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Denbighshire Churches Survey

Church of St Mary , Rhuddlan

Rhuddlan Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Rhuddlan in the county of Denbighshire. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ0214178096.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16943 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Rhuddlan Church, CPAT copyright photo CS963030.JPG

Summary

St Mary's Church is located on the north-western edge of Rhuddlan, immediately above the River Clwyd. Founded on a new site at the end of the 13thC, it developed into a double-naved building, with both the north aisle (now the nave and chancel) and the west tower added late in the medieval period, and the Conwy Mausoleum built on to the north side in 1820.The interior was largely restored by Gilbert Scott in 1868 but retains its late medieval roofs and a 15thC arcade, and houses several medieval effigies and sepulchral slabs, a few pre-19thC monuments and a chest of 1710. The sub-rectangular churchyard contains the medieval base of the churchyard cross and a 17thC sundial as well as several late 17thC chest tombs.

Initially a single-chamber church dating to around 1300, though the exact date remains uncertain. On the evidence of a piscina and some of the external masonry, the chancel was a later addition to the original structure. A further enlargement, perhaps in the 15thC, involved the addition of a north aisle in Perpendicular style, and a west tower. This created a double nave-type structure, although as the chancel was slightly narrower than the nave, it was not a true double-naved building until the east end was reconstructed in 1812.

The early 14thC walls of the south aisle remain on the west and part of the south side; the west wall lancets in the south aisle and the re-sited north door are usually attributed to the 14thC also. At least one old engraving confirms the integrity of the west wall lancets but these have now been totally renewed, and it should also be recognised that the lancet style (which was later copied by Gilbert Scott) was surprisingly old-fashioned for a structure of around 1300. There is some evidence to indicate that the roof of the original nave was raised. The date of this operation is not known but it could have been in the medieval era.

The north wall of the nave and chancel is 15thC, together with the east wall, but both contain a mix of fabrics that might indicate re-use of stonework taken from the original north wall of the church: stylistically the east wall window ought to be earlier, perhaps from the first half of the 14thC, though it cannot be confirmed that what is there now is a precise renewal of the original. The arcade also dates to this period, but its varying form indicates it may be of two phases, and this has further implications for the constructional sequence of the church; the respond at the east end is a remnant of the earlier north wall.

The west tower was built around 1500. It was supported on the original 15thC walls of the north aisle.

Restoration took place in 1812 and again in 1868-70. To the former can be attributed the rebuilding of the early chancel, while during the latter many of the early windows were replaced. A mausoleum was added to the north side in 1820.

In summary, a small single cell church of c.1300 was extended eastwards by the addition of a narrower chancel; the original roof of the nave was also raised but neither event is dated. A north aisle was added in the 15thC and the nave was narrowed, but variations in the arcading suggests this may not have been a single-phase event. Around 1500 a west tower was built above the end of the north aisle. In 1812 the chancel was rebuilt to the same width as the nave, and, probably in 1868, the north aisle was converted into the nave and chancel, and replacement lancet windows were inserted.

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

History

The present church was constructed around 1300, after Edward I had appropriated six and a half acres of church property in the old borough of Rhuddlan to build his new castle; it is assumed that the earlier church lay within this parcel of land. A church had been recorded in Domesday Book, and pre-Conquest cross fragments found near the vicarage imply a foundation here by the early 11thC. It is this church that was recorded in the Norwich Taxation of 1254 at a value of 5, but the Lincoln Taxation of 1291 with a value of 10 13s 4d must refer to the benefice of the new building. A precise date of 1301 for its construction has entered the literature but the logic behind this may be flawed.

At the time of the acquisition of the church land by Edward, the transferral of the Diocesan Cathedral from St Asaph to Rhuddlan was under consideration, and the ecclesiastical status of Rhuddlan is ill-defined for this period. By 1284 the idea had been abandoned and by 1296 Rhuddlan was reduced to a chapelry to St Asaph, with services conducted in the early 14thC by visiting monks. A resident vicar may not have been installed until David Conway of Bodrhyddan Hall in 1528, son of an influential landowner.

The enlargement of the church presumably occurred after and perhaps as a consequence of the damage inflicted on the church during the Glyndwr revolt in the early 15thC.

Some 17thC restoration work included the north and south wall windows being replaced by round-headed ones, though one Gothic window was retained high up in the north wall, perhaps to light a three-decker pulpit. The wall paintings also date to this period.

