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Flintshire Churches Survey

Church of St Mary Magdalene , Gwaenysgor

Gwaenysgor Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Trelawnyd and Gwaenysgor in the county of Flintshire. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ0752081028.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16787 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Gwaenysgor Church, CPAT copyright photo 504-05.JPG

Summary

St Mary's church is recorded in Domesday Book, but it is unlikely that the present single-chambered building goes back to that time. Its core, however, is certainly medieval, perhaps even Norman, and it has been suggested, without adequate proof, that it was enlarged during the 15thC. The church retains a medieval arch-braced roof, a Perpendicular east window, a curious wooden entrance arch displaying Christian symbols, several re-sited sepulchral slabs of 14thC date and a 13thC font. The small polygonal churchyard includes a sundial pillar of 1663 and several 17thC graves.

The core of the church is medieval and it retains some Perpendicular features. There is no structural evidence to support Hubbard's contention that it was extended eastwards in the 15thC. The porch is possibly 16thC or 17thC and one window on the north side of the church may be later 16thC or 17thC.

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

History

The parish and church of Gwaenysgor ('Wenescol') are recorded in Domesday Book in 1086, though the church itself was ruinous at that time.

The church was valued at 20s in the Norwich Taxation of 1254, and at 5 6s 8d in the Lincoln Taxation of 1291.

Hubbard claimed that the small church was extended eastwards in the 15thC.

There are records of restoration work in 1845 or 1846 when the rood screen is believed to have been removed. Thomas noted that there had been a screen dividing the nave and chancel, and that there were stalls in the latter for the male parishioners.

Glynne visited the church in 1854, 'a neat little Welsh church, recently put into good repair and nice order'. He remarked on the unusual porch ceiling vaulted in stone, and the 'curious doorway, of very wild character, and perhaps early' which he described in some detail. He believed the roof to have been renewed and 'of cradle form'. In the churchyard was the shaft of a cross. . During a later restoration in 1892, the church was re-roofed and a barrel-vaulted ceiling installed. This was subsequently removed in 1931.

The 1931 restoration work by Harold Hughes included partial re-roofing of church and porch, including guttering and downspouts, and the partial rebuilding of the south wall. Worn dressings were removed from the east window and re-used as mullions in other windows. The bell was rehung, and the font was refixed. Whitewash was removed from the wooden arch in the south doorway, a dado was removed from the east wall, wooden floors were taken up on the south side of the nave and slabs were laid on concrete. The chancel floor was also relayed with flagstones. Part of the old north door was opened up and a small window inserted to light the new vestry at the west end of the nave. A sepulchral slab was removed from over the south doorway and fixed to the north wall of the chancel. The chancel was refitted and new oak seats replaced the oak pews.

Architecture

The church consists of a single-chambered church with a nave and chancel in one, a south porch and a west bellcote. The building is aligned almost due east to west.

Fabrics: 'A' is of small to medium, rectangular blocks of limestone, and occasional lumps of buff-yellow sandstone. The dressings are in Gwespyr sandstone, and there are traces of a render coat now gone. 'B' consists of blackened stone, mainly limestone, irregularly coursed. 'C' of small, mixed and rather fragmentary limestone, completely jumbled.

Roofs:- slates with plain blue ceramic ridge tiles. Modern pyramid finial to porch.

Drainage:- modern guttering and downspouts lead to soakaways. There is a grassed-over gully on the north side of the church, and possibly a gully on the south side.

Exterior

Nave and chancel - General. No external differentiation.

North wall:- features from the west are: i) a north doorway of rustic appearance and uncertain age. The two-centred arch is of long sandstone voussoirs and the jambs are unchamfered. It is now blocked, with limestone at the base, and has a single, two-centred light at the top. There are also clear signs of insertion but it is possible that this might relate to work in 1931 (when perhaps some of the dressings were replaced?), rather than to its original construction. ii) a square-headed window with two basket-headed lights and sunken spandrels; this is likely to be 16thC-17thC but some renewal of the dressings including the mullion, sill and jambs. Further east the wall has rather more sandstone than elsewhere. Could this anomaly represent a blocked window? iii) a light to the sanctuary, little more than a square-headed slit with chamfered dressings. It should be noted that there is no evidence (pace Hubbard) for an eastwards extension of the structure. There is, however, a change in the masonry from 'A' to 'B', just under the eaves (see south wall below).

East wall:- this has a plinth projecting outwards for about 0.3m at ground level. The east window has a weathered, four-centred arch, deeply hollowed chamfers, a hoodmould and three cusped, ogee-headed lights with cusped panel tracery. Some renewal of the dressings including parts of the mullions, a couple of jambstones and the sill, though the tracery is original. The roof has clearly been raised. Earlier kneelers, 0.1m below the present ones, are still in place, and there is an obvious disconformity in the masonry along the whole gable line, giving a rise of around 0.3m. This heightening is in 'C'.

South wall:- there is a slight batter at the base. Most of the wall is in 'A' but the top 0.3m or so under the eaves in 'B', a further sign of the walls being raised. From the west end the features are: i) porch. ii) a 19thC square-headed window with three cusped two-centred lights with sunken spandrels. iii) a Perpendicular square-headed chancel window containing a pair of cusped, two-centred lights; most of the dressings original and perhaps only the mullion replaced; deeply sunken spandrels.

West wall:- there is a modern concrete plinth at the base of the wall. The wall itself leans outwards towards the top and there are large sandstone quoins at the corners. For reasons not entirely clear the quoinstones at the north-west angle are plumb, creating a situation at the top of the wall where they lie back from the masonry face of the wall. Also further evidence of the walls being raised, but on this side the additional masonry is more like 0.5m high. The triangular bellcote at the gable apex is of dressed sandstone with some limestone. It contains what is almost an ogee-headed arch to the aperture which contains a single bell, and the whole feature was evidently built after the roof was raised.

