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Denbighshire Churches Survey

Church of St Kentigern and St Asa , St Asaph

St Asaph Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of St Asaph in the county of Denbighshire. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ0368774314.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16955 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

St Asaph Church, CPAT copyright photo CS961334.JPG

Summary

The church of St Kentigern and St Asa lies close to the River Clwyd in the heart of the small cathedral town of St Asaph. It was originally built in the 13thC if the lancet window in the south wall is a reliable guide, but its Perpendicular style betrays the fact that the south nave was reconstructed on the earlier foundations in 1524, and its northern nave was added at some subsequent point in the 16thC. Sir George Gilbert Scott erected the porch, bellcote and vestry during his 1872 restoration. Inside are a 16thC hammerbeam roof with an embossed boarded ceiling over the south nave and a plainer one over the north aisle, a Romanesque font, and 17th-18thC monuments to the Lloyd family. The churchyard may originally have been sub-circular though its shape has been modified; considerable clearance of its gravestones took place in the 1970s.

Double-naved church generally in the Perpendicular style. Original nave and chancel on the south side constructed in sandstone in the 13thC, and a single lancet survives from this structure together with some walling; it appears too that at this early stage there was a north aisle or nave for there are early pillar bases. Church thought to have been reconstructed on the old foundations in 1524 when new windows were incorporated and the structure was reroofed with the present hammerbeams. North aisle added in limestone at some unrecorded point later in the 16thC; this, too, has a hammerbeam roof. At some stage the wall tops were either rebuilt or heightened, and the west end of the nave was rebuilt.

South porch, bellcote and north vestry added by Scott during the 1872 restoration, but the south doorway itself must be earlier, and there are records of an earlier porch.

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

History

St Kentigern (Cyndeyrn) reputedly founded the church about 560, and the churchyard form and its location beside the Clwyd serve to confirm the early medieval foundation. From later documentary sources it is evident that St Asaph was the clas or mother church for the district. It seems likely that the dedication to St Asa was added in the middle of the 12thC.

The church was recorded with the cathedral in the Norwich Taxation of 1254, but appears in a separate record in the Lincoln Taxation of 1291 with a value of 7 13s 4d. From this century too comes the earliest fabric in the church.

The south nave was rebuilt in 1524, this date on the basis of an inscription on the chancel window, recorded in 1614, that stated 'opus vitreum et lapidum factum fuit et finitum AD 1524'. It is assumed that the hammerbeam roofs also date from this time.

In 1629-30, the south porch fell down in storms and was rebuilt, and in 1687 a new south doorway was inserted.

A new gallery was erected in 1829.

Glynne seems to have visited St Asaph at some unspecified date in the middle of the 19thC and again in 1872 at the time of restoration. Describing the Perpendicular building in terms that can be recognised at present, he also referred to a very plain south porch, a 'plain and barn-like roof' to the north aisle, and northern and western galleries the latter holding the organ formerly in the cathedral. The east window of the chancel was too large and Glynne thought he detected alterations to it, the lancet in the south wall he thought perhaps original; several other windows were described. Restoration work by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1872 included the removal of the north aisle gallery, the old pews, and a three-decker pulpit on the south wall between the south door and the roodlight. The building was re-pewed with open oak seats, the organ was transferred to the north aisle, the chancel paved with encaustic tiles and a new openwork carved pulpit introduced. A new south porch and new north vestry were erected.

In 1901, the organ from Llanrhaiadr was installed, and that that had been transferred from the cathedral in 1830 was given to Llanynys.

Some minor restoration work took place in 1911.

The font was re-sited in its original position near south door in 1954, and the holy water stoup was removed from outside the west door and placed in the church in 1973.

The 1872 vestry was converted to modern kitchen premises including toilet facilities in 1992.

Architecture

The church is a double naved structure with a south porch, a north vestry and a bellcote over the west end of the south nave. Its main axis is oriented fractionally north of grid west.

