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Flintshire Churches Survey

Church of St Mary , Nercwys

Nercwys Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Nercwys in the county of Flintshire. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ2347960421.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16920 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Nercwys Church, CPAT copyright photo CS964035.JPG

Summary

The church of St Mary at Nercwys, less than three miles south of Mold contains what is considered to be a Norman tower arch, and some medieval masonry in its nave, but much of the cruciform church with its west tower is of 18thC and 19thC origin. It houses a rich collection of furnishings and fittings including fragments of medieval graveslabs from the mid-13thC, a late medieval arched-braced roof, some late medieval stained glass, a sedilia and pulpit fashioned from the medieval screen, 17thC and 18thC furniture, and some interesting memorials. The churchyard contains the Nerquis Vault and a 1768 sundial.

A Norman arch to the west tower appears to be the sole survival from an early church, though curiously Glynne referred to it as a Pointed arch (i.e. Gothic), and this may cause some disquiet. Masonry in the nave may be medieval, perhaps earlier than the Perpendicular windows that form the first datable architectural features, and suggestive of a single-chambered structure.

There could have been some 17thC construction: Hubbard attributed both the gallery door in the tower and the south door to this time, though an 18thC date seems equally plausible. The tower was partially rebuilt in 1723, and on this basis the lowest sections should be earlier, perhaps even medieval. The porch was in existence in 1781, though some 19thC rebuilding is likely.

The north and south transepts were added in 1847, the north aisle and the chancel between 1882 to 1884.

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

History

There is little to suggest that this church originated in the early medieval period.

It is first recorded in the Lincoln Taxation of 1291 as a chapelry to the mother church at Mold. The Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535 refers to this as one of the three chapels attached to Mold.

The 15thC church may have been a single-chambered structure with a west tower in the Perpendicular style. 16thC records (from 1530) refer to the local gentry quarreling about their rights to certain seats and burial places within the chancel. By March 1579, the church had been defaced and the Communion table discarded.

In the post-Reformation era the church was a simple parallelogram separated into a nave and chancel by a rood screen; it probably had a south porch and certainly a west tower to which was added a slated spire in 1723 when the tower was partially rebuilt. Benefactors of the church during this era included the Wynns who built Nerquis Hall in 1637.

Much of the tower appears to have been rebuilt in 1723.

In 1729 and 1749, the Rural Dean reported that the chapel was in a good state of repair both externally and internally and that the floor was flagged. But by 1749 the bell was broken and had been sent for recasting. There is no record of the construction of the south porch, but it was flagged in 1781, and the steeple was again repaired in 1784. Works undertaken by the descendents of the Wynns included common seatings at the west end of the church, gallery seating and a new organ, the construction of an arch below the gallery and various Communion gifts.

The church roof was repaired in 1832, and commemorated on an inscribed stone with the churchwardens' names which is now set in the east wall of the churchyard.

In 1839 Sir Stephen Glynne noted the west tower with only one narrow aperture on the west side, a shingled spire, the south porch, and a number of Perpendicular windows, one with a hoodmould with large head corbels. Internally there was a large gallery at the west end which cut across the tower arch with its Pointed arch. A modern iron partition across the chancel, a large canopied pew of the early 17thC, part of the rood screen 'of rather uncommon character and of considerable beauty', and an elegant pulpit were all mentioned. Finally 'the contrivance for a font is somewhat curious. A small cavity is made in the sill of one of the south windows, in which is inserted a common earthenware basin'.

Photographs and plans of the old church (now in the vestry) reveal that the pre-restoration nave had a single-light window at the west end and there was a three light window at the east end.

In 1847, the north and south transepts and a recess for the altar were added to the design of Thomas Jones of Chester, and a stone commemorating that work is set in the churchyard wall on the east side. During the work decorated stones and coffin lids were found in the north wall and an aumbry was uncovered in the east wall. A piscina was inserted into the south wall and a new font on a baluster pediment replaced the old. This itself was replaced in 1883.

A new chancel was built in 1882-4 by J. Oldrid Scott, the north aisle was added to the nave, oak shingles replaced the slated ones on the tower, and fragments of medieval glass were incorporated into the east window. The west gallery was removed and old panelling from the pews was used to create a dado. Benches from the old gallery were used as seats around the interior of the tower to form a ground floor baptistry. The demolition of the gallery revealed the Norman arch and a round-headed doorway leading from the tower to the gallery. The removal of plaster from the ceiling uncovered a plain 15thC oak roof; the paint was stripped from the late medieval pulpit. A new font was installed and a portion of the old one with ball flower ornament was made into the base of a stone credence. The vestry was formed by partitioning off part of the north transept by a screen, general repairs were made to the church and tower walls. Plans of this work are retained in the vestry. The cost was 2100.

