeple leaded, and yew trees were felled in the churchyard. The building seems to have required continual repairs until 1768 when it was deemed irreparable.

In 1769-70, the north and south aisles were rebuilt and extended to the west to embrace the tower on both sides; large galleries were added and a singer's gallery was erected in the belfry. Curiously, however, a faculty petition of 1796 refers to the demolition of the north aisle and its reconstruction with a gallery. Pennant (cited by RCAHMW) indicated that the whole of the building was reconstructed. It has been suggested that the church was newly dedicated to St James at this time.

In 1884-5 Matthew Wyatt added 'a classical polygonal apse, inserted Italianate tracery in the windows, and curtailed the galleries giving them new staircases' (Hubbard). A west gallery was removed at this time. The cost of these works was 2000 (or 3000 according to the schedule of listed buildings).

Restoration work in 1905/6 included removing the wooden vestry at the east end of the south aisle and building the new stone vestry on the north-west corner. A new altar table was introduced, the pulpit was moved to the south side of the eastern pillar of the north arcade, and a prayer desk was introduced in its place. In 1908, a new organ was built and a new heating system added.

Considerable restoration work was undertaken on the tower in the 1930s. Between 1937-39 the wooden window frames in the nave were replaced by stone mullions; original glass was removed and the present coloured glass was inserted.

The timber framing of the roof was restored in 1958 and the lead roof, which had been robbed, was replaced by a stainless steel roof in 1985.

The north-west vestry, which had shown signs of subsidence since 1953, was eventually closed for use in 1988 and the west end of the north aisle was enclosed to create a new vestry.


The church comprises a tower at the west end of the nave, a chancel and north and south aisles which terminate in line with the west side of the tower, and a disused north vestry. The building is oriented east-north-east to west-south-west, but 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted here for descriptive purposes.

Fabrics: 'A' is of mainly medium blocks of buff coloured sandstone, regularly fashioned. 'B' is of small to medium blocks of buff coloured sandstone, with some red sandstone, the stones slightly irregular. 'C' is of buff-coloured ashlar sandstone. 'D' is of bull-nosed sandstone. 'E' consists of slabs and blocks of buff and brown sandstone and occasional red sandstone and grey limestone; a mixture of re-used masonry; of irregular size and the coursing also irregular.

'A' and 'B' are of 14thC date, and probably variations of the same masonry type. 'E' is of 1769-70 and 'D' is of 1905. 'C' probably reflects repairs of the recent past.

Roofs:- slates.

Drainage:- north and south wall guttering leads to downspouts. Church is terraced into the hillside on the north, east and south sides, and a flagged walkway runs around it on these sides, duplicating the effect of a drainage trench.


Tower - General. Generally in 'B'. Undifferentiated three-stage structure with a double basal plinth having two hollow-chamfered coping courses in red sandstone up to c.1.3m above ground level (but now visible only on the west side). Tower is topped by a battlemented parapet, a flat roof and a flagpole.

North wall:- a single square-headed louvred slit with chamfered jambs. Higher up a square-headed, louvred belfry window, with two plain two-centred lights.

East wall:- overlooks nave roofline. Masonry shows some ashlar patching. Belfry aperture as north wall, the mullion replaced but the rest original.

South wall:- the second stage has a square-headed window with two louvred, two-centred lights, the frame in renewed red sandstone, but the lights with their sunken spandrels in buff sandstone which is perhaps original. Around the window the wall face is patched in 'C'. The belfry window above has a four-centred arch with two, four-centred, trefoiled lights; the jambs have hollow chamfers and the dressings are original except for the mullion In the next stage a square-headed belfry window.

West wall:- the lowest courses of this wall are in 'C' suggesting masonry renewal, higher up around the main west window the masonry is 'A' and higher still 'B'. There are stepped buttresses in large linear blocks of red and yellow sandstone, mostly renewed, set at the angles and to either side of the boiler house (from 1958) which is built against this wall. Above this a window which was formerly the east window of the church, inserted into the west wall in 1884. It has a two-centred arch with a hoodmould and simple stops over three cinquefoiled, two-centred lights with cusped, panel tracery; all the dressings have been renewed in deep red sandstone. The second stage has a deep square-headed (though slightly peaked) window with moulded jambs, a pair of louvred, trefoiled, two-centred lights, the heads perhaps renewed; and the belfry stage has a window directly comparable with that in the south wall and largely original. The tower staircase is set within the south-west angle of the tower, and three small square-headed apertures pierce the west wall lighting the stairs, two together in the first stage, one of which is chamfered, and one in the third stage. High up at the south-west angle and again near the north-west one are projecting stones which could be much worn gargoyles.

North aisle - General. In fabric 'E' and dating from 1769-70, with a vestry appended to its north wall at the west end.

