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Flintshire Churches Survey

Church of St Michael , Caerwys

Caerwys Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Caerwys in the county of Flintshire. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ1273872860.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 15838 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Caerwys Church, CPAT copyright photo 2388-11.JPG

Summary

St Michael's church occupies an off-centre location in the medieval planned settlement of Caerwys, a little over 5 miles to the east of St Asaph. It has a late 13thC tower and nave to which a chancel and a north aisle were later added. The building contains a 13thC effigy, broken sepulchral slabs of 14thC date, and a range of wooden furnishings of 17thC date. The church is sited in large level churchyard with two lychgates, one originally dating to 15thC.

The tower is said to have been constructed in the late 13thC and raised probably in 1687 and again raised (or repaired) in 1769. Ellis Davies, however, thought that there had been considerable alterations to the tower in the late 15thC or early 16thC. The west end of the south nave is also thought to be from this period, though the surviving window is 14thC. Subsequently, the chancel was added to the nave and this, too, has a 14thC window though it is possibly re-set. The north aisle is perhaps an even later addition, but in its present Perpendicular form it could be a reconstruction; the east wall of the tower exhibits an earlier roofline to the north aisle but this could be a relatively modern modification, a result of a reduction in roof height. RCAHMW, however, argued that it was the south nave that was the addition, while Thomas thought that the north aisle pre-dated the chancel extension.

Together these elements give a pseudo-double-naved structure, but not quite because the chancel has an inset south wall and there is a chancel arch.

West porch from 1904.

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

History

It has been suggested that the dedication to St Michael points to an early 8thC church, when the cult of St Michael became popular in Wales, and there is a well about half a mile to the west of the church known as 'Ffynnon Mihangel'. As the earliest reference to the church is in 1244 when it was nominated as a meeting place between Prince David and King Henry III and was referred to again in 1284, when compensation was paid to the rector for damage done to the church during Edward I's incursion into Wales, it is evident that there was an existing settlement and church prior to the laying out of the planned town from 1290. Whether the church, however, can be taken back into early medieval times remains to be satisfactorily established.

The church is not recorded in the Norwich taxation of 1254 but appears as 'capelle de Kerwys' in 1284 and subsequently in Pope Nicholas's Taxation of 1291 at a value of 8 1s 8d.

The town received a charter in 1290 and parts of the present building may date to this time. The tower, it has been claimed, was built on the site of a Roman observation tower, on the basis of the early fabric at the base but there is no justification for such a view. The late 13thC church was presumably a single-chambered building with the west tower linked to it on the north.

Considerable restoration and rebuilding work took place during the late 15th/early 16thC, and new east windows were inserted.

Documentation refers to re-slating the roof in 1675, which involved the purchase of 3,000 slates and 600 laths, painting the building (presumably with limewash) in 1689, and flagging the church floor in 1760, perhaps as a replacement for the rushes that were strewn over the earth floor. There is a reference to work on the top stage of the tower in 1769, perhaps an addition, though Hubbard thought this must be repair work.

Probably in the 18thC, the rood loft was taken down and utilised as a gallery at the west end of the church, though Thomas also noted some otherwise unrecorded alterations in 1810. At some time too the rood screen was taken down and used as panelling.

Sir Stephen Glynne visited Caerwys sometime in the middle of the 19thC, perhaps in 1839 when he visited other churches in the neighbourhood. He described the building in brief terms, noting the Perpendicular five-light window in what was then the chancel, and the Decorated windows in what was the south aisle. The wooden arcade pillars were noted as was the fine roof in the south aisle and its poor counterpart in the nave and chancel. These were described thus: 'The northern chancel and the nave have a rude, open roof; the compartments filled with wooden quatrefoils. In the south chancel there is a much more enriched roof; at least its cornice displays bands of vine-leaves and grapes, with pierced quatrefoils' (Glynne).

In 1894/5, the original arcade supported on timber columns between the chancel and aisle was replaced by the present stone arcading. Other work during the 1894 restoration by W. H. Spaull of Oswestry, included reslating the roofs, pulling down a vestry and building a south porch on its site, removing the west gallery and its stairs and replacing all the seating. The font, which is now sited in the west corner of the north aisle was supposed to be moved near the new south porch, though whether this happened is not clear. Decayed window dressings were renewed. The body of the church was refloored with tiles. Presumably, too, at this time the south nave and chancel roof was replaced.

The present vestry and the west porch were added in 1904.