Fabrics: 'A' is of medium to large blocks of red sandstone, coursed; some remnant limewash. 'B' is of small to large blocks of shaped limestone; occasionally small lumps of other material including brick, possibly used at a later date to fill in the interstices; irregular coursing; some remnant limewash. 'C' is of small to medium-sized blocks of regular, quarried limestone with very occasional small blocks of buff sandstone; irregular coursing; fine grained yellow sandstone dressings. 'D' consists of small to medium blocks of red, orange, buff and olive sandstone, regular coursing; may be occasional re-used blocks. Quoins of red, yellow and grey sandstone. 'E' is a mixture of small and medium sized blocks of sandstone of different colours, and some limestone, effectively a cross between 'A' and 'D'; most though not all of the blocks are regularly fashioned, with regularly fashioned limestone quoins. 'F' consists of small to medium, often irregular lumps of limestone, with occasional sandstone inclusions, rather randomly coursed, though heavy pointing confuses its appearance, and it is not certain that it should be treated as a separate fabric type.

'A' is from the 13thC, 'D' is of 1524, 'B' is 16thC, 'E' is post-Reformation but pre-19thC, 'F' is contemporary or later than 'E', and 'C' dates to the restoration of 1872.

Roofs: slates with plain ridge tiles; stone cross finials on all gables except the west end of the south nave (occupied by bellcote) and the vestry. Wave moulded parapets with moulded kneelers are 1872 additions; mason's marks appear as carved roundels with inner rays carved on all kneelers and at least one quoin.

Drainage: guttering and downspouts lead to soakaways on the south side. Concrete drainage channel runs along the base of the north wall from the boiler house, and along the east and south walls as far as the porch.

Exterior

North Aisle. General. No external differentiation between north aisle and north chapel.

North wall: in 'B' to about three-quarter height, but the uppermost 1m or so is in 'E'. Features from west are: i) a red and yellow sandstone arch appears to be the blocked doorway to the former west gallery; blocking material of rubble and some dressed sandstone. Entrance appears to be cut through both 'B' and 'E'. ii) vestry. iii) two-light window with four-centred head and a hoodmould in yellow-grey sandstone which shows some replacement though the head or mask stops could be original - however that on the west has either been chopped away or sealed during the construction of the chimney of the vestry; the lights have cinquefoiled, two-centred heads; weathered dressings of pink sandstone with deeply hollowed chamfers to the jambs; iron fittings for shutters; all the stonework is original except for the mullions and some patching to the sill. iv) at the base of the wall is the roof of the subterranean boiler house in brick, accessible via steps running down beside the wall. The walling beside the steps indicates that the sub-surface courses of the north aisle wall are of massive blocks of limestone which are dressed and do not look to be simply foundation slabs. v) a four-centred arched window lights the chancel; it has a hoodmould with mask stops, three four-centred lights containing cinquefoil tracery, and sunken spandrels above; the dressings in pink sandstone are weathered, with deeply hollowed chamfers to the sides; mullions replaced, and perhaps also the hoodmould though not the stops? Iron fittings for shutters.

East wall: the heavily mortared fabric is weathered and discoloured. Whether the bottom courses are in 'B' cannot be ascertained, but 'E' rises to within c.1.5m of the gable apex where it is replaced by 'F'. The east window has hollowed chamfers, a two-centred arch with an original hoodmould and mask stops, four two-centred lights with cinquefoil tracery, a transom, two sub-arches and panel tracery, also foiled. Two of the main mullions have been renewed but much of the stonework is original.

West wall: lower part of wall in 'B', with larger blocks of limestone forming a slightly battered base; upper part of wall in 'F'. On the south side and underneath the aisle roof is the juncture with the masonry of the south nave, a sign that the latter was earlier. The window has a four-centred arch over three two-centred lights with cinquefoil tracery, and a hoodmould with animal stops; some original sandstone dressings notably the yellow and grey sandstone of the chamfered jambs, the stops and perhaps the hoodmould, but the mullions and the tracery have been renewed.

Vestry. General. From 1872 in fabric 'C'; short angle buttresses in yellow sandstone at north corners; a sandstone chimney rising above the north wall of the aisle, a four-centred doorway in the west wall, and foiled, ogee-headed windows in the north and east walls, the former also having a blocked slit window high up in the gable. Relieving arch over the three-light north window.

South Nave and Chancel. General. Not differentiated externally. South wall basal courses (up to window sill level, at about 1.3m) appear to be the foundations of the earlier church, in 'A' and are battered. Curiously the visible courses at the very bottom are in mixed grey and buff sandstone on both the south and east walls - it has been suggested that these are an inserted, later feature to assist drainage; above 1.3m the wall is in 'D', while the last 0.5m at the top of the wall is in 'B'-type limestone.

