St Chad's - Destruction and Restoration
Famdon church is dedicated to St Chad, who died in AD 672. He was the first Bishop of Mercia (the Anglo-Saxon kingdom covering most of central England) and set up the new diocese of Lichfield.
The church has a long and dramatic history. There may have been a succession of wooden buildings on this sandstone ridge, from as far back as Celtic times. In 1086 the Domesday Book records that there was a village priest and two other priests with land in the area, indicating the church's importance at that time.
The outline of the present building and the tower date from the 14th century, about the time that the bridge was built over the Dee at Farndon. Not much is known about the medieval building, although in about 1622 the