A Short History of St Mary’s

A brief account of the history of our parish church:

The sturdy defensive tower of St Mary’s testifies to the turbulent times during which it was first constructed.  It has stood over the town for more than 700 years – since the mid-13th century.  The church stands on naturally steep ground and, besides the tower, consists of a  broad nave with north and south aisles, and a chancel with organ chamber.  Several stages of building can be identified, from the 13th century masonry surviving in the lower parts of the tower, to the 19th century restoration by Street.  Inside the church can be seen a large ornamented communion table (this is kept in the vestry, and probably dates to the time of Archbishop Laud), Royal Arms dating from the 17th century, and a number of interesting monuments and brasses, one dating from the late 16th century.  In the churchyard is an interesting stone which may have druidic origins, and an 18th century sundial whose base is probably earlier.

St Mary’s is a large church mainly constructed from local stone and red sandstone. The present church shows several phases of rebuilding. For example, while the lower stages of the tower date from the mid 13th century, the belfry stage and windows are of 15th or 16th century construction, and the crenellated top from the 19th century.  Other 13th century survivals include a window later re-sited in the organ chamber.

The church is asymmetrical in that the chancel is to the north of the nave, rather than in line.  It is unclear why this should be so.  The chancel has been given a 14th century date, with substantial work surviving in the north and south walls. The west wall of the porch could also be of this period.

Rebuilding work in the 16th century added the present columns within the nave, constructed of pink sandstone.  But by the beginning of the 18th century the church had fallen into very poor order, and substantial works were initiated following an appeal for funds.  The nave was completely rebuilt, and the present north and south aisles are substantially of this time, though larger windows were installed in the 19th century.  The tower was also repaired during the 18th century restoration, and a schoolroom added.

19th century work included galleries, originally to house the poorer inhabitants of the town, for whom very little seating was available in the main body of the church.  These galleries were removed in the first half of the 20th century;  an earlier west gallery was removed by Street. The tower was battlemented and re-roofed in about 1825. But it was later in the century that G.E. Street was commissioned to undertake a major restoration, along Tractarian lines, following the long-overdue restoration of the chancel in 1856, by Thomas Billing.

Street’s restoration took place in 1870-1, and much of the present interior dates from this time, including the font and pulpit.  The flat ceiling of the nave was replaced by a pitched one in pine, while the floor of the church was lowered to its medieval level, leaving the chancel much elevated from the nave.  Bench pews were also introduced at this time.

The new organ chamber on the north side of the chancel dates from this time, and a new Father Willis organ was installed.  This is a very fine instrument. The restoration work, over a period of about twelve months, also effectively destroyed the medieval porch, which had at least in part survived the earlier works in the nave.

20th century work includes the repair and reslating of the church roof in 1937, and restoration work on the tower and the bells carried out between 1957 and 1967. The tower had begun to lean to the south-west and cracks were appearing in the stonework. One bell was recast and the whole ring (of eight) re-hung. Renewal of the dressings of the south aisle windows also took place at this time.

St Mary’s will not have been the first church in the area, of course.  A church dedicated to St Llywelyn may have existed as early as the 6th century, linked to that of St Trinio in Llandrinio, of around the same date.

St Mary’s Church has its origins in the foundation of a new town as, effectively, an English settlement (Pole or Pool), with the aim of bringing a measure of peace and stability to this troubled border region.  The identification of the old and new towns as separate entities continued for many centuries;  “Pool Town” and “Welsh Town” are recorded in registers of the 19th century.