St Peter/Pedr Sant, Newborough/Niwbwrch

Dyma rhai o’n gwydrau lliw hyfryd… some of our lovely stained glass


Some notes on the history of St Peter’s Church Newborough (by the Revd J. Iorwerth Parry, Rector of Newborough 1942 – 1975 & Mr Norman Evans (Warden).

The first church, built shortly after 500AD, would have been made of mud & wattle, perhaps later of wood. It was known as Llananno (or Llanamo), possibly dedicated to St Amon & St Anna, parents of St Samson, second abbot of Caldey & later bishop of Dol, Brittany.

The first stone church was built in the 11th or (more probably) 12th century. It would have extended from a point about 14ft west of the present chancel arch as far as the present door, the west wall being in line with the first pew on the right as one enters the present church. Its length would have been about 33ft (twice its width) – ancient Celtic churches were roughly double squares.

The chancel (St Mary’s Chapel) was, in the opinion of some, built in the 14th century, not long after the conquest of Gwynedd by Edward I, but is more likely to have been built before 1156 by one of the Welsh princes as his private chapel, which would have been entered by the present vestry door. He would from time to time have been staying at his Llys (Llys Rhosyr), a short distance to the west of the church. As was the custom of the later princes, it would have been he who rededicated the church to St Peter, the parish then being known as Llanbedr Rhosfair. The earlier date is bourne out by a record in the Chronicles of the Princes of Wales (Brut y Tywysogion) that in 1156 ‘the churches of St Mary & St Peter, Rhosyr, were raided by men from the fleet of Henry II of England’, anchored near Abermenai. St Mary’s Chapel could therefore have been built by Gruffydd ap Cynan (after 1094) or by Owain Gwynedd (after 1137). It is more likely to have been built by Owain Gwynedd, as he built a number of churches during his peaceful reign.

Shortly after 1300 the west wall of St Mary’s Chapel was removed & the old parish church extended eastwards to form one building with the former chapel, which now became the chancel. The old church, with the extension, formed the nave. It will be noticed that the five beams in the roof of the nave next to the chancel are more recent than those further to the west. At this time new windows were inserted in the chancel to replace the old ones.

About 1500 the nave was extended westwards to its present length. A musicians’ gallery was erected above this last extension but was removed in 1886 (although note the bracket-head in the wall above the south door, probably a support for part of the gallery). At the same time the present porch was added. The walls, which are 2.5ft wide, consist mainly of gritstone, which is very porous & accounts for the need to pebble-dash the outside. The stones used to build the chancel are finely worked & look beautiful when uncovered. Rough, unworked stone was used in the nave. There were gritstone quarries near Malltraeth beach & one or two limestone quarries in the Warren.

Items of interest in the porch: the holy water stoup was damaged by Cromwell’s supporters (1640 – 1660) to prevent its use. A certain John Lloyd of Newborough was one of two commissioners for Anglesey appointed during the Commonwealth to eject ‘unacceptable clergymen from the parishes’. Dr R. White, Rector of Newborough, was extruded in 1650. The incisions in the stonework of the inner doorway were probably made by archers sharpening their arrows when practising in the churchyard. The ledge above the door once supported a statue of St Peter, which would have been destroyed during the Commonwealth. Note the worn stone benches beneath the present wooden seats – similar stone seats along the inside walls of the nave would have been the only seating for the congregation at one time, usually reserved for the elderly & infirm.

The nave would have been used not only for religious but also secular purposes, such as holding manorial courts.

The gritstone font is dated 1150 (although some say it could be earlier) & is among the earliest in Wales. There is a plaster cast of it in the National Museum, Cardiff. Round in shape, it has a chamfered rim & surface decorated with three rectangular panels with various patterns such as the Maltese Cross, loop-work & triangular knot-work. The fourth panel is blank (this side may have rested against the wall when the font was in its original position (next to the old doorway).

The pews & possibly the pulpit were the gift of Lord Stanley of Penrhos (Holyhead) & of Alderley, when the church was renovated in 1886, with the present chancel arch & screen added then.

There are two church bells, one brought from Llanddwyn Church after it ceased to be a parish church in the latter part of the 16th century (the last recorded Rector of Llanddwyn, Rev Hugh Fanlod, was appointed after 1557. There is a record that Llanddwyn & Newborough were united in 1465 & then temporarily separated at a later date). The second bell dates from about 1690; both bells were recast in 1892 at Whitechapel, London, and each weighs 115lb.

All three windows in the south wall are from 1850 – 1886. Of the windows in the north wall, counting from the chancel arch, the first dates from c.1500 & the third from c.1280 (reset). The second & fourth are from 1850 – 1886. It should be noted that the glass throughout the church dates from the 19th century.

One notices the almost total absence of memorial tablets in the nave, indicating the great poverty of the parish following the comparative importance & affluence of the borough in the Middle Ages. It was poverty that caused the burghers to surrender their charter in 1538, although as late as 1727 claims were made (unsuccessfully) on their behalf to the right of voting for the Member of Parliament.

In the sanctuary there is a gravestone below the south window bearing the effigy of a priest in eucharistic vestments, holding a chalice. The damaged inscription is in Latin & could be translated: ‘Here lies Don. Mathew ap Elias, chaplain of St Mary, Newborough. 120 days’ indulgence is granted from Rome to whomsoever may say an “Our Father” or “Hail Mary” for his soul’. There was an Archdeacon of Anglesey called Mathew who lived at this time (c.1327). On the north side, below the window, is a stone slab with a Latin inscription translated as: ‘Here lies David Barker, on whose soul may God have mercy.’ In the ‘extent’ or survey of property made for tax purposes in 1352 at the command of Edward III, there appears in Welsh the name ‘David Y Barcer’ (David the Tanner). He had died in the Black Death, which devastated the country 1348 – 1350. About 120 parishioners died at the same time.

There is a piscine in the south wall near the altar – a kind of bowl for washing the communion vessels – dating from the period after 1300.

The glass in the east window is a very fine example of a late Pre-Raphaelite window & of national importance, designed by Henry Wooldridge, a pupil of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, & made by the studio of James Powell & Co of Whitefriars, London, in 1886. The small window in the north wall, ‘Christ’s Charge to Peter’, was designed by Charles Hardgrave (active 1885 – 1918) in a later style & also executed by Powell. In the other three windows there appear to be Islamic symbols (such as Arabic circles & crescents), indicative of the interests of Lord Stanley who donated the windows in 1886.

The vestry was added in 1886 using the original door to St Mary’s Chapel. On its east wall is a 13th – 14th century Latin memorial to ‘Ellena, wife of Iewan’, the inscription in Lombardic capitals. There are also gravestones in memory of members of the Bryniau family (dates 1689, 1732, 1736) & the Frondeg family (dates 1736 & 1806), probably taken from the graves where the vestry now stands. On the west wall there are fragments of a slab with parts of an incised cross – the oldest memorial stone in the church although its original position is unknown. There is also a round perforated stone, probably used for the bell rope.

A house in the village, still known as Y Coleg, was the residence of the priests. It was maintained originally by the Princes of Gwynedd & then by the King of England.