ST MICHAEL’S CHURCH ABERGELE

A GUIDE TO

EARLY GRAVESTONES

CIRCA 1667 TO 1894

 

 

 

Wrtten by Len Ellis (Churchwarden) June 2016 

With thanks and acknowledgement to Delyth MacRae for her local knowledge and the use of her personal archive of written works by the late R Fred Roberts, also to Margaret Macaulay for her historical input, Mark Baker (Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust) for information about the Bamford Hesketh vault and David Roberts for his assistance with publishing.

 

Introduction

 

Earlier burials were inside the church but the stone slab floor (including some set with memorials indicating original burial sites) began to subside and was resurfaced during the restorations that began in 1878 (J R Ellis “History of Abergele”). Some memorials were      re-sited, and of the oldest, with a legible date, is that of Gwen Lloyd (1668) which is one of a cluster on the South wall near the pulpit. The memorial to Henry Pugh was found under the pulpit when it was moved from the South aisle and it is now mounted on the North wall near the piano. Surprisingly there are no memorials that date to before the restoration of Charles II in 1660 (except possibly the ones with no legible date and the fragments of sepulchral slabs on the South wall which would have originally been in the graveyard). This supports the idea that Cromwell’s troops were billeted in the church. All, but one of the sepulchral slabs are dated 1300-1350, the floriated cross is dated 1380-1400. Their broken state supports the idea that Abergele in those days was more of a border town, than the quiet market town we tend to imagine.

 

(1) Earliest Gravestones

 

In 1960 a major tidying up of the graveyard at the front and the West of the church was undertaken. (Humorous drawings of the workers during this period were made by Mr Cawthorpe and can be seen in the church). Unfortunately, some old gravestones were buried, used in walls and as footpaths. Some were mounted upright against the southernmost wall slightly to the left and opposite the main door. The most notable are:

 

1a, William Roberts 1667 (the oldest headstone found in the churchyard)

1b, Jane uch Thomas (wife of John Roberts) 16th March 1692

(uch/ap may be used in the Welsh language to indicate daughter/son of)

1c, Hugh Hughes 13th August 1719

1d, Elizabeth Jones 7th August 1720 and her husband

      Thomas Jones 17th January 1742  (Vicar of Abergele 1716-1742)

1e, Hugh Merlun 1733 and Jane Merlun 1744

1f, Jane Jones 19th February1750

          1g, John Humphry 30th November 1762

 

Some gravestones were also mounted on the West perimeter wall amongst which was the tombstone of John Pierce which had a Masonic emblem. It appears that he was a Royal Arch Mason of great significance to the Masonic movement. Owing to its historical importance the headstone is on permanent loan to the North Wales Masonic Organisation and is displayed at the Freemasons’ Hall (Llandudno) Ltd.  A photo of the stone is displayed with the vault photo display.

 

(2)  David Maurice (recorded also as Dafydd Morris, alias Dafydd ap Morus) - Buried 1702

Son of Andrew Morris, Dean of St Asaph. When he died he was Vicar of Abergele &, Betws yn Rhos (1684-1702). Records indicate he bore the shield of Owen Gwynedd/Owain Glyndwr but according to D R Thomas (St Asaph) he bore the shield of Cunedda Wledig.

He was a highly regarded translator and wrote articles relating to the Popish Plot and a sermon supporting weak Christians.  Tradition records that he chose the area of his final resting place so he might rise before his flock at the sound of the judgement trump.  Since he bore the shield his gravestone bears the arms of Owain Gwynedd and a laudatory Latin inscription, which translates:

“Here lies David Maurice, DD who formed of superior matter, laboured more than is usual in the performance of ecclesiastic offices.  Having been promoted to the prebend of Faenol, in the Church of St Asaph and to the rectory of Llansannan, he spent a life deservedly happy in the instruction of youth.  In the church his riper years were passed in laborious preaching.  But since he had often raised his mind heavenwards within its walls, he took care, when he had thoroughly elevated it, that the part which he laid down in the 76th year of this age AD 1702 should not have an inferior resting place’.