East wall: dominated by a large east window but the surrounding masonry is very mixed. There is 'A' in the lower courses though no batter, while around the window itself is mixed stone with some 'D' appearing on the north side. Above the window the mortar is particularly heavy and it might be 'E' or 'F'. The window is four-centred, with five stepped lights that have ogee heads and cinquefoil tracery, individual transoms and panel tracery above; the hollowed chamfers are original, but not the mullions and perhaps not the tracery, while the hoodmould has simple stops and could also be renewed. At the north end of this wall which is actually beyond the valley and thus strictly speaking in the east wall of the north aisle is a butt joint in sandstone to a height of around 3m; the south angle of the east wall has limestone quoins up to c.1m below the eaves. Could the sandstone quoins thus be the original 13thC quoins, the limestone from the early 16thC rebuilding? There are some signs of infilling around the window suggesting it has been inserted into an earlier wall. A quoin high up at the south-east corner has the re-used part of an early stone carved on its east face.

South wall: in 'A' and 'D'. From west the features are: i) large four-centred window arches with four ogee-headed lights with cinquefoil tracery and panel tracery above. Some of the jambstones and possibly the hoodmould are original, but the tracery is perhaps replaced as are the other dressings. ii) single lancet in red sandstone; the sill has been renewed but the rest could be 13thC. iii) porch. iv) a second four-light window in pink and buff sandstone as i); it is difficult to determine how much of this is original; in appearance it is very uniform and the arrises are sharp; the degree of masonry disturbance around the window indicates at least some renewal.

West wall: shows several fabrics with 'A' and then 'D', but from the base of the window upwards there is more limestone which may indicate some rebuilding in 'B'. At the bottom is a doorway with a four-centred arch and a hoodmould without stops; the jambs have complex mouldings, and the whole is in original pink and yellow sandstone. Above is a four-centred window with three foiled ogee-headed lights with panel tracery over the central light and quatrefoils above the outer ones; hoodmould with simple stops; in weathered red sandstone, though renewal of the mullions, some of the tracery, and perhaps the hoodmould.

South gable rises to a gabled bellcote in yellow sandstone with a single aperture and a cross finial. From 1872.

Porch. General. In 'C' from 1872, with blocks of quarry cut limestone, though upper parts of side walls in red and yellow sandstone. Stepped angle buttresses, small square-headed windows with foiled lights and labels with simple stops in the east and west walls, and a two-centred doorway with chamfered dressings and a hoodmould; closed off by a pair of iron gates on the south side.

Interior

Porch. General. Now used for storage. Stone floor of regular paving slabs. Stone benches against the east and west sides. Roof of three arch-braced collar trusses, with purlins and two tiers of foiled windbraces, and rafters and a boarded ceiling above.

North wall: heavy, studded doorway with '1687 R R R I SI EI' set out in smaller studs. This doorway is set in a heavy moulded frame which projects from the wall and hides the stonework.

North Aisle. General. This is wider than the southern nave and chancel. A stone flagged floor, largely carpetted, while the organ is sited on a raised planked floor at the west end; at the east end is a baptistry, raised one step above the aisle and carpetted over. Furnished with loose chairs. Walls plastered and painted except for window dressings. Hammerbeam roof of ten bays with eleven arch-braced collar trusses and cusped, curved struts. Hammerbeams have heart-shaped terminals.

North wall: segmental arch over door to vestry at west end, approached by two steps; two deeply splayed windows; one marble memorial of 1698, another of 1795/8 and a third of the 19thC together with a brass also of the 19thC.

East wall: splayed east window; one marble memorial of 1843.

South wall: five-bay arcade, with two-centred chamfered arches of two orders, supported on slender octagonal piers with keeled shafts and hollowed concave corners; matching moulded capitals and octagonal bases. Three stone corbels, earlier than the present roof design, protrude above the arcade; two of these are rectangular and spaced far enough apart to have been roof supports, but the third has a dished top and is no more than 0.4m from one of the rectangular corbels, suggesting a different function.

West wall: nothing to note, other than an 1845 memorial, perhaps of wood but probably of stone.