Architecture

The church consists of a nave and a slightly narrower chancel which is almost as long as the nave and shares a continuous roof line, a north aisle and a tower at its west end. A west porch abuts the nave and there is a vestry on the south side of the nave. The building is aligned fractionally south of due west.

Fabric 'A' comprises squared blocks and slabs of local limestone, mostly of medium size; irregular coursing. 'B' is of slightly bullnosed, rough cut, local limestone. 'C' is of good, fashioned slabs and blocks of limestone.

'A' may be of any date from the 13thC through to the 18thC; 'B' is attributable to the 20thC and 'C' could be 19thC or 20thC.

Roofs:- slates with blue ceramic ridge tiles which are decorative over the eastern part of the chancel; cross finials over the chancel, the west end of the nave, the west porch and south vestry. Also a chimney at the east end of the north aisle.

Drainage:- guttering and downspouts on the north and south walls lead to soakaways. Also concrete drainage channels run along the north and south walls, the latter continuing around vestry.

Exterior

Tower - General. A four-stage western tower, battered at the base. A claim that the lowest c.0.6m of the wall is supposedly the base of a 2ndC Roman observation tower can be dismissed: there is no physical evidence for such an assertion. Above this the walls, supposedly of 13thC date, taper to a string course about two-thirds of the way up the face of the tower. This course once formed the coping on the top of the tower, and two waterspouts protrude from it on the north side. Above the string course the walls are plumb and the bell chamber appears to have been either repaired or possibly and more likely added, in the 17thC for a tie beam in the interior carries a date of 1687. The uppermost part of the tower is battlemented and dates to 1769 - again this could reflect new building or a repair. A flagpole occupies the centre of the roof. Despite the different phases, it is not possible to distinguish different fabrics and all are classed as 'A'. Quoins are mostly limestone but occasional sandstone ones interspersed.

North wall:- in the first stage a single slit; the second stage has a round-headed slit, the head in pale sandstone; and above is a frameless window comprising a pair of trefoiled, round-headed lights with sunken spandrels, all in worn buff-yellow sandstone, certainly 15thC but perhaps earlier. Higher, a square-headed but frameless belfry window which contains a pair of four-centred, louvred lights with sunken spandrels. The jambs are in limestone, the arches in buff-yellow sandstone and original.

East wall:- abutted by the north aisle, and an earlier, steep roofline is visible on this face, about 0.4m higher than the present one. The third stage has a pair of round-headed trefoiled lights as the north wall, with their original dressings surviving. Then above the string course is a clock face (the clock by J.B. Joyce of Whitchurch from 1913, erected 1915). A standard belfry window though the dressings are in poor condition.

South wall:- the third stage on this side is visible above the southern nave roofline and includes a pair of trefoiled, round-headed lights. A standard belfry window, the lights as the north side and the dressings worn.

West wall:- first stage has a square-headed slit with voussoirs creating a relieving arch above it. Then a slit window with a two-centred head, and, against the south-west angle of the wall, a slit window lighting the tower stair. Next the standard trefoiled lights and the belfry window. Cast iron downpipes descend from the battlements.

North Aisle - General. Adjoins the west tower, its north wall continuous with that of the tower. In Fabric 'A', but the masonry is fractionally more regular with more medium-sized blocks than the tower and shows considerable repair work, particularly below the eaves. The quoins and a stepped diagonal buttress at the north-east corner date from 1894.

North wall:- from the west: i) a two-centred doorway with chamfered jambs, all in worn sandstone; adjacent to where the north aisle and tower meet. The batter at the base of the tower wall looks to have been truncated to allow for the introduction of the doorway. The door itself is studded and shows: 'TP RW CW 1780'. Could this be the date of the doorway also? ii) and iii) two windows in similar style, both exhibiting square-headed frames with labels, the more westerly renewed in 1894, the other with original jambs and perhaps the label too, but its tracery and mullion renewed. The western window contains plain two-centred lights, the eastern with two trefoiled two-centred lights. iv) a below-ground boiler house with a stepped concrete entrance on the east side. v) a diagonal buttress in regular masonry ('C'), and just beside this and below the eaves is a sandstone block inscribed William Pierce William Owen Churchwardens 182[7]' suggesting some rebuilding.

East wall:- the Perpendicular east window has a two-centred arch over five stepped, cusped lights; these are all in red sandstone and indicate complete renewal. (Interestingly, Thomas claimed a Decorated window in this wall). The hoodmould, however, has very weathered head-stops and these could be the only original survival. The chimney above the gable bears a cross on it.

Chancel - General. In 'A'. Although supposedly of different centuries there is nothing to distinguish the stonework of the north aisle and chancel and no butt joint. Unlike the nave which is on the level, the ground drops slightly so the chancel has a slope from west to east.

