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Denbighshire Churches Survey

Church of St Mary , Derwen

Derwen Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Derwen in the county of Denbighshire. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ0703150728.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 100767 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Derwen Church, CPAT copyright photo 2392-03.JPG

Summary

St Mary's church lies in the hills some 6 miles to the south-west of Ruthin. Its origins are unknown and the first record of it is in 1254. The present church consisting of a single cell has a medieval core, probably pre-dating the east window, the fine roof, rood screen and churchyard cross, all of which are probably 15thC or earlier 16thC. Some of the church was perhaps rebuilt around this time, and there may have been subsequent undocumented repairs prior to the restoration of 1857. The churchyard is small, rectangular and contains the normal range of 18thC and later memorials as well as an undated sundial and the great churchyard cross.

The sequence of fabrics at Derwen is not clear. 'B' seems to be the earliest, surviving over much of the south side, part of the west and in small areas to the east and north; it can be attributed to some unknown time in the medieval period. 'D' is a rebuild, conceivably at the time when the east window was put in the later 15thC or early 16thC. 'A' is later and could be as recent as the Victorian restoration. 'C's place in the sequence remains unestablished. Most of the windows have been replaced but the east window and the south sanctuary window give some idea of the medieval fenestration. Also on the north side there are traces of a blocked window, perhaps matched by the doorway in the east face of the rood stair projection.

The porch all in 'E' and of one build, is said to have been built in the 17thC.

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

History

The date of origin of Derwen church is not known. Currently there is little to suggest that it was an early medieval foundation.

It is first recorded as 'Ecclesia de Dernmey' in the Norwich Taxation of 1254 at a value of 13s 4d. In the later 1291 Taxation it was worth 4 0s 10d.

Stephen Glynne visited the site in 1849. His notes refer to a now lost, north doorway with an arch, perhaps 13thC, in red sandstone, the west bellcote carrying the date 1688, a west gallery, and nave windows which, even at that date, were already modern insertions. The rood screen was described in some detail and the loft at that time was used as a pew with internal stairs along the north wall. The 'modern' font did not impress him, but he was impressed by the churchyard cross. The exterior of the church was whitewashed.

Restoration occurred in 1857 under Kennedy at a cost of c.750. The projecting housing for the rood-loft stairs dates from this time, when the internal stair was removed. Buttresses were added.

Until 1861 it was in the diocese of Bangor when it was transferred to St Davids. It is now in St Asaph.

Further general alterations and the provision of heating apparatus were covered by a faculty of 1924.

Architecture

Derwen church comprises a nave and chancel as a single cell and a south porch set towards the west end of the nave.

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

Fabrics: 'A' consists of small to medium blocks of sandstone and shaley sandstone, grey to brown in colour and irregularly coursed; quoins of similar material, but fractionally better dressed; remnant limewash traces. 'B' is of medium to large blocks of the same sort of stone as 'A', randomly coursed; remnant limewash traces. 'C' consists of slabs of laminated stone, reasonably homogenous in appearance; irregularly coursed; remnant limewash traces. 'D' is similar to 'A' and could perhaps be grouped with it. 'E' is of long, medium large laminated slabs of shale showing some coursing; remnant limewash traces.

Roof: slates, clay roof tiles; cross finial in stone at east end of chancel. A double bellcote at the west end, on which Glynne saw the date 1688, with a weathervane on top.

Drainage: around the south is a 0.8m wide concrete and gravel filled zone, and this continues along part of the east as a footpath. On the north is a cutting resulting from the church being terraced into a natural slope and this continues around the west side as far as the bellcote buttress.

Exterior

Nave and chancel. General. Treated as one because largely indistinguishable on the exterior.

