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Wrexham Churches Survey

Church of St Mary , Ruabon

Ruabon Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Ruabon in the county of Wrexham. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ3027943799. At one time it was dedicated to St Collen.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16950 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Ruabon Church, CPAT copyright photo 95C0045.JPG

Summary

St Mary's church in Ruabon, which almost certainly had its origin in the early medieval period, is a large structure some of which is 14thC, but displays several phases of construction particularly in its aisles. Internally it was heavily restored between 1870 and 1872, but it retains several Wynn family monuments, a tomb chest with 16thC effigies and a late 15thC wall painting which was uncovered during the restoration. Its churchyard, probably once more circular than it is today, has been largely cleared of gravestones.

The tower has been attributed to the 14thC on the basis of its overall design - a Cheshire type acccording to Hubbard - and its west door, as have the nave and aisles though without any architectural justification other than a blocked doorway. The chancel is believed to have been extended eastwards at a later date within the Middle Ages. Perpendicular fenestration was introduced into most walls of the church, though most of it was renewed or replaced in the 19thC restoration.

However, this may be a simplification for the north aisle shows two extensions. As a hypothesis we can suggest that there was a nave, chancel, south aisle and shorter north aisle, perhaps from the late 13thC. The chancel was extended eastwards, and possibly concurrently the north aisle was also enlarged so that it mirrored the south aisle.

Chapels were added to the east end of the south aisle in 1755 and to the north aisle in 1769.

1870 restoration by Ferrey included replacement of all doors and windows and the opening up of east walls of the chapels to insert windows.

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

History

The church is believed to have been established in the late 6thC by St Mabon. Certainly its siting and churchyard form suggest an early medieval foundation.

In 1253 it was recorded as being dedicated to St Collen and it appears in the Norwich Taxation of 1254 as 'Ecca Sci Colyem' at a value of 2, while in the Lincoln Taxation of 1291 it is recorded as 'Ecclia de Rywvabon' at 16 6s 8d. A new church was built by the monks of Valle Crucis Abbey sometime between 1272 and 1304 and dedicated to St Mary.

The late medieval church consisted of a nave with north and south aisles and the tower. At an unknown date the chancel was extended to the east.

A depiction of the church in 1684 by Thomas Dineley appeared in his manuscript notebook of that year. It depicts a dormer window in the south aisle roof.

A chapel was added to the east end of the south aisle in 1755, and a similar extension was made to the north aisle in 1769. At this time a restoration was undertaken by T.F. Pritchard of Shrewsbury, including raising the nave roof, setting up the Wynnstay gallery, and introducing semi-circular arches to the arcades and circular clerestorey windows.

In 1819, a fire damaged the 1768 organ which was repaired at the expense of Sir Watkin Williams Wynn. The reredos was introduced in 1845, and open seats were substituted for the pews in 1846. About this time the north chancel arch was re-opened and new altar rails inserted. Further restoration work by public subscription took place in 1858.

In 1869-72 restoration work by Benjamin Ferrey for Sir Watkin Williams Wynn included the replacement of all the roofs and the window dressings, taking up the defective wooden floors, and removing some of the old seating. The nave walls were heightened and clerestorey windows were added; the aisle arcades which seem to have been of brick were rebuilt in stone, and the chancel arch and tower arch renewed; some paving was replaced and old plaster was removed from the walls. The Wynnstay gallery at the west end was removed and the tower opened up. Buttresses were either built or rebuilt. Glynne visited the church at least three times, the last two occasions during this restoration. Significantly perhaps, his earliest (pre-restoration) statement indicates that the original arches and piers of the arcades had been replaced by plain pillars but he did not specify they were of brick. The original east window had been replaced at the beginning of the restoration in 1869 and other changes were noted.

A north porch was added in 1877.

The tower was repaired in 1901-2.

In 1980 a scheme was launched whereby St Mary's became a 'shared' church, used by the Roman Catholic Church as well as the Church in Wales. The former north porch was dismantled and its masonry reused as an east-facing porch for a new extension.

Architecture

The church comprises a high nave with clerestory, a chancel, north and south aisles, which together form a large rectangle; a tower abuts the nave, and there is a south porch and a new church room on the north side of the church.

It is oriented west-south-west/east-north-east but 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted for descriptions here.

Fabrics: 'A' is of small to medium-sized irregularly shaped blocks and slabs of sandstone, mainly buff-yellow in colour, and some quartz blocks and river pebbles; randomly coursed; heavily mortared and remnant limewash. 'B' of fine-grained, regularly cut sandstone in medium-sized rectangular blocks; coursed; some limewash residues. 'C' is of sandstone ashlar. 'D' is of small to medium blocks of rougly dressed sandstone, buff yellow in colour and coursed. 'E' is of well-dressed blocks of sandstone, buff-yellow in colour and coursed. Very similar to 'B' but seemingly better dressed. 'F' is of blocks and slabs of relatively well-dressed buff-yellow sandstone; random coursing.