A sketch of 1782 by Moses Griffith shows that the chancel at the time (on the south side) was lower and narrower than the nave. In 1812, the south wall of this chancel was demolished; it was replaced by a new wall in alignment with the south wall of the former nave, and the roof was raised to form an authentic double-naved church; the east wall may also have been rebuilt and the east window re-sited. About this time three sepulchral monuments from the former priory buildings at Plas-newydd, Rhuddlan, were introduced into the church.

In 1820 the Bodrhyddan Mausoleum was added on to the north side of the church by William Davies Shipley of Bodrhyddan, Dean of St Asaph. Its south doorway bears a 17thC inscription to Sir John Conway and his wife who were buried in a vault accessed by the doorway; the vault was probably succeeded by the mausoleum.

Glynne, visiting the church in 1829, detailed the church very much as it is today, though he referred to the triple window at the west end and avoided the use of the term lancet. The west window in the tower was walled up. Various internal fittings and furnishings were mentioned and, rarely for Glynne, some of the post-medieval memorials.

A reference in 1858 to the enlargement of the church probably refers only to seating, for major restoration work was carried out by Sir George Gilbert Scott at a cost of 2,000 between 1868 and 1870, and was probably at this time that the main nave and chancel was transferred to the northern side of the church. Works included turning the old vestry into a baptistry, inserting new windows and replacing the old triple-decker pulpit. The chancel was raised by one step and the nave (the present south aisle) was lowered by three steps below the south-west entrance door. During the lowering of the floor, one stone coffin slab was found and this is now sited at the west end of the building. Nave pews were replaced by open oak seating and the round-headed windows were replaced by Gothic ones. The tower arch was opened up and the ground floor made into a vestry.

The organ was a gift of 1895 and heating was installed 1899.

Further restoration work took place in 1975, including repairs to the roof and windows. A kitchen and cloakroom accommodation were added on the north side in 1981.

Architecture

Rhuddlan church is effectively a double-naved structure consisting of a nave and chancel, a south aisle, a tower over the west end of the nave, and a south porch, north vestry and a mausoleum off the chancel. The church is oriented a little north of due west.

Most of the wall faces retain considerable amounts of render which effectively disguises the masonry and makes it difficult to determine the degree of coursing etc.

Fabrics:- 'A' is of rubblestone, primarily limestone slabs with occasional sandstone blocks, olive and brown in colour; irregularly coursed? Similar stone (sometimes referred to as 'A'-type was used (or re-used) at later dates. 'B' is dominated by slabs and blocks of olive sandstone, including tabular material up to 2m long; also some limestone and red and pink sandstone. 'C' is of large blocks of fine grained sandstone ashlar. 'D' is of limestone blocks. 'E' consists of blocks of limestone and pink and pale yellow sandstone. 'F' is of mixed sandstone and limestone, primarily small to medium blocks and slabs. 'G' is of slabs of olive sandstone.

'F' is from c.1300; 'G' could be medieval; 'A' is from c.1500 but also could be 15thC and from 1812; 'B' is probably from 1812, as is 'E' though this is almost certainly re-used material; 'C' is from 1820 and 'D' is from 1981;

Roofs: slates, with plain, grey ceramic ridge tiles. Cross finials at the east end of the chancel and at both ends of the south aisle.

Drainage: earlier guttering and downpipes lead to soakaways. No convincing evidence of a drainage trench around the foundations.

Note: the original nave and chancel on the south side of the church became a south aisle, probably at the time of the 1868 restoration, and the north aisle was converted into the new nave and chancel. In the historical sections above references to the nave and chancel are to the original design, but the descriptive sections below adopt modern usage.

Exterior

Tower. General. Square battlemented north-west tower with broad merlons, rising above west end of the nave, and attributed to c.1500; undifferentiated wall faces except for a string course just below the battlements which are slightly inset. In 'A', with quoins of yellow sandstone at lower levels and of limestone higher up the tower. Walls show patches of rendering. Low pyramidal roof surmounted by a weathervane.

North wall: lower part disguised by vestry block; a blocked doorway with a Tudor-style flat head was discovered in the wall in 1968. Belfry window has a pair of louvred trefoil-headed lights, but the dressings have been completely renewed.

East wall: nave roof line rises to just below the belfry window, but the coping of an earlier roof is visible in weathered yellow sandstone, about 0.5m above. Standard belfry aperture with renewed window dressings, and a clock face above it.

South wall: standard belfry aperture only.