A coal house was added in 1884, and oil-fired heating installed 1968. The shingles on the spire were renewed in the 1970s.

Architecture

The church consists of a nave and chancel, a west tower, a north aisle, south and north transepts and a south porch. It is oriented slightly north of due east, but 'ecclesiastical east' is used here for descriptive purposes.

Fabrics: 'A' is of medium-grained yellow, grey and buff-coloured sandstone and possibly occasional blocks of limestone, all in irregular small to medium blocks; some coursing. 'B' is of small to medium-sized blocks of yellow and orange sandstone, with much less frequent brown and grey; some shaped irregularly; irregular coursing. No obvious limewash. 'C' is of blocks and some long slabs of grey sandstone, roughly fashioned; irregular coursing. 'D' is of blocks of buff-grey and brown sandstone, roughly fashioned and coursed. 'E' is in sandstone, predominantly grey, with some rounded lumps and generally less regular than other fabrics; some limewash residue.

E' is almost certainly medieval, possibly 15thC though it could easily be earlier, 'A' is undated but could be medieval, though possibly later, 'C' is of 1723, 'D' is of 1847, and 'B' is of 1882-4'.

Roofs:- slates with red ceramic ridge tiles. The broach spire is clad in shingles. Cross finials over the south porch, the chancel and south transept. A different type of stone cross finial denotes the eastern end of the pre-1883 building.

Drainage:- 19thC guttering and downspouts with decorated cisterns. A gravel band provides a slight sunken walkway around the church and may well cover a drainage trench around the walls.

Exterior

Tower - General. The square western tower in 'A' is probably of three stages. It has a solid, rectangular-sectioned, string course at 1m above ground level, and above this the walls are battered to a height of about 3m. The tower is surmounted by an octagonal broach spire which has, on each side, a group of three louvred ogee-headed lights all in wood, opening onto the bell chamber. Topping the spire is a weathervane dated to 1866, but Hubbard thought the spire itself was medieval.

North wall:- 'WJH' is carved on one of the 19thC stones replaced in the string course at the north-west angle. Higher up is a small square-headed window without chamfers to the dressings and certainly inserted. From about this level the masonry is classed as 'C'.

East wall:- abuts nave, the apex of which reaches almost to the level of the tower eaves. The only masonry visible is probably 'C'.

South wall:- most if not all of the wall is in 'A'. A former doorway in this wall now contains a 19thC window with paired lancets divided horizontally by a transom. There is now no sign of the door, nor any indication of whether it reached to ground level or was approached by steps. There is some stone infill below window. A single square-headed staircase window is located in the second stage, and towards the south-east corner of the wall.

West wall:- there are no windows, but there is an inscribed sandstone block about two-thirds of the way up the wall face stating: 'Repaired 1723. Wardens M R C Williams. Edwd Parry'. This is in the middle of a zone of 'C' which runs down the northern half of this wall face, and it suggests that this fabric reveals rebuilding in 1723. At a lower level on one of the quoins at the north-west angle is a further inscription: 'This church restored and enlarged T. H. Lloyd BA Vicar. R Lloyd Fletcher [and] R Ingman Churchwardens. J D Scott Architect'. The appearance of this quoin suggests that most of the wall quoins were replaced in 1882-4.

North aisle - General. From 1882-4 in 'B'. Lean-to roof continues the slope of the nave/chancel roofline.

North wall:- two frameless windows of three, stepped trefoiled lights set directly into the wall face, with voussoired relieving arches over them. Dormers in the roof allow the windows to be carried higher.

East and south walls:- not present.

West wall:- a single trefoiled light.

North transept - General. From 1847 in 'D'.

North wall:- the gable end has an octagonal chimney over a former fireplace. In the gable is a chamfered, two-centred slit window. and below this is a square-headed window with a label and Victorian head stops over three cinquefoiled, ogee-headed lights. A Perpendicular-style window but wholly of 1847.

East wall:- an inserted window of 1882-4, with two cusped, two-centred lights and Y-tracery under a two-centred arch with a hoodmould, and a relieving arch above. Also a shouldered arch to a doorway.

West wall:- no apertures.

Nave - General. In 'E'. Note that the top of the south wall at the south-west angle has a projecting block of stone supported on corbels - its significance is uncertain.