'A' is original, perhaps 13thC or 14thC. 'B' and 'E' are of uncertain date but probably late medieval. 'C' is 18thC but also used for modern repairs; 'D' is 20thC; 'F' is from the 19thC restoration work.

Roofs: slates with grey clay ridge tiles. Cross finials to the east ends of the aisles and chancel, and to the south porch.

Drainage:- guttering and downspouts lead to soakaways. No obvious drainage trench around the walls, except perhaps along the north side of the north aisle.

Exterior

Tower - General. In 'E'. A double basal plinth at c.0.8m above ground level, the top with a hollowed chamfer to the coping. The plinth is continuous around the buttresses, diagonal stepped buttresses at the west corners, straight stepped buttresses at the east corners, all rising to about half way up the top stage of the tower. Three stages with chamfered string courses above the first and second stages, and a third string course with a hollowed soffit and gargoyles at the angles, below the battlemented parapet which is in 'C' and is probably 19thC. A flat roof with a flag pole which is topped with a weathervane.

North wall:- the second stage has a round-headed window, the third stage a louvred belfry window with a two-centred almost round-headed arch of two orders over a pair of trefoiled lights with a cusped tracery light above. The chamfered dressings appear to be original. In the north-eastern corner the projecting tower stair rises to the full height of the tower and has square-headed slit windows, one in the north face, one in the west. Also on the west side a square-headed doorway approached by four steps.

East wall:- visible above the nave is a standard louvred belfry window and above this a square blue clock face. Also one further slit window to the tower stair.

South wall:- some exceptionally large blocks of sandstone employed in this wall. Standard second and belfry stage windows. Centrally placed between the gargoyles is another projecting element, perhaps an angel holding a shield.

West wall:- the west doorway shows a wide, two-centred, chamfered arch, effectively of three orders, with wave moulding; the pair of panelled doors holds two two-centred lights.The upper part of the first stage contains a window with a two-centred arch over three stepped, cinquefoiled, two-centred lights with panel tracery and a crenellated transom above the central light. The jambs and voussoired arch are of dressed sandstone blocks and the window must be 19thC in origin. The second stage has another clock face, the third stage a belfry window.

Church room:- in 'D'. Linked to the body of the church by a passage where previously was the north porch.

North aisle - General. Constructed in fabrics 'A', 'E', F' and 'C'.

North wall:- from the west: i) a north-west diagonal buttress perhaps of pre-19thC date. ii) the connecting passage to the church room. Walling at the west end is 'A', but the top 1m or so is 'F', as is the case for the whole wall length. iii) a window with a two-centred arch and hoodmould with floriate stops, three lights all foiled, the inner one two-centred, the outer ones ogee-headed; above these is a quatrefoil light. All the dressings are in Victorian buff sandstone. 'F' has been used as packing around the window. iv) window with a four-centred arch with three unadorned lights; all the dressings are renewed. Below this window the masonry changes to 'B' from the foundations upwards. v) a third window as iii). vi) a straight buttress which marks the change to the north chapel of 1769. The masonry beyond this is 'C', and there is a straight joint with 'B'. vii) a blind window with projecting keystones in its square head and alternating projecting jambstones. The quoins at the north-east angle also project.

East wall:- in 'C' with a window consisting of a roundel holding three trefoil lights, and over it a hoodmould with floriate stops. Mounted on the wall a white memorial slab with an illegible inscription.

West wall:- window with a four-centred arch over three cinquefoiled, two-centred lights with foiled, panel tracery; hoodmould with a grotesque head stop on one side and a stop resembling a bunch of fruit on the other; much of the window is 19thC but some of the jambstones could be original as no doubt are the stops and perhaps the hoodmould itself. The whole wall in 'A', except for the top of the gable where about 0.5m appears to be in 'F', further evidence of the roof being raised.

Nave - General. Clerestorey windows on north and south sides, but largely invisible because of the pitched roofs of the aisles.

Chancel - General. High, pitched roof which looks out of proportion to the aisle roofs.

East wall:- at the base of the wall is a plinth with round-moulded coping and this runs around the two buttresses which define the chancel wall. The buttresses are crocketed and in Perpendicular style, but are reputedly of 18thC date. Yet they have blind arches as decoration at their heads and these are accompanied by what appear to be original medieval grotesques. Between the buttresses is a large window with a two-centred arch and hoodmould with floriate stops over five cinquefoiled, two-centred lights with hexafoils and sub-arches, inserted in 1870. Around and above this window the masonry is 'C', though the blocks below the window are larger. However, to either side are large blocks of sandstone which appear to be 'B' or 'B'-type and these are clearly earlier and probably original. They give way to 'C' below springer level.