East wall:- presents a continuous face with that of the north aisle but divided from it by a stepped buttress in 'C'. A five-light window with renewed dressings. It has a two-centred arch with a hoodmould over it and five cinquefoiled, two-centred lights. Hubbard describes it as 'of transitional design, with Dec[orated] reticulated tracery turning rectilinear. Arches upon arches, with their verticals suppressed'. However it is all renewed in pale yellow freestone.

South wall:- the wall is splayed at the base to a height of 0.2m. Features from the west are: i) a 15thC square-headed window with sunken spandrels and a pair of trefoiled, two-centred lights; some renewal of the dressings, but the jambs, one of the light heads and the label are original, and the last of these is badly broken. ii) as i) with only the mullion and part of one light arch renewed. iii) window with a two-centred arch over a pair of trefoiled, ogee-headed lights with a multifoil light above. Most of the dressings are original and it can be classed as 14thC (Hubbard). However both this window and iv) below it have been inserted in a matrix of irregular, indeed jumbled, masonry, indicative of some rebuilding here. iv) below the window set into the wall a memorial stone refers to Robert Evans, son of a Caerwys merchant who was appointed to the sinecure rectorship in 1557 at the age of 9. He died in 1582. v) masonry reverts to 'A', and a stepped diagonal buttress added during this rebuilding in 1894.

Nave - General. Slightly wider than the chancel, the change marked by a small offset of 0.2m in the south wall. In 'A', though more regular than that of the chancel. Walls splayed at the base to a height of c.0.1m.

South wall:- from the west features are: i) vestry from 1904. ii) window with a pair of weathered, trefoiled, two-centred lights of 14thC date; the mullion has been renewed but much of the stonework is original.

West wall:- this shows a plinth, chamfered at a height of c.1.6m, and above this the wall face is battered inwards slightly; also the quoins are of yellowish sandstone suggesting an original wall which could be of 13thC date, though it should be noted that the masonry is less regular than that in the south wall. There is evidence of masonry replacement relating to the construction of the 1904 porch, and above in what may be rebuilt wall is a window dating from the restoration of 1894 with a two-centred arch over a pair of trefoiled, two-centred lights with a quatrefoil above and a relieving arch of limestone voussoirs with protruding keystones.

Vestry - General. Constructed in 1904 in 'B' on the site of the former south porch.

East and west walls:- no features.

South wall:- window with a two-centred arch over a pair of trefoiled, ogee-headed lights with multifoil tracery above.

Porch - General. Constructed in 1904 in 'B' to replace the earlier south porch.

South wall:- contains a doorway with a flat four-centred arch in buff coloured sandstone. Twin, wrought iron gates were added in 1976.

Interior

Porch - General. Built in 1904. Flagged floor includes re-used graveslabs, the walls have exposed stonework, and there is a plastered ceiling.

North and south walls:- benches fashioned from a re-used grave slab split longitudinally. A memorial stone records the erection of the porch.

East wall:- doorway to the nave has a two-centred arch with limestone voussoirs and jambs.

Tower - General. Concrete floor which is slightly raised above the level of the nave, whitewashed walls, and a boarded ceiling with one joist showing. The ground floor contains the clock mechanism. A well-worn staircase, accessed from the nave, leads to two upper chambers with planked floors.

North wall:- splayed slit window.

East wall:- entrance to the north aisle through inner and outer doors to the 2m-deep reveal. The reveal on the tower side has a segmental head. Then a door which carries a sanctuary ring and this opens to show a curious, almost round-headed arch but asymmetric as though the side has been filled in. The date of this is uncertain.

South wall:- featureless.

West wall:- splayed slit window.

North Aisle - General. Herringbone woodblock floor under the seats, but carpetted at west end; walls plastered and painted, except for some window dressings; a restored 15thC arch-braced roof incorporates some original timber; eight and a half bays formed by nine trusses that spring from 19thC stone corbels on the south wall and emerge from the wall face on the north wall; through purlins and rafters.

North wall:- in the north-west corner is an inner porch to the north door with two steps down into the interior. Lower part of wall painted brown to match the east wall dado. Stone memorial of 1732, a marble memorial of 1810, and a fine 18thC Royal Arms towards the east end.

East wall:- dado manufactured from old pews with a frieze of vine leaf trails interrupted by a panel of fighting dragons (perhaps from a rood screen though Crossley and Ridgway went to some lengths to deny that any remnants of the putative screen survived), set below the east window. Two of the pew panels have both brass plaques and painted inscriptions to Sir Thomas Mostyn recording his ownership.