South wall:- features from the west are: i) a 19thC window with a two-centred arch and Y-tracery; a hoodmould over. Hubbard felt this might be a reliable copy of a medieval window. ii) the south porch. iii) a boiler house of 1882-4 in the angle between the nave wall and the porch. An octagonal yellow sandstone chimney rises above the nave roof. iv) a Perpendicular window with a four-centred arch over three trefoiled lights, the central one two-centred, the outer two four-centred, and hollow-chambered jambs; a hoodmould with grotesque mask stops. Most of the dressings appear to be original. v) the south transept.

West wall:- visible to either side of tower, but without features. The masonry is original but the quoins almost certainly replaced.

Chancel - General. Built in 1882-84. In 'D'. A string course along the east side continues around the corners and for 0.6m along the north and south walls.

North wall:- three stepped, trefoiled lights under a two-centred arch with a hoodmould and stone voussoirs.

East wall:- a segmental arch to the window with five cinquefoiled, two-centred lights, a hoodmould and a relieving arch. At sill level is the string course referred to above.

South wall:- window, as that on the north side.

South Transept - In 'D' and dated to 1847.

East wall:- no windows.

South wall:- in the gable is a slit window as in the north transept. Below it is a Perpendicular window, probably moved from the south wall of the nave in 1847, and consisting of three stepped, two-centred lights under a four-centred arch with a hoodmould in yellow sandstone; the jambstones are hollow-chamfered and there are sunken spandrels. Some original dressings.

West wall:- plain but a recess has been left for the mask stop of the adjacent nave window.

South Porch - General. Abuts south wall of nave.

East wall:- a single trefoiled light of 19thC date.

South wall:- a simple two-centred arch over a planked and studded door. The upper part of the wall face appears to be in 'B'.

West wall:- as east wall. The stonework is rather mixed and could be 'D'-type.

Interior

Porch - General. Stone flagged floor, plastered and painted walls, and a modern planked ceiling with exposed rafters and through purlins.

North wall:- doorway to the church has a round-headed arch with stopped chamfers; the dressings alone are exposed, but this is certainly not Norman - Hubbard placed it as 17thC. A heavy nailed door is considered by the same authority to be contemporary with the doorway.

East wall:- shoulder-arched recess to window, and a stone bench along the wall side. Two of the stones forming the seats carry fragmentary inscriptions. Cemented to the wall and seats are four decorated medieval slabs.

South wall:- a square-headed inner arch to the external two-centred arch.

West wall:- as east wall, with a further four medieval slabs.

Tower - General. Acts as a baptistry with two steps leading up from the nave. There is a stone flagged floor, wooden benches around three walls with a dado formed from old pew panels behind them. Above this the walls are plastered and painted. The flat ceiling has four joists supported on stone corbels.

North wall:- a 19thC Benefactions board and one 20thC copper memorial.

East wall:- round-headed archway (see west wall of nave below).

South wall:- the original south door into the tower is set under a moulded, shouldered arch (fashioned in corbel-style) with a deeply splayed recess. In this, now, is the inserted window of 1884, and a deep sill which supports two loose carved stones and the old stoup. Also on the south wall is a painted board with the Lords Prayer.

West wall:- Decalogue board.

North aisle - General. Flagged floor with flush woodblock flooring under the benches; walls plastered and painted, with a dado of old pew panels around the base. A lean-to roof sloping down from the arcade, the modern oak ceiling with rafters supported on stone corbels above the arcade; dormers set into the roof.

North wall:- two splayed window apertures, one of which has an Incorporated Society for Buildings and Churches' board recording a grant in 1883 placed in it, while the other has a brass of 1781.

South wall:- arcade of three round-headed arches in Caen stone supported on two octagonal stone piers with moulded capitals and bases, and on the east and west responds.

West wall:- splayed window with stained glass to Catherine Wynne Philpott (d.1871). Also a brass of 1756.

North transept - General. The southern part is an extension of the aisle and has a large 19thC graveslab set in the floor. The northern half is used as a vestry, and is separated from the aisle by a panelled screen. The vestry has a woodblock floor; walls with a dado as the aisle; and a planked, ribbed ceiling as in the south transept.

North wall:- a square-headed window embrasure, and in the angle a blocked fireplace.

East wall:- a square-headed doorway, and above it a marble memorial of 1808.

Nave - General. Two steps down from the porch. Red and black tiles in the central aisle of the nave and a flush woodblock floor under the benches; stone flags at the front and three of them have small brass plaques of 1680 recording the burial place of George Wynne. Plastered walls with exposed masonry to the window apertures, and around the base of the walls a dado derived from old pew panels incorporating six doors with armorial decorations. Late medieval roof, consisting of nine arch-braced collar trusses with raking struts, springing from the wallplates. Five bays have two tiers of cusped windbraces, the remaining four with plain ones.