West wall: incorporates the earlier west wall of the north nave in 'F' - its edge can be distinguished as a gable line in the masonry; 'A' above. Long triple lancets in yellow sandstone, not quite centred in the wall face; these must be a Scott embellishment, though some of the jambstones are weathered; at a higher level is a standard belfry window its dressings renewed in the 19thC. The north-west corner of the building is supported by a low diagonal buttress, with a basal plinth at a height of 0.2m; some of its dressed stone has been replaced but it is basically contemporary with the construction of the tower. Near the south-west corner is an angle buttress rising to above the belfry aperture; its lower section with a double basal plinth was the original buttress at the corner of the 14thC nave, subsequently heightened when the tower was built, but still retaining some original facing slabs.

Against the bottom of the west wall is a modern, stone-built shed.

Nave and chancel. General. The two elements are undifferentiated externally.

North wall: limestone of 'A' or 'A'-type at lower levels, but higher up the stone is more mixed, probably 'F' or 'F'-type. The west end is hidden by the modern cloakroom extension, and this includes the 13thC north door which was re-set in this wall when the north aisle was built. From the cloakroom eastwards the features are: i) integral 15thC buttress with large blocks of sandstone for dressings. ii) 1868 paired lancets. iii) window with a two-centred arch over two trefoil-headed lights with Y-tracery; quasi-Decorated style by Scott, the heads all in 19thC yellow sandstone, but the jambs etc from an earlier, presumably medieval, window. iv) integral 15thC buttress. v) paired lancets of 1868. vi) a three-light, square-headed window lighting the chancel, but it now looks out onto the back of the mausoleum. Its date is uncertain but it is presumably post-medieval. vii) mausoleum. viii) a four-centred window with three, stepped, trefoil-headed lights, the mullions replaced but the tracery perhaps original.

East wall: at the base of the wall is a low, chamfered plinth with no more than one course of pink sandstone visible. As with the north wall, limestone of 'A'-type forms the lower courses, while more mixed masonry, perhaps of 'F', is found higher up. The east window has five foiled, two-centred lights with four intersecting ogee sub-arches in reticulated style below a large two-centred arch with hoodmould and square stops; the stonework is totally renewed. Hubbard felt that this window pre-dated the Perpendicular extension in which it was set, but dismissed the idea that it was the original east window in the south aisle. In the wall to the south of the window is a blocked trefoil-headed light, with original dressings in pale sandstone; its purpose is uncertain. A small niche in 19thC yellow sandstone is set high in the gable above the main window.

Kitchen/Cloakrooms. General. At the west end of the north wall, built in 1981. In fabric 'D' with a rough finish and built on basal layers of blue brick. Three lancet windows in the north wall, two lights in the east wall, and a door in the west wall.

Mausoleum. General. In 'C', with diagonal, stepped buttresses at the corners and central angle buttresses. No exterior entrance. Moulded plinth c.0.3m above ground level and a cornice below the roof line. The structure is surrounded by a low stone wall which was once railed. Low pyramidal roof.

South Aisle. East wall: a basal plinth of one course of pink sandstone visible above the tarmac path. The render masks several fabrics. At the base is 'E', and above this is 'B', and then a mix of limestone and sandstone. Most of this wall from the plinth upwards is believed to have has been rebuilt in the early 19thC. Window of three stepped lancets, in style Early English but completely renewed, even if re-sited from the earliest church here, as has been suggested. At the apex of the gable is a niche containing the very weathered upper part of the figure of a priest; the lower portion is inside the church at the west end.

South wall: in 'E' for the bottom 1m or so and over the priest's door, which suggests that this was an insertion of 1868 and the removed stone was then used as packing around the new doorway. Above 'E' is 'A'-type masonry though again from 1812, and running as far west as the central buttress; the wall is battered at the base. Features from the east are: i) one or two quoins at the south-east corner are in red sandstone at the base and yellow sandstone higher up, where there are also two projecting quoin stones whose purpose is unclear. ii) paired lancets of 1868. iii) a two-centred priest's doorway with a Latin text above it, also solidly 19thC. iv) a second pair of 1868 lancets. v) beneath the window is a subterranean boiler room with an east-facing door. vi) a 19thC stepped buttress masking the juncture of the 19thC and 13thC fabrics, but above it the wall face exhibits three quoins which could well be original quoins from the first nave. vii) west of the buttress the wall is plinthed at a height of 0.4m. viii) broad, squat lancet window of uncertain date but probably from the last two hundred years. ix) standard, paired lancets of 1868. x) porch. xi) immediately to the west of the porch there is the suggestion of a blocked feature perhaps a doorway (though this of course conflicts with what appears to be the main opening in the porch); the infill is of more regular sandstone with no traces of render or heavy mortar, also suggesting an opening, and the chamfer below is in grey rather than pink sandstone. xii) a single 1868 lancet, a newly created window by Scott, comparable in appearance though not in the stonework to viii). It is probable that the wall has been raised at some point (in line with what happened on the west side, for which see below), but because of the render coating this cannot be distinguished.