North wall: western part of wall in 'A', resting on a projecting plinth of masonry near the north-west corner, though much of this may originally have been below ground level. Most westerly window is Victorian in yellow sandstone: a cusped ogee-headed light in a square-headed frame. Below this window the upper part of the plinth disappears. Immediately to the east of the window the wall is built in larger masonry, classed here as 'B', and within a metre or so of the window is a buttress - again of Victorian construction? - which appears to cover an aperture defined by long vertical edge stones, and blocked in part with red sandstone. Next and also set in 'B' is a square-headed three-light window, directly comparable with the one-light window to the west, except that it has a hoodmould with stops. Immediately to the east the fabric in the upper part of the wall changes to 'C'; the three-light window could have been inset into this masonry, just as it was inset into 'B'. The top of the wall face, above 'C' is set back a little, suggesting a rebuild, probably when the Victorian windows were added: the masonry of this rebuild is akin to clean 'A'.

Next is the gabled projection housing the rood screen stair, apparently dating to the mid-19thC; its west face is disguised by a chimney, but on the north the fabric is akin to 'A', but lacks the limewash remnants, contains occasional brick lumps, and is heavily pointed. This face has two windows: below is a simple chamfered slit, while immediately above it a flat-headed cusped 'lancet'; both are in Victorian yellow sandstone. In the east face of the projection is a blocked doorway with the jambs as single long slabs (cf the blocked aperture further to the west), and a cyclopean lintel giving a triangular head.

East of this is the chancel wall. First a two-light window, square-headed and similar to those in the nave, though the lights have two-centred heads with cinquefoil tracery. Next a buttress and then two contiguous lancet lights, formerly shuttered; these are in yellow sandstone, slightly weathered, but not convincing as anything earlier than Victorian, although Hubbard thought they might reflect an original Perpendicular feature; above is a 'relieving arch' in the masonry, the arch so flat that it is best termed segmental. The fabric on this side of the chancel is difficult to categorise, but it is classed as 'D'. Above the windows the wall face is slightly inset as in the nave, as a result of rebuilding.

East wall: angle buttresses, and the wall is dominated by a fine Perpendicular east window; some of the mullions may have been renewed but generally original dressings in pink sandstone. It has a two-centred arch, five lights with a transom at springing level, two-light sub-arches, cusping and panel tracery, a hoodmould, and next to this but not integral are stone heads of different designs; these do not function now as stops but may once have been stops or perhaps corbels, subsequently added to the window. The fabric is again difficult: large blocks on the south side could be classed as 'B', but much of the wall is in 'D' and this is clearly later. At the base of the wall is a chamfered plinth and this seems to disguise a battered base.

South wall: in 'B', the large blocks towards the base giving way to smaller blocks at higher levels. From the east the windows and other features are: i) a two-centred arched window with three lights and intersecting tracery, much renewed, though the jambs could be earlier; in red sandstone but as Hubbard pointed out perhaps not reliable as a chronological indicator; ii) a three-light Victorian window with a two-centred arch, having complex cusped tracery and a hoodmould; iii) a buttress; iv) a two-light Victorian window in yellow sandstone with a further variety of complex tracery and a distinctive relieving arch. The base of the wall here projects slightly but can hardly be termed a plinth; v) porch; vi) a single-light Victorian window with a square head in yellow sandstone and a further variety of tracery. Here the wall tapers in towards the top.

West wall: this side is dominated by a large stepped and battered buttress that supports the bellcote, itself reportedly dated to 1688. South of this the wall is in 'B', while the buttress, though having massive blocks, is in slightly different material. North of the buttress the wall face reverts to 'A', and there is evidence of a supporting plinth at the base.

Porch. General. In Fabric 'E'. Both side walls have an exaggerated outwards lean. A 17thC date has been claimed but no obvious support for such a date.

East wall: plain.

South wall: side wall terminals support a relatively modern tie beam truss with vertical struts, the central one carrying a lamp.

West wall: plain.

Interior

Porch. General. Large slate flags for floor, two steps up from path. Bare walls. A simple purlin and rafter roof with two trusses, one tie beam (already described) and one collar, of no great age. Side walls clearly butt against nave.