(3)  Bamford Hesketh Vault

The vault was discovered during maintenance work in 2004 and was the subject of an Excavation by the Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust. The first two phases were carried out in September 2005 and April 2006 with further investigations being carried in 2009, subsequent to a report be completed that year. 

Pictures of the interior of the vault and a copy of the Archaeological Report are on display in the church. The Survey also surveyed the blocked up “East” and “West” doorways to be found on the south wall and plotted gravestones on the top Northern grave yard.

 

Up to this time no known record of the origin of the vault had been found other than a note in the Parochial Church Council minutes in 1933 viz:  Someone said an open vault was built by the “Castle” years ago in the burial ground for the” Castle” people. Research by Mark Baker, who was cataloguing Gwrych papers, found sketches of a vault made by Lloyd Bamford Hesketh in 1829 outlining six adult coffins and one child coffin – the last coffin to be interred being Major Bamford-Hesketh in 1828. Another sketch by Lloyd in 1840/early 50’s shows a ground plan and cross section of the vault as it is today. Are there two vaults or were the coffins removed during the 19th century when the Gwrych family moved to worship at Llanddulas?

From artefacts found during the dig, type of building construction and Lloyd Bamford-Hesketh’s interest, the author of the Archaeological report concluded that the vault was constructed by either Lloyd before he died in 1861 or by his father at the turn of the 19th century. A further conclusion drawn was that the vault was emptied and resealed prior to Lloyd’s death in 1861, clay and backfill sealing the vault doorway contained fragments of green pearl-ware ceramic generally associated with a short period around early 19th Century.

It is possible that the date for resealing would be after Lloyd’s death and nearer1868 when the family left St Michael’s for Llanddulas because of their objections to the alterations. They had been developing what we now call the Elfod Chapel as a family memorial chapel. 

 

(4)  Hugh Jones, Amlwch - Buried 8th January 1857

Hugh Jones was the Captain of the ‘Ann Bach’ a small cargo boat driven ashore off Abergele during a violent storm in January 1857. A small stone is mounted on the wall near to the Railway Memorial.

 

(5)  Ship Master Benjamin Townsend - Died 2nd December 1867

Captain of an American sailing barque, the ‘Guardian Angel’ left Liverpool bound for New York.  However, once clear of the mouth of the Mersey she found herself being driven rapidly towards the Welsh coast in a violent storm. Despite all the efforts of her crew she struck the beach, the lifeboat summoned was unable to reach the open sea due to the violence of the storm.  Six of her crew of fourteen were saved and 3 bodies were later cast ashore at Abergele and 2 were buried in unmarked graves in the churchyard.  The gravestone of Captain Benjamin C Townsend of Providence, Rhode Island, United States of America is an elaborately carved gravestone, and a replica of this stone is also located at Rhode Island.

 

 (6)  Ocean Monarch Casualties - Burial 13th and 15th September 1848

On 24th August 1848 the a wooden vessel named the “Ocean Monarch”, of Boston, an American Emigrant ship with 396 passengers and crew on board, caught fire shortly after leaving the mouth of the Mersey and a few miles north of Kinmel Bay. The fire spread rapidly and sunk, ships in the area managed to rescue 218 survivors but 178 persons perished. Church records indicate that nine unknown bodies were washed ashore along the coast and were buried in an unmarked grave in this churchyard. The grave is located near the Railway Disaster.  Comments in church history documents indicate that the location is the slightly raised mound to the left of the Railway Disaster Memorial. An inscribed tablet was erected here in June 2016.

 

(7)  Abergele Railway Disaster Monument 1868

On the 20th of August 1868 the “Irish Mail” train travelling from London to Holyhead collided with 6 runaway trucks carrying 50 barrels of paraffin between Abergele and Llanddulas. The first three coaches were crushed and engulfed in flames, the resulting inferno adding to the number who perished during the impact. 