West wall: plinth, dropping from nearly 1.0m high at the south-west corner to 0.5m at the north end of the wall. Much of the wall is in 'F', but just above the head of the window is a gable line, indicating a shallow-roofed structure, rather lower than the roof line of the north nave sealed in the tower wall. Above 'F' is 'G' and then 'A'-type masonry. Triple lancets, but with all the dressings renewed, are off-centre to the roof as it now exists, but central to the earlier, lower roof line. At the south-west angle is a buttress with a stepped basal plinth, 1.3m above ground level, and splayed slightly on its south and west sides.

South Porch. General. Reconstructed by Gilbert Scott, but in 'A'. 15thC side walls are heavily mortared.

East wall: two round-headed 19thC yellow sandstone apertures containing quatrefoil lights, with voussoirs in the same fabric.

South wall: segmental-headed doorway formed by the arch bracing for the tie beam contains a pair of heavy oak panelled doors with traceried heads. The queen-post truss above is infilled with plaster and there are scalloped bargeboards. All presumably 19thC.

West wall: slightly splayed at base, but otherwise as east wall.

Interior

Porch. General. Divided into inner and outer areas by a partition. Stone flagged floor on which are three decorated stone fragments brought from the vicarage (see below); plastered walls; ceiling plastered above exposed rafters and purlins. Wooden benches below quatrefoil lights on east and west sides.

North wall: contains main doorway into church, a two-centred arch of two orders; the inner is chamfered and of 19thC date, but the outer appears largely original even though the whole is painted over.

Tower. General. Interior floor at two levels. Walls are limewashed at ground floor level. Above a heavy oak floor supported on east and west stone corbels. Access to upper chamber by iron runged ladder and trap-door, but a disused, heavy wooden ladder (of 15thC date?) still in situ.

East wall: a high two-centred arch of two, chamfered orders. South of this is a 'buttress' protruding from the wall - in fact the stub of the early north wall of the nave which was a little further north than the present line of the arcade.

West wall: high pointed arch to splayed embrasure.

Nave. General. Stone flagged floor with carpet in central aisle; flush planked floor under benches. Walls plastered and painted with the only exposed stonework the 13th/14thC door in the north wall and the dressings of the arcade. The roof is continuous across the nave and chancel. It consists of ten complete bays and a portion of an eleventh at the west end, with ten hammerbeam trusses, with arch-braced collars and raking struts, supported by wooden corbels, except for one stone corbel on the south side; exposed rafters and through purlins and a plastered ceiling above.

North wall: six shallow steps up to the north door, a 13th/14thC two-centred arch in yellow and pink chamfered sandstone. Blocked up until the building of the kitchen extension in 1981. (On the outer side, now in the kitchen extension, the arch has a hoodmould and weathered head stops). Three window embrasures are splayed and have slightly peaked arches, the dressings all painted. Two patches of wall paintings, either side of the most westerly window. Further east a framed painting of the Resurrection.

East wall: divided from the chancel only by two steps.

South wall: an arcade of five and a half bays with six chamfered arches (running the length of the nave and chancel) supported on five octagonal stone piers with moulded capitals, and an east respond. Though of similar style the three easternmost arches are taller than the west ones and in a pinker stone while the third from the east is asymmetrical in elevation, perhaps revealing the location of the rood screen. The westernmost arch is cut short beyond the apex, where the tower has been inserted. Eleven stone corbels which supported an earlier roof are now painted over but protrude into the nave above the arcade; one supports a hammerbeam. The wall face above the corbels is rougher and slightly inset.

West wall: a two-centred chamfered arch to the tower is now fitted with a panelled partition incorporating a door. Three medieval sepulchral slabs are set against the wall to the south of the arch. High above the arch is a horizontal disconformity in the stonework, its significance uncertain.

Chancel. General. Two steps up from the nave, two to the sanctuary and three to the altar. Raised in 1868. Encaustic tiled floors with longitudinal choir stalls on raised planking. Walls and roof described under nave (above).