North wall:- as south wall of north aisle. Above the arcade three 19thC marble memorials.

East wall:- the division provided by a low stone screen with one step up to the chancel, and a change in the roof form.

South wall:- from the west is: i) window with a deeply splayed embrasure and stained glass of the Lloyd-Fletcher family. ii) and iii) stone monuments of 1768 and 1800. iv) a segmental arch over the south doorway embrasure. v) a stone monument of 1714 over iv). vi) and vii) marble memorials of 1805 and 1918. viii) a window with 1909 stained glass. ix) a wide round-headed arch to the south transept, matching that on the north side.

West wall:- a round-headed unmoulded Norman arch of two orders in pale buff sandstone leads to the tower; there has been some replacement of the dressed stone. Above it is a round-headed gallery doorway with chamfered jambs, probably of the 18thC, though Hubbard attributed it to the 17thC. This retains its original planked and studded door. Also on the west wall is one 20thC brass.

Chancel - General. Stepped up from the nave, but otherwise continuous with it; two staggered steps to the sanctuary, two to the altar. Carpetted central aisle, raised planked floors below longitudinal choir stalls and encaustic tiles. Roof as nave but a copy by Scott: there are four arch-braced collar trusses with raking struts, the easternmost three trusses with cusped windbraces, the fourth with plain windbraces.

North wall:- marble memorials of 1705 and 1716/7. In the sanctuary, a sandstone aumbry on a pedestal.

East wall:- Caen stone reredos with a shelf above it. East window with medieval stained glass.

South wall:- unusual sedilia in the sanctuary. Two brasses of the 19thC and 20thC.

South transept - General. The flagged floor includes a graveslab of 1698, while the organ is supported on a woodblock floor. Around the wall a dado of reused pews with locks and catches, and carved panels including one with 'T.P'. The ceiling is of panelled oak with ribbed squares and diamonds.

Churchyard

The original sub-oval enclosure was extended to the north in 1884 when the course of the lane which passes the eastern perimeter of the churchyard appears to have been altered. It was further extended in c.1936 and again in 1956 on land to the north-west of the church. The extent of the original churchyard is probably defined by a line of horse chestnut trees on the north side of church. The churchyard is well-kept.

Boundary:- a stone wall around the churchyard and this takes the form of a revetment wall along the eastern side.

Monuments:- a few marked graves in the original enclosure. On the south side the graves are grassed-over and the stones have been removed, though a few have been retained and laid flat. To the north of the church the gravestones have been left, and against the east wall of the churchyard is a simple stone bearing the date 1729. The Nerquis Hall vault is marked with a gadrooned white marble sarcophagus with elaborate heraldic cartouches, all on a stepped plinth. It records successive owners of Nerquis Hall from Edward Williams (d.1737).

Furniture:- a sundial with a baluster pillar mounted on a circular plinth surrounded by graves laid flat amid a garden area. Later iron bands around the neck. The octagonal copper dial and gnomon are intact and are incised ' Lewis Thomas (of Chester) Fecit 1768'. An 1884 churchwardens' stone on the inner face of the north wall next to entrance gate.

Ancillary features:- at the south end of the churchyard is a 19thC bier house west of the main entrance which has wrought iron gates with fleur-de-lys terminals set in red sandstone piers that have pyramidal capstones. There is a single north-west gate, and also a gate to the new burial ground on the west side. Both date from Scott's restoration. Paths in the southern part of the churchyard are made up of 18thC and early 19thC gravestones laid flat. Paths tarmac elsewhere

Earthworks:- the ground is raised by c.0.5m on the west side, 1.5m on the south and east. To the north of the church is a slight dip in the ground surface, probably the edge of the original churchyard on this side.

Vegetation:- six horse chestnut trees form a ring around the church. Two yews are located near the south gate and there is a large yew near the south porch. Also recently planted trees and ornamental shrubs. Another yew further north.

Sources consulted

Clwyd SMR
CPAT Field Visits: 29 June 1996 and 27 November 1998
Crossley and Ridgway 1945, 190
Faculty: St Asaph 1882 (NLW): restoration
Faculty: St Asaph 1884 (NLW): addition to churchyard
Faculty: St Asaph 1956 (NLW): addition to churchyard
Flintshire County Record Office: P/44/1/9 (c.1750); P/44/1/51-3 (c1936)
Glynne 1884, 262
Gresham 1968, 71, 73, 88, 106, 111, 220
Hubbard 1986, 404
NMR Aberystwyth
Pritchard 1977
Quinquennial Report 1986
RCAHMW 1912, 71
Sharp 1957
Thomas 1911, 422
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 Nercwys 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 ( 22:02:01 ).
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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