South aisle - General. Similar in design to the north aisle.

East wall:- in 'C', with a plinthed, simply chamfered, at c.0.2m. A round window with three trefoils, and over it a hoodmould and floriate stops, parallels that in the north aisle east wall.

South wall:- two fabrics represent two major building phases. Much of the wall in 'A', although as with the north aisle the top one metre is in 'F'. The east end of the south aisle represents the 1755 addition of the south-east chapel in 'B'. Features from the west end are: i) a weathered diagonal pre-19thC south-west buttress. ii) the south porch. iii) blocked two-centred arch with chamfered dressings of a 13thC doorway. To the west of this doorway is a two-metre zone of masonry which comprises larger irregular blocks of sandstone and appears somewhat different from 'A'; but it is impossible to determine whether this represents no more than a variation in the fabric or is indicative of a structural change. iv) a 19thC buttress which partially disguises iii). v) and vi) two windows to the same pattern as those on the north side and both with 'F' packing around them. vii) 19thC buttress; the 'A' masonry stops behind it, giving way to 'C'. viii) another standard window and all the stonework around it replaced in 'F', leaving only 'C' at the extreme east end. However, the plinth seen at the base of the east wall continues around the south side, stopping just short of the buttress.

West wall:- adjoins tower. Constructed in 'A', except for its heightening in 'F', which has sealed one of the coping stones of the original gable. The window has a large two-centred arch with hoodmould and worn grotesque stops over four cinquefoiled, ogee-headed lights with panel tracery above. Most of the tracery has been replaced but some of the jambs might be original, and the stops certainly are; a chimney breast rises at the north side of the aisle adjoining the tower buttress. At the base of the wall a below-ground boiler room.

South porch - General. Constructed in 'F' in c.1870. Buttressed at the south-east and south-west corners.

East wall:- small window with two-centred arch and simple chamfered dressings.

South wall:- doorway with a two-centred arch over a vertically planked door with wrought ironwork. Wall plinthed at 0.3m above ground level. An oval plaque with a cross set in the gable.

West wall:- as east wall.

Interior

Porch - General. Same level as the churchyard. 19thC tiled floor, plastered and painted walls and a timber planked ceiling with moulded purlins.

North wall:- doorway to the church has a flat four-centred chamfered arch and moulded jambs, giving the impression of a Tudor doorway; a couple of the jambstones renewed, as also are the basal stop stones.

East and west walls:- window apertures only.

Tower - General. The first stage is divided into two by an inserted floor and these are used as vestries. Ground floor has a tiled floor, plastered and painted walls and a flat ceiling. A flight of steps on the south side leads to the first floor. This has bare walls.

East wall;- a tall two-centred tower arch of two orders and with chamfered jambs opens onto the nave. Panelling across the opening at ground floor level includes a doorway. A gallery front to the first floor vestry.

South wall:- on the wall a framed 19thC list of church fees and details of the parish charities.

West wall:- disused western door.

North aisle - General. 19thC tiled floors, with raised planked floor under benches; walls plastered and painted. Roof of five bays formed by six arch-braced collars with arcing struts, and supported on stone corbels with additonal corbels supporting the wall plate on the south side; purlins and rafters; all 19thC. A hatchment attached to the roof at the east end.

North wall:- the north door, formerly to the porch but now to the church room, has an almost flat-headed reveal; approached by two steps but now these are covered by a ramp. Marble memorials on the walls from 1712, 1760, 1803, 1807, 1825, 1828 and 1902, together with a brass set onto wood, of 1794.

East wall:- a high two-centred arch to the north chapel with moulded chamfers. Presumably 18thC but could be from the 19thC restoration. Also on the wall one 19thC brass.

South wall:- five-bay arcade consisting of chamfered two-centred arches of two orders, mounted on alternating circular and octagonal stone piers; all 19thC.

West wall:- marble memorials of 1824 and 1896, and against the wall the Nollekens monument to Henrietta Wynn made in 1773.

North-east chapel - General. Built in 1769 and contains both the Wynn monument and the Eyton effigies which were re-sited here, either at that date or when the arch was opened through to the chancel in 1845. One step up from the aisle, and a further step to the altar. Floor is carpetted, the walls as the north aisle. A 19thC planked roof with purlins.

North wall:- against the wall the monument of 1671 to Henry Wynn.

East wall:- pilasters at the north and south ends; a modern cross above the altar, and an icon to the south.

South wall:- a two-centred archway of two orders from 1845. In front a chest tomb with 16thC effigies.