Nave. General. Stone flagged floor, carpetted central aisle; raised planked floors under two rows of benches. Walls plastered and painted; splayed window embrasures. The nave and chancel have a continuous hammerbeam roof of ten bays with eleven heavily moulded, stop-chamfered arch-braced collars, with cusped struts and principals creating one quatrefoil and two trefoils above each collar; the hammerbeams on the north side all have heart-shaped terminals, except for one with an angel; on the south are alternate hammerbeams with heart-shaped terminals and ordinary arch braces which spring from the wall plates but are distinguished by carved heads at the junctions (excepting one plain example over the most westerly window); two stone corbels are utilised. Four tiers of purlins supporting a boarded ceiling with carved bosses at the intersections of the purlins and moulded rafters. Hubbard implied that the hammerbeams were so slight that they were more decorative than functional.

The rood loft, which was removed in 1872, was sited above one of the central bays; the two large stone corbels supported it and it was lit by the deeply splayed lancet window, though these relics are rather far west of where the roodscreen might have been expected.

North wall: three and a half bays of the arcade as described under the north aisle (above). One marble memorial of 1802/1811.

East wall: a step only.

South wall: south door has an usually high reveal with a two-centred soffit, slightly splayed. The lancet window appears to have a double chamfer to its head, internally. Royal arms over south door. Marble memorials of 1732 and 1717, and a brass of 1695/6.

West wall: inside the west door is an inner panelled porch with a castellated parapet. 19thC font immediately to the north of it. Two 19thC marble memorials.

Chancel. General. One step up from the nave, two to the sanctuary, one to the altar. 19thC tiled floor, some encaustic; longitudinal choir stalls on raised planked floors; walls and roof described under nave (above).

North wall: one and a half bays of the arcade.

East wall: 19thC reredos.

South wall: double piscina in Decorated style to east of window; in pink sandstone, with simple two-centred heads, but the base covered over in wood. Marble memorial of 1680/1715, another of 1711, and a stone one of 1750.

Vestry. General. Stepped up from the north aisle. Carpetted floor, plastered walls, pitch pine roof. Disused fireplace in south-east corner.

Churchyard

The churchyard is small and polygonal, though one suspects that formerly it was more curvilinear. Certainly a segment on the south was surrendered for road widening in 1960. Well kept; closed for burials in 1871.

Boundary: enclosed by a stone wall constructed in 1815. On the south side the wall is topped by iron railings and may relate to the changes of 1960 noted above, but the 1987 Listed Building Schedule attributes the railings to 1815.

Monuments: it retains a number of 17thC-19thC gravestones now re-sited around the perimeter and paths. The earliest slab is to Sion Tudyr, bard of Wygfair (d.1602). Also a pitched chest to Robert Jones (d.1794). East of the chancel are some ledgers of early 18thC date. Much of the area was cleared of marked graves and levelled in 1973, leaving virtually none in situ.

Furniture: a sundial, south-west of the nave. Tapering circular stem c.1.2m high on a square base, but the plate and gnomon have gone, and part of the stem has flaked away. Claimed as possibly 16thC in the 1987 Listed Building Schedule but unlikely to be that early.

Earthworks: ground level beyond the boundary to the south is now well above the churchyard and there is a drop of at least 1m into the interior. On the west the yard is raised by about 1m, and there appears to be a similar drop outside the north side.

Ancillary features: a pair of iron gates form the south-east corner entrance, with eight steps down into the interior; also a single iron gate in the north-west corner. Tarmac paths around the south side of the church.

Vegetation: nine mature yews, the largest located in the south-west corner. Mix of 19thC bushes and ornamental trees, some conifers and some bush yews.

Sources consulted

Archaeologia Cambrensis, 1945, 196.
Cadw Schedule of Listed Buildings for St Asaph 1987
CPAT Field Visit: 16 August 1996 & 17 April 1998
Clwyd SMR
Faculty St Asaph 1829 (NLW): gallery construction
Faculty St Asaph 1871 (NLW): churchyard closure
Faculty St Asaph 1871 (NLW): church restoration
Faculty St Asaph 1888 (NLW): church alterations
Faculty St Asaph 1960 (NLW): churchyard loss
Faculty St Asaph 1862 (NLW): churchyard clearance
Glynne 1884, 85
Hubbard 1986, 441
NMR Aberystwyth
Quinquennial Review 1994
Thomas 1908, 383
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 St Asaph 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 ( 22:01:41 ).
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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