North wall:- the wall face tapers outwards from top to bottom. All the fenestration is Georgian. A lower stage of three segmental-headed windows with two round-headed lights; and an upper stage (lighting the gallery) of four round-headed windows over pairs of round-headed lights with circular tracery lights above. At the east end is a round-headed frame that rises from floor to ceiling and contains two sets of round-headed windows, one above the other, and the upper pair with a roundel above.

East wall:- a two-light, round-headed window incorporating a roundel and below this a two-light window with segmental arch as in the north wall.

West wall:- a continuous west wall with the tower and south aisle, these elements separated by stepped buttresses. Standard windows as in the north wall.

North-west vestry - General. Constructed in 1905, but it has broken away from the north wall of church and is now disused. Castellated parapet on the east and west sides, plain on the north.

North wall:- in a variation of 'A'. A square-headed window over two, two-centred lights with a label.

East wall:- in a variation of 'A'.

West wall:- in 'D'. Doorway with an ogee-headed inner arch under a three-centred outer arch; to the north of this is a square-headed window with three, two-centred lights, all in light buff sandstone. Doorway and window under a continuous label.

Chancel - General. Only the east wall is visible externally.

East wall:- upper part of the wall displays quoins against which the masonry of the aisles is set. Lower down these have gone, presumably as a result of the apse being knocked through.

Apse - General. Apse is lower than the chancel and aisles. In fabric 'D' with ashlar slabs at the angles and a horizontal band of the same stone at sill level. An eastern extension of 1884. It contains three pairs of round-headed lights with circular tracery lights all set in round-headed windows, broadly in keeping with the aisle windows. Above the windows is a string course.

South aisle - General. The details mirror the north aisle: in fabric 'E' and dating from 1769-70. A two-stage elevation with windows directly comparable with the north aisle, all in Georgian style.

East wall:- a single window with two lights, sub-lights and a roundel under a round-headed arch. Below this is a blocked window with a segmental arch.

South wall:- at the west end is a pedimented doorway with engaged Doric columns flanking a round-headed doorway with a projecting keystone and imposts, and above this a broken lamp bracket; the doorway has a pair of panelled doors. The frame is edged by blocks of red sandstone, and just to the east is a block of red sandstone incised with 'C C 1885' and a second with 'J J 1844'. Four lower windows and six above. There is also a blocked doorway at the east end under a segmental arch.

West wall:- as the north wall with its standard windows. Grave slabs lean against the wall.


Tower - General. Ground floor used as a baptistry. Tiled floor, bare stone walls, and a panelled wooden ceiling, with moulded ribs and cornice. A stone spiral staircase set into the south-west angle and indicated by corbelled masonry leads to the upper floors with access through a small door in the north wall of the north aisle.

North wall:- entered from the north aisle by a 14thC arch of three orders with moulded jambs, all in pink sandstone, mostly original though some renewal of the outer order. Dates of 1723 and 1731, together with other graffiti, have been carved in the soft sandstone on the wall beside the arch.

East wall:- a tall two-centred arch of two orders with moulded chamfers, opening to the nave and dating from 1884.

South wall:- arch similar to that in the north wall, but only the lower jambs are in pink sandstone, the rest in pale buff stone suggesting replacement.

West wall:- contained the original entrance door but this is now blocked and invisible. Above it is the former east window of the church with a splayed reveal having a two-centred arch with long stone voussoirs extending the full depth of a soffit.

North aisle - General. Tiled floor with herringbone woodblock below benches; heating grilles. Walls plastered and painted above a dado formed from the panelling of former box pews. The ceiling slopes down from north to south to accommodate the stepped gallery above. Over the gallery is a flat ceiling with a moulded cornice. A vestry created at the west end with the insertion of panelling, has a woodblock floor, partly carpet covered; painted walls. At the east end the aisle floor is raised up by two steps and is carpetted over the woodblocks. Above the aisle is a full-length gallery with a panelled front and round, tapering Doric columns in red sandstone rising to the roof. It is approached by a wooden dog-leg staircase against the west wall of the aisle and part of the north wall. Two chairs and a wardrobe in the gallery. Its easternmost bay was removed in 1884.

North wall:- in the vestry is the segmental-headed reveal to the blocked doorway of the 1905 vestry. Stone memorials of 1623 and 1729 and a 19thC marble memorial.

East wall:- one 19thC marble memorial.

South wall:- four-bay arcade supported on large circular piers with moulded capitals, imitating features of the medieval church. Indeed it has been suggested that medieval stonework may survive in them, and Hubbard remarked on this possibility because of a lack of correspondence with the window bays, while noting that Wyatt remodelled them in 1884-5.