South Porch - General. In 'A' with occasional blocks of yellow sandstone. There is a basal plinth with a pronounced batter and this is capped by a course of protruding flat slabs on the south side to a height of c.0.6m above ground level. Possibly of 16thC construction, but could equally be later.

South wall:- a round-headed archway of yellow sandstone voussoirs, the door itself recessed by about 0.5m into the doorway. It contains a wooden door frame and a modern door of very irregular fit. Much of the upper face and gable of the wall is in yellow sandstone, and this presumably reflects some rebuilding.

East wall:- a basal plinth at less than 0.1m above ground level.

Interior

Porch - General. This has a flagstone floor, walls that are not plastered and painted, and a barrel-vaulted stone roof, the stone slabs on edge. It contains several loose sepulchral slab fragments.

North wall:- a round-arched doorway with slightly projecting imposts, and dressed archstones, probably of no great age. Within this is and now freestanding on a raised threshold stone is a wooden arch with straight sides and a pointed head, the vertical timbers unchamfered and continuing up as solid pieces of wood to form the arch; above this is a later collar of three pieces, with wooden pegs. It has been suggested that this locally crafted arch was set into the nave wall when the porch was constructed and was later plastered and whitewashed over - it was only revealed during the 1931 restoration work. It shows symbols on the spandrels - a bird on the right side and a circle with Greek crosses on the left together with a group of circles containing a triangle, flowers and foliage.

East and west walls:- stone benches down the sides, otherwise plain. Four decorated slab fragments including part of a ?cross, are placed on the benches.

Nave - General. The stone slabbed floor includes two large gravestones at the west end, one of 1711 the other of 1743, and a third slab carrying some sort of pattern; flush wooden boarding below the seats and a carpetted central aisle over concrete slabs. Walls plastered and painted and displaying a batter on both the north and south; exposed stonework around the window apertures. Roof running the entire length of the building has 20 arch-braced collar trusses with raking struts and struts, springing directly, it appears, from the wall tops rather than from wallplates. Roof extends across both nave and chancel; two rows of through purlins and the ceiling is plastered above. Attributable to the 15thC, though many of the rafters and purlins have been repaired or renewed.

North wall:- the blocked doorway at the west end, thought by Hubbard to be earlier than the 15thC, was partially opened up in 1913. In the reveal, two steps above nave floor level, a cross is visible carved on the lower step on the east side. On the west side of the doorway is a socket stone for pivoting the door. Irregularities in the wall to the east of the doorway denote the position of an early fireplace and chimney. The only window has a deeply splayed aperture, the sloping sill utilising a cross slab; a modern lintel. One 19thC memorial tablet, and near the sanctuary a fine large cross slab, and a small cross-incised plaque set into the wall.

East wall:- one step up to the sanctuary. No changes in the roof.

South wall:- the deeply splayed window embrasure incorporates a carved cross slab in the sill; modern lintel. Also the doorway reveal has a round-headed arch.

West wall:- unplastered and plain except for a tablet of 1799 set into it.

Sanctuary - General. Stepped, with a floor of stone slabs, and partly carpet-covered. Walls and roof as nave. Modern oak fittings.

North wall:- one splayed window, its dressings unpainted.

East wall:- splayed window with four-centred reveal.

South wall:- sill of the window incorporates four fragments of carved stones, and a single moulded stone protrudes from below the window in corbel fashion. One piece of loose stone and a handbell in the reveal.

Churchyard

A small polygonal churchyard, though conceivably the west side may originally have been less angular. It displays an undulating surface, and is left deliberately overgrown and is preserved as a sanctuary for wildlife.

Boundary:- a mortared stone wall

Monuments:- several largely illegible ledgers are located near the south wall of the church, though one bears a date of 1779 and others appear to be early 18thC. There are only a few burials on the north side.

Furniture:- a sundial on a square sandstone pillar, about 1.2m high, with chamfered edges terminating in pyramid stops. One face is inscribed '1663 R.E. P.E'. The plate and the gnomon disappeared prior to 1910. It is located in the south-west corner of the churchyard. Is this the shaft of the churchyard cross referred to by Glynne?

Earthworks:- slight internal banking, particularly against the south-east wall. The interior is raised by up to 2m on the west, 1m or more on the south and east but not at all on the north.

Ancillary features:- there are entrances on the south-east side and at the north angle. That on the south has a pair of iron gates supported on sandstone pillars and an iron overarch; a stone stile is set in the wall immediately to the west. There are also double iron gates on the north side.

Vegetation:- no ancient vegetation. Boundary wall overgrown with brambles and a laurel hedge.

Finds:- in 1875, a small bronze figure of a saddled horse, perhaps Romano-British, was found during the excavation of a grave. In 1931, a spindlewhorl was found under the floor of the church during the restoration work. And a Roman milestone was discovered some years ago, built into the churchyard wall. It is now in the National Museum of Wales.

Sources consulted

Church guide 1989
Clwyd SMR
CPAT Field Visits: 13 August 1996 and 11 November 1998
Crossley and Ridgway 1945, 188
D R T 1876
Faculty: St Asaph 1931 (NLW): restoration
Glynne 1884, 86
Gresham 1968, 73, 118, 124, 129
Hubbard 1986, 356
Hughes1932
Neaverson 1953-54, 11
NMR Aberystwyth
Owen 1892
Quinquennial Report
RCAHMW 1912, 31
Thomas 1908, 403
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 Gwaenysgor 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 ( 22:01:54 ).
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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