North wall: a four-centred soffit to the window embrasure lighting the chancel. Then a four-centred arch over the blocked entry to the Conwy Mausoleum; the arch is carved 'Sr Jo Conwy, kngt, 1637'. Finally a peaked soffit over the 15thC window embrasure in the sanctuary. Beside this is the early 14thC Freney slab with its incised effigy. Also one 19thC marble memorial, two 20thC brasses including one placed in the blocked mausoleum doorway, and a 20thC slate memorial.

East wall: painted red with the window embrasure in white. Concealed by the altar is a shallow, rectangular niche with a horizontal slab, face down, above it; this has incised tool marks. The niche is now difficult of access and its purpose is unknown.

South wall: arcade and respond as described above. One tablet of 1825 in the sanctuary.

South Aisle. General. Formerly the nave of the early church. Three steps down from the porch. Stone flagged floor as nave, but includes some small grave markers of 19thC date near the west end. The west end itself is converted to a baptistry with carpetted floor and central font. At the east end of what would have been the original nave is the organ with adjacent longitudinal choir stalls, and beyond this a chapel. Walls as nave. Roof for the whole length of the aisle/chapel is of twelve bays and is supported by a similar number of arch-braced collar trusses; some replacement of timber. No truss at the eastern end of the roof, and that at the west end is not braced. Trusses spring from chamfered wall plates on the south side and hammerbeam corbels above the arcade, though there are also obsolete stone corbels on the north wall of the chapel.

North wall: contains two weathered 14thC effigies in the baptistry, one complete, the other the lower half of the body.

East wall: two steps up to the organ platform.

South wall: from the west: i) wall painting. ii) south doorway with splayed reveal which has 19thC dressings. iii) wall painting with stone plaque of 1724 beneath. iv) splayed window. v) memorial of 1707. vi) wall painting. vii) stone memorial of 1738. viii) splayed window with piscina beneath; this has a two-centred arch, part hidden by a war memorial.

West wall: segmental-headed red sandstone reveal to window. About half way up the window the wall face is inset by about 0.3m.

South Chapel. General. On a level with the organ platform. Tiled floor around the altar, but otherwise both slabs and wooden flooring. Walls as nave. Roof described above under aisle.

North wall: large Gothic Bodrhyddan memorial of 19thC date.

East wall: painted red as the chancel, but the arch of the window embrasure in white. East wall thickens below the head of the arch and has a slightly inwards batter. One stone memorial of 1676.

South wall: window and priest's door embrasures all 19thC. Marble memorial of 1848.

Churchyard

The churchyard is sub-rectangular, rising above the north bank of the River Clwyd, though the natural scarp of the river terrace is also included on the south-west side of the church. It was extended in 1858, and again in 1939 and 1947. It is well maintained.

Boundary: except for an extension in the north corner which is hedged, a limestone boundary wall encloses the churchyard on all sides; restored in 1986. On the south it is a revetment with buttresses.

Monuments: ranging from the 17thC to the 20thC. Early 19thC slabs re-sited around the north-west churchyard walls. A chest tomb dated 1685 is located in the angle created by the chancel and mausoleum on the north side of the church - it has a weathered inscription running around the margin and a shield; mounted on base of strapwork panels with fluted shafts. On the south-east side of the church near the churchyard cross are a pair of chest tombs with guilloche friezes around the margins and weathered inscriptions date from c.1680-1700; these probably relate to members of the Conwy family. Both have arcaded panels on the long sides and fluted columns; shields on the short sides.

Furniture: the plain, square, fluted stem of a sundial in yellow sandstone, c.1m high mounted on a square base located to the south-east of the church. A damaged gnomon bears the date 1670 and the inscription 'Let others tell of storms and showers, I'll only count the sunny hours'.

A 19thC memorial cross is set on the original base of the churchyard cross. It has been suggested that the plinth of the sundial is in fact the original shaft of the old cross which was discovered in the churchyard in 1906, but its appearance tends to undermine this belief.

Ancillary features: lychgate by Scott forms east entrance. Tarmac path to south porch, and along east side; grass paths elsewhere.

Vegetation: several old yews around the perimeter; stumps of three yews along east drive.

Sources consulted

Cadw Schedule of Listed Buildings 1994
CPAT Field Visit: 6 August 1996 & 7 April 1998
Clwyd SMR
Glynne 1884, 87
Gresham 1968, 71; 116; 161; 165
Hubbard 1986, 425
James 1991
Morgan 1978, 268d
Nash Williams 1950, 127
NMR Aberyswyth
Quinnell and Blockley 1994, 4
Quinquennial Report 1994
Soulsby 1983, 230
Thomas 1908, 412
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 Rhuddlan 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 ( 22:01:40 ).
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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