South wall:- two wide arches of two orders, resting on octagonal columns from 1894-5. West of these the wall is wider by 0.4m, reflecting the original nave and narrower chancel as on the south side though here more pronounced; and there is a further two-centred arch from the aisle to the nave with slight chamfers but not convincingly old. Decalogue boards to either side of the arch..

West wall:- high, two-centred arch with limestone voussoirs to the tower, and one 20thC brass. Lower part of wall as north wall.

Nave - General. Carpetted central aisle with flush herringbone woodblock floor under the benches. Walls plastered and painted. Roof renewed in the late 19thC (?), with three arch braces - on stone corbels on the north wall above the arcade and running straight out from the south wall - creating four bays; and boarded ceiling behind the trusses.

North wall:- a spiral staircase gives access from the north-west corner to the tower with a small relatively modern, round-headed doorway and approached by eight steps running along the west wall. Dado of pew panels along the wall. Marble memorial of 1777.

East wall:- a two-centred arch divided the nave and chancel originally, but the former now extends beyond this.

South wall:- at the west end is the south doorway, its dressings renewed. Marble monuments, both of 1751.

West wall:- bare stonework. Apertures with segmental heads to west doorway and window.

Chancel - General. Two steps up from the nave, one to the sanctuary and one to the altar. Floor tiled in the 19thC but largely carpetted over and planking under the seating; mosaic floor in the sanctuary. Walls as nave. Roof replaced in late 19thC as nave; now two arch-braced collar trusses with raking struts and a boarded ceiling above.

North wall:- divided from the north aisle by a two-bay arcade of two-centred arches mounted on octagonal stone piers which were inserted during the 1894-5 restoration to replace three timber piers. One 19thC stone memorial.

East wall:- dado around wall includes pew panels and other re-used woodwork.

South wall:- a late 14thC tomb recess with a fine cinquefoiled arch having a castellated head to the top of the arch, and containing a female effigy of slightly earlier date. Also one marble monument of 1766 and a brass First World War memorial.

Vestry - General. Dates from 1904. Linoleum floor, plastered walls with dado, and a boarded ceiling. One plaque on the south wall records the construction of the vestry and the renovation of the church.

Churchyard

Caerwys churchyard is a medium-sized, relatively flat, almost rectangular enclosure. It was extended to the east in 1956, and a footpath east of the church defines the original extent.

Boundary:- a stone wall on all sides except the east.

Monuments:- a large number of gravemarkers are now laid flat beside the north and south paths, and there was some clearance in 1973 which included the removal of some headstones and kerbstones around the older graves. The earliest stones seen were of 1734, 1740 and 1742 to the east of the chancel, but a ledger in Welsh on the south-east side of the chancel could be 17thC. Modern burials are in the eastern extension.

Furniture:- a sundial on a brown sandstone baluster pillar is said to have been originally set up in 1608. The present plate and gnomon are inscribed 'P Jackson R. Jones Facit 1830'. It is sunk into a circular sandstone 'capital' and the pillar is mounted on a circular base; near the south vestry.

Earthworks:- the churchyard is raised slightly, by 0.3m on the south, 0.5m on the east (the difference between the old churchyard and its modern extension), and 1.0m or more on the west. Internally it is embanked by about 0.5m on the south side.

Ancillary features:- there are four entrances. Doors in the walls to the north-west and south-east of the church lead respectively to the old school and the rectory. There are lychgates at the north-east corner and on the south side, the former built in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria's Jubilee, the latter of 15thC or 16thC date with stone side walls, slightly splayed internally, and an original tie beam resting on more recent corbels; the purlins and rafters are also modern, as are the gates within it. On this beam the medieval lych cross stood. The structure was restored in 1866. Paths of concrete and tarmac.

Vegetation:- a mix of trees and bushes of no great age.

Sources consulted

Clwyd SMR
CPAT Field Visits: 7 November 1996 and 23 October 1998
Crossley and Ridgway 1945, 186
Davies 1960
Faculty: St Asaph 1894 (NLW): church restoration
Faculty: St Asaph 1956 (NLW): consecration of additional churchyard
Glynne 1884, 84
Gresham 1968, 120, 125, 171, 220, 227
Hubbard 1986, 335
Musson 1995
NMR Aberystwyth
Quinquennial Report 1988
RCAHMW 1912, 8
Soulsby 1983, 94
Thomas 1911, 8
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 Caerwys 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 ( 22:01:52 ).
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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