Nave - General. Tiled floor with herringbone woodblock below the benches. Walls and ceiling as north aisle, though the latter is higher and is coved with a blue cornice supported on decorative corbels all around.

North wall:- pillars of the arcade as recorded above. On the pillars are three 19thC and 20thC brasses.

East wall:- three steps up to the chancel between stone screens into which are set smaller marble plaques commemorating the 1914-1918 dead.

South wall:- as north wall. Three brasses, one of 1743, the others of the 19thC and 20thC.

West wall:- the tower arch is as recorded above, but of different stonework. The outer order is in grey sandstone for the arch and pink sandstone towards the base - all of this is earlier than the inner order which dates from the restoration of 1884. Thus some of it could be medieval. One 19thC marble memorial to the south of the arch.

Chancel - General. Stepped chancel with floors carpetted over; two further steps to the sanctuary. Longitudinal choir stalls on woodblock flooring. The ceiling is a continuation of the nave.

East wall:- a moulded four-centred arch opens onto the apse. The soffit of the arch is decorated with seven painted panels.

Apse = Sanctuary - General. Floor carpetted. Walls plastered and painted. Coved plastered ceiling. Richly furnished with stained glass windows and, above the reredos, wall paintings executed between 1908 and 1922, and including copies of Veronese's Magi and Via Dolorosa and Da Vinci's Last Supper, with further paintings above the windows which are separated by pilaster columns.

South aisle - General. Tiles at front of the aisle with heating grilles, but flags at the west end include early grave slabs near the south porch. Walls and ceiling as north aisle. The east end of the aisle contains the organ which was rebuilt in the 1970s, and is now plinthed and approached by three steps. Above the aisle is a gallery directly comparable with that above the north aisle.

North wall:- arcade as on south side of north aisle, and a three-centred arch with stopped chamfers to the tower stair at the extreme west end; some renewal of the stonework. One 19thC marble memorial, and a brass benefaction tablet from the same century.

East wall:- memorials of 1741, 1797 and two of the 19thC.

South wall:- inner panelled porch to south entrance door at the west end, with pilaster columns that match the apse. Square-headed reveal to doorway at east end. A brass of 1758, and memorials and monuments of 1629, 1694, 1795 and 1803, and others completely hidden by the organ.


The churchyard is an irregular parcel of land largely to the south and east of the church, while to the west is St Winefride's Chapel. The southern part of the churchyard was landscaped in 1969 when many headstones and kerbstones were re-sited and the ground was levelled and reseeded. There is an overgrown part of the churchyard rising up the hill to the east through woodland, and also round to the north of the church. The churchyard was extended to the south in 1815 and again in 1847 on land given by Earl Grosvenor. It was closed for burials in 1864.

Boundary:- a stone revetment wall on the west above the road and a boundary wall along the south and some at least of the east. There is a high revetment wall on the north.

Monuments:- these are mostly 19thC in date, and many headstones are re-sited around the wall which encloses St Winefride's Chapel. There is a strip of land adjoining the south side of the church and west of the path leading to the church gate this has been cleared and grassed over leaving only three standing grave markers, but around the edge stones have been set as steps. East of the path is an overgrown part of the graveyard carrying 19thC tombs and graves, and around the east and north sides of the church it is equally overgrown and inaccessible. Near the south-east side of the church is a gravestone of 1728, and one of 1753 leans against the west wall, but the earliest memorials - from 1658, 1661, and 1676 - are to be found against the east wall of the south aisle.

Ancillary features:- concrete path leads downhill to the south door of the church from a pair of iron gates forming a south entrance. A second path leads in from the west gates with their overarch alongside St Winefride's Chapel. A cast iron plate set in the wall near the south entrance records the enlargement of the churchyard in 1815.

Earthworks:- raised by up to 2m on west and by many metres on the north.

Furniture:- broken pillar of a sundial lies flat in the overgrown burial ground near the south wall of the church.

Vegetation:- a yew on the north side of the west gate by St Winefride's Chapel.

Sources consulted

Cadw Schedule of Listed Buildings 1991
Church Guide n.d.
CPAT Field Visits: 30 October 1996 and 20 November 1998
Clwyd SMR
Faculty: St Asaph 1771 (Flintshire County Record Office): construction of singing gallery
Faculty: St Asaph 1796 (Flintshire County Record Office): demolition of north aisle
Faculty: St Asaph 1817 (NLW): consecration of an additional burial ground
Faculty: St Asaph 1847 (NLW): consecration of an additional burial ground
Faculty: St Asaph 1884 (NLW): faculty for alterations to the church
Faculty: St Asaph 1905 (NLW): new vestry
Gresham 1968, 159
Hubbard 1986, 373
RCAHMW 1912, 43
Quinquennial Report
Thomas 1911, 188
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 Holywell 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 ( 22:01:56 ).
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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