The Parish Church of St Mary, Chirk
Fifteenth Century Enlargement
In all probability the structure of the Norman Church remained unaltered until the fifteenth century. Medieval records relating to the Church are scarce and confused because there was also a chapel at the castle served by a priest.
The Puleston MSS contain a note of 1467 that a remission of a hundred days from purgatory would be granted
'to those who should go to the chapel of St. Goddvarch, confessor and abbot, or to the cemetery at Chirk of St Tissilio, confessor, and hear mass of Richard ap John ap David, priest of the said diocese or give him support, or say Pater Noster and Ave Marie for the souls of his parents on certain days.'
Wales was disturbed and depopulated in the first half of the fifteenth century by the revolt of Owain Glyndwr, the Black Death and the Wars of the Roses. When peace eventually came there was an urge to beautify and refurnish churches. The Stanley family who held the Lordship from 1475 to 1495 and were patrons of the Perpendicular style may have been responsible for the extensive additions made to the church at Chirk in the late fifteenth century.
Margaret Beaufort, the second wife of Lord Derby and the mother of Henry VII was particularly interested in church building and her patronage is to be seen at Holywell and Mold. But whoever was responsible there was a considerable extension to the Church at the end of the fifteenth century and evidence of this work may still be seen.
The single nave church was enlarged by the addition of a body of equal length and breadth on the north side when the original north wall gave way to an arcade of three bays. The Church at Chirk, in common with many in Denbighshire and Flintshire, became double aisled. The explanation may be that a second alter was needed to give expression to the special devotion to our Lady with the prevailing popularity of the cult of the Virgin Mary and that population growth necessitated more accommodation.
The roof of the north aisle shows the prevailing decoration with its bestiary figures. The new additional aisle was crowned by the building of the perpendicular tower placed at the west end of the new north aisle.
Nineteenth Century Alterations
The arrangement of the interior of the Church remained very much the same from the end of the fifteenth to the beginning of the nineteenth century. There is much evidence of repairs from the Chirk Castle Accounts. The responsibility for the maintenance of the Church was the occasion of dispute when in 1632 John Green and others of the Parish of Chirk petitioned the Privy Council against Sir Thomas Myddelton and his tenants for refusing to contribute their share. In reply Sir Thomas alleged that -
'. . . the lordship of Chirk is a Lordship Marcher, and hath enjoyed many immunities and privileges tyme out of minde, and amongst others that it had a free Chapell endowed with the Tythe of all ancient Demesne Lands of the Castle there, for the maintenance thereof and of a Chaplaine. And the said Demesnes have bin ever free from any cessment for the reparacion of the Parish Church, and were never rated nor questioned to be rated in the memory of man.'
The Privy Council finally ordered that Sir Thomas should make a free gift, which he had offered to do, towards the repair of the church. The Church records also itemise many repairs through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century the church had to be restored.
1804 Feb 26 Agreed that a proper person be fixed upon to view the end of the Church over the Alter to advise the best mode of repairing the same it supposed to be in a dangerous state.
1811 Jan 27 Ordered that Railing be prepared for the Alter, that the Church be whitewashed and that the Churchwardens attend to the same.
Drastic alterations were made a few years later. Samuel Lewis reported that the Church -
'. . . has recently been renovated and embellished, in the later style of English architecture by subscriptions among the parishioners, and has received an addition of one hundred and seventy three sittings, of which one hundred and thirty three are free . . .'
This was in the years 1828 and 1829 when the interior of the Church was totally repewed, painted and plastered at a cost of over £1,500. In 1849 there were alterations to the two galleries. A fire on Christmas Day 1853 damaged the Church and Steeple and the gallery and Vestry Room suffered. In 1877 further work of restoration was carried out by E. Griffiths of Chirk. This consisted in taking down the old pews and making sixty pews of wainscot oak. The Font was re-sited, the pulpit lowered and a new reading desk, oak lectern standard and kneeling stools provided. Parts of the old pulpit and reading desk are to be found in the Litany desk and the present pulpit.
The east window of the north aisle with its biblical subjects - the baptism in Jordan, the Nativity, the Ascension and the meal at Emmaus - is in memory of Robert Myddelton-Biddulph (d. 1872). The window in the south chancel with the figures of David, Isaiah, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Adoration of the Magi is in memory of Moyra Hill Trevor (d. 1904) and the window in the south wall - bearing the arms of the Hill Trevors and their alliances - represents the virtues of faith, fortitude and charity and is in memory of Arthur Edwin Hill-Trevor, 1st Baron Trevor of Brynkynallt (d. 1904).
Many gifts have been added in the twentieth century. In 1909 the oak reredos was presented by Dr and Mrs J.D. Lloyd, of the Mount, in memory of their daughter. The Altar Rails, the Credence Table, the Choir Stalls, the Litany Book and the Lectern Bible bear the names of the donors and those faithful Christians who worshipped in this church and their sons who gave their lives in the second world war.
A Book of Remembrance in the north aisle is dedicated 'To the memory of the men of the Parish of Chirk who gave their lives in the wars of 1914 - 1918 and 1939 - 1945'. In the Village opposite the Hand Hotel is the War Memorial by Eric Gill.
The delicately carved crucifix on the topmost pillar between the aisles was discovered after her death among the possessions of a much loved headmistress of the village school: Miss Eirene Jones. Outside the door to the south aisle is a modern Celtic Cross; the memorial to James Darlington of Black Park Colliery.
© The Parish Church of St Mary, Chirk
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