Nave - General. Floor as the north aisle with one brass of 1770 set into it, and at the west end a stone slab to Richard Husketh (d.1761). Also, nearly opposite the fourth pier from the west, a large stone slab in the floor incised with 'The Chancel', presumably an indicator of the earlier layout of the church, and perhaps set there in the 19thC. Roof has six arch-braced collars springing from ornamented stone corbels, creating five bays; above the collars plates with hexafoil cut-outs; exposed rafters and purlins with windbraces.

North wall:- arcade as described under north aisle. Above are clerestorey lights: three windows with foiled ogee-headed lights with tracery above alternate with two windows with three trefoils.

East wall:- a tall two-centred chancel arch of two orders, the outer one with stopped chamfers, the inner with stiff-leaf capitals, short marble pillars and decorated corbels; a hoodmould with head stops. All 19thC. One 19thC brass refers to the east window.

South wall:- arcade comparable with that on the north side.

West wall:- a roof-line is visible just over the tower arch as a stone course set into the tower wall and interrupting one of the external string courses. Above this the wall is painted but not plastered. Presumably the pre-18thC roof line, though Hubbard thought it from the pre-Perpendicular phase. Also on the wall a brass records the donation of the clock in commemoration of one of the Wynn family (d.1883).

Chancel - General. Three steps up to the sanctuary and altar, carpetted throughout. Walls as the nave. Panelled roof - 15 panels in total - and decorated stone cornices on the north and south walls.

North wall:- two-centred archway to chapel.

East wall:- trefoil-headed niches with foliate designs to either side of the east window in Perpendicualr stye. The niches are original but the corbelled bases are 19thC.

South wall:- two-centred archway to chapel.

South aisle - General. Floor, wall and roof as north aisle.

North wall:- arcade (see nave above).

East wall:- two-centred archway to chapel of similar form to that on the north side. Now partially blocked by the organ. Metal railing across the entrance to the chapel.

South wall:- west of the organ is a late medieval wall painting in front of which is a raised platform supporting two effigies and a carved stone. The wall has marble monuments of 1843, 1899 and 1903, a fine brass of 1871, a metal plaque of 1915, Royal Arms of 1780 and war memorials.

West wall:- internal buttress at north end of the wall. One marble memorial of 1900.

South-east chapel - General. One step up; carpetted floor. Walls plastered and painted. Modern roof of purlins and rafters.

North wall:- arch curtained off.

East wall:- Rysbrack's memorial to Sir Watkin William Wynn from 1749. Also an oval marble plaque of 1763, and another marble memorial of 1856.

South wall: two paintings either side of the window.

Churchyard

Originally a sub-oval churchyard but now with a straight western boundary wall, beyond which is part of the earlier churchyard perimeter. The churchyard was reputedly enlarged in 1828. In 1984 a church hall was built on the north side of the church with a large car parking area to either side of it. Graveyard clearance occurred in 1962 and again in 1972.

Boundary:- a revetment wall. On the north a low stone wall is surmounted by iron railings; on the east and south a high revetment wall, and on the west an extension of this though lower.

Monuments:- only a few memorials remain: there are 19thC re-sited slabs along the west boundary wall and a few slabs of 19thC date along the south wall. The earliest seen, of 1794, on the west side.

Furniture:- a sundial on a column pedestal, set on a square base. The large dial and gnomon are intact, but the dial is too weathered to read.

Earthworks:- raised by around 3m on the south, less so elsewhere.

Ancillary features:- a lychgate forms the eastern entrance, erected in 1919 as a war memorial; stone plinths support an open timber frame below a slated roof.

Vegetation:- 19thC yews to either side of lychgate and one to south of the church. Some deciduous trees along the south and west boundaries.

Sources consulted

CPAT Field Visits: 8 November 1996 and 17 February 1999
CPAT SMR
Denbighshire County Record Office: DB/PD/89/1/68 (1769-71) restoration accounts
Denbighshire County Record Office: DB/PD/89/1/79 (1828) enlargement of churchyard
Denbighshire County Record Office: DB/PD/89/1/69 (1867) restoration
Denbighshire County Record Office: DB/PD/89/1/58 (1901/2) repairs to tower
Dineley 1888, 51
Glynne 1885, 128
Gresham 1968, 152, 179
Hubbard 1986, 268
Neaverson 1953-54, 18
Quinquennial Report 1993
Thomas 1913, 275
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 Ruabon Church may also be found on the St Asaph Diocese website.


The CPAT Wrexham 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 ( 22:03:19 ).
Further information about this and other churches surveyed is available from the Regional Historic Environment Record, Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust, Curatorial Section, 41 Broad Street, Welshpool, Powys, SY21 7RR tel - (01938) 553670, fax - (01938) 552179, email - chrismartin@cpat.org.uk, website - www.cpat.org.uk.

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