The 33 bodies were buried in a mass grave at Abergele. The Railway Disaster Monument bears the names of all who perished, is a Grade Two Listed Monument and was renovated in 2009.

 

Among the people who died were the Revd Sir Nicholas and Lady Chinnery and the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection window is a memorial to them.

(8)  Rev William Roberts - Buried 1886

A native of Caernarfonshire, became a Schoolmaster in Towyn, Abergele and the First Minister of Mynydd Seion, the local Presbyterian Chapel at Abergele in 1860 and remained in office until his retirement in 1880.

He was noted for his piety and good works and came under the influence of the Revivalists, Sankey and Moody.  He was a great friend of Emrys ap Iwan and initiated him into the mysteries of Latin and Greek. 

 

and Rev Robert Darbyshire Roberts - Buried 1946

 

The first son of the Rev William Roberts, (above) who served as a missionary in South Africa and Australia.  

 

(9)  David Griffiths – Clwydfardd - Buried August 1894

 

Wesleyan Minister, and through the influence of Iolo Morgannwg was instrumental in establishing the Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales and became the first Archdruid.  Born in Denbigh in 1800 he was descended on his mother’s side from a notable Abergele family and left school at 11 to work in his father’s watch and clock business.  His parents were keen Wesleyans but he was not converted until he was 25.  He became a preacher and got involved with all aspects of Christianity, including Nonconformity.  

He would walk in excess of 30 miles on a Sunday to preach in three places. A keen poet, in 1834 he walked to the Cardiff Eisteddfod where he met Taliesin, son of Iolo Morganwg, and the notion of pre historic druidic rites was sown. He led a nomadic life and resided at Caernarfon, Holyhead and Amlwch returning to Denbigh in 1856.  He conducted and developed Eisteddfodau and carried out duties in line with those carried out by a present Archdruid.  He dedicated his life to preserving and enriching the institutions of the Gorsedd and the Eisteddfodau.  

Around the 1880’s Clwydfardd and his wife came to live at London House in Abergele with their daughter and son in law. This building was demolished in 1924 to make room for the National Westminster Bank. (A plaque commemorating his residency is mounted just inside the door).  He maintained the St Michael’s Church clock for nearly twenty years. In 1880 the National Eisteddfod was revived and he became the governing association’s first chairman.  In the Wrexham Eisteddfod of 1887 he was confirmed as the Archdruid. In 1889 he published the metrical version of the psalms and dedicated them to the Vicar of Abergele Rev David Evans (1876 to 1897) - who did not see eye to eye with Bamford Hesketh.  Fellow bards realised that Clwydfardd had done enormous work for the Eisteddfod and collected 200 guineas in appreciation.

 

In 1894 as Archdruid he admitted to the Gorsedd of Wales the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra. He was taken ill in Denbigh in the August of 1894 and died in October aged 93. The funeral was described as the largest ever seen in Abergele.

 

His great-grandson, David Griffith has written a book about Clwydfardd “Right Man, at the Right Time” (Notes compiled from a fuller article in the Abergele Field Club and Historical Society Review No 13 (1994).

 

10)  Griffith Ellis - Buried 30th May 1880.

Lessee of Abergele Gas Undertaking and is said to be responsible for bringing the gas supply to Abergele in 1850, 2 gas street lights were introduced in the town, and in 1869 gas was introduced into the Church in order that evening services could begin!

 

(11)  James Meredith - Buried 1884

Vicar of Abergele 1846-1876. He was the first Vicar to reside at the Vicarage in Groes Lwyd on the 26th April 1850. On the 25th August 1868 he presided at the internment of the 33 bodies which perished in the Railway Accident.

 

(12)  John Richard  Ellis – Buried June 1949 (At the time of printing the exact location of the grave is not known but believed to be in this plot and area)

John Richard Ellis was born in Abergele 1865.  He was a deacon at St Paul’s Wesleyan Chapel from 1906, Chapel Treasurer for over 40 years and served as a member of the Abergele Parish Council, Abergele Urban District Council and the Denbighshire Education Committee. He was a founder member of the Cymmrodorion Society in Abergele, a life member of the Ship Temperance Club and Chairman of the Abergele Consolidated Charities.  In 1948 he wrote a book entitled ‘A History of Abergele and District’.  He was a magistrate of many years standing and died on the 18th June 1949.

 

(13)  John Bushel  - Buried 9th August 1877

Veterinary Surgeon.

 

(14) Rev Thomas Lloyd - Buried 15th July1858 (Grave close to and facing the tree).

Thomas Lloyd (a Calvanistic Methodist Minister) was a native of Gyffylliog and opened the first School in St George, Abergele under the patronage of the Rev Edward Hughes of Kinmel in 1794.  The school proved to be short lived as Thomas Lloyd began attending the Methodist society meetings and began to preach in 1799.  This was not acceptable to the Anglican Squire and Thomas Lloyd was summarily dismissed.  He then opened a School at Mynydd Seion Chapel which operated with great success and attended by Henry Rees, Llansannan.  In addition to his scholastic duties he was the unofficial minister of the young Calvinistic Church at Abergele for nearly fifty years and was ordained in 1819.

(15)  Gravestone of a man who lived 3 miles to the North

This most noted gravestone in the churchyard is situated in the corner of the wall at the entrance to the new cemetery to the North of church walks.

 

It bears the inscription:

 

Yma mae’n gorwedd, Ym mynwent Mihangel, wr oedd a’i annedd dair milltir i’r gogledd.

 

Here lieth in St Michael’s Churchyard a man who had his dwelling three miles to the north.

 

The inscription on the gravestone (fixed in the wall) would imply that “here lies a man who lived three miles North” i.e. in the sea. This could mean on land which is now under the sea, or the stone has been moved. The headstone description appears in the Church Guide of 1883 where mention is made of the Railway Disaster and Ocean Monarch and that this almost illegible stone is on the opposite side of the churchyard which could mean that it has been moved to its present location.  It was reported in the Colwyn Bay and Abergele Gazette on the 21st December 1895 that a new copy of the stone was proposed.

 

Strangely Edward Llwyd makes no mention of this stone in his ‘Parochialia of 1696, but Dr F J North in his ‘Sunken Cities’ 1957, remarks.’ The original stone had no date but its characters indicate that it was executed in the early part of the 17th century. According to local tradition it is a copy of a still older memorial but it is of no value as evidence because it is not in its original position’.

 

There is support for the theory that the sea has claimed land over the years particularly between 1799 and today. It is recorded that there was a cottage on the shore to the north of Glandwr, Pensarn where green fields surrounded the cottage around 1830, and Thomas Pennant mentions that he saw ‘bodies of trees tolerably entire but so soft as to be cut with a knife as easily as wax’.

 

Again the 1883 Guide states “the tradition that at one time the sea overwhelmed a considerable tract of land (probably about the 8th century) is supported by geological evidence and by the disappearance of old landmarks”. Tradition relates that the sea covers land known as Morfa Rhiannedd (Rhiannedd Marshes) which stretched from Point of Ayr to the Great Orme and is borne out by geological evidence.

 

 

16 Llys Onnen Grave

The Llys Onnen Home for the Blind, Water Street, was officially opened in May 1942 to provide permanent and holiday accommodation for the blind. The management committee approached St Michael’s church requesting that a dedicated plot be provided for the interment of residents when they had died. Twelve burials took place between July 1956 and July 1961.The grave, (No 16) has been restored and its position is indicted on the map. Later residents were interred in row of separate graves behind the cremation graves in a plot Northward