North wall: main church doorway with a narrow two-centred arch, and chamfered dressings in red sandstone, but does not appear to be medieval; basal stones at bottom of each jamb are in buff coloured sandstone, though also individual plinth stones in line with the projecting base seen on outside south wall. Early studded door with fleur-de-lys hinge-ends.

East wall: narrow stone bench. Shallow, circular stoup set into wall.

West wall: bench as east side.

Nave. General. Stone slab floor, much of it covered by carpet; at rear, wooden block flooring lifts font, and there is a small vestry in the south-west angle. Walls plastered and painted. Late medieval roof of eight bays includes chancel; arch-braced collars and raking struts, all cusped; two tiers of cusped windbraces.

North wall: slight outwards lean; plain but for window apertures, and segmental-headed aperture for entrance to rood loft stairs which superseded an internal flight of stairs in 1857. On the north face of this entrance is a two-centred arch with hoodmould and also a stopped chamfer. While the latter is Victorian it appears more likely that the entrance was originally an external north door to the church. One mural tablet of 1755.

East wall: screen and loft.

South wall: wall has slight outwards lean. Door embrasure slightly splayed and has segmental head.

West wall: internal buttress for bellcote containing alcove with bell-rope hanging down. North of this the wall is slightly inset at a height of c.2.5m, but for no obvious purpose.

Chancel. General. One step up to chancel, one to sanctuary, one to altar. Wooden block floor but boards under choir stalls; encaustic tiles in sanctuary. Walls and roof as nave.

North wall: two mural tablets of 1744 and 1847. Two 20thC brasses.

East wall: shallow wall thickness.

South wall: two early 19thC marble memorials.

Churchyard

The churchyard is small, rectangular though with a hint of curvilinearity on the south-east and south-west. It is set on a gentle slope, the ground dropping from north to south, but the village core as a whole occupies what is essentially a shelf on a steeper hillside. It is reasonably well-maintained but is a little overgrown in summer.

Boundary: surrounded by a mortared stone wall, which acts as a retaining wall for some of the perimeter.

Monuments: monuments fill the whole churchyard, relatively densely in places. There are some 18thC ledgers and gravestones to the south of the church, and further examples to the east, where the earliest - of 1728 - was noted. It is reported that the churchyard was partially cleared about 30 years ago.

Furniture: important medieval cross to the south of the church; mid to late 15thC in date (in State Guardianship). No top to the cross. Sculpture on the head in niches under cusped and crocketed canopies, the east and west ones double. On the east, the Coronation of the Virgin, on the west the Crucifixion, on the north the Virgin and child, and on the south an angel (?St Michael) with scales. Sculpture, much worn, on the chamfered corners of the shaft and in a band at the neck. Double stepped plinth (Based on Hubbard).

A sundial close to south-west perimeter, stone pillar; brass plate and gnomon but no inscription.

Earthworks: raised churchyard with drops of 1.5m-2m around the south and east sides, and perhaps 0.5m on the north.

Ancillary features: Church House to south of porch and abutting the churchyard wall; above the ground floor door an inscription with the date 1905. Formerly a lychgate. Upper room once used as a school, and gateway walled up when more accommodation needed (1905); the ground floor now used for storage, and includes the parish chest.

Wrought iron, single ornamental gates to east and west; the tarmac path linking the two leads past the porch. Gravel path around north side. Small store in north corner of churchyard.

Vegetation: two yews on south, neither of any size.

Sources consulted

CPAT Field Visit: 5 September 1996
Crossley 1946, 13
Faculty: St Asaph 1924 (NLW)
Faculty 1958: DRO/PD/25/1/21
Glynne 1884, 169
Hubbard 1986, 155
Lloyd Williams and Underwood 1872 pls 26-29
NMR Aberystwyth
Owen 1886, 34
Quinquennnial Review 1987
Quinquennnial Review 1996
Ridgway 1997, 69
Thomas 1911, 71
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 Derwen 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 ( 22:01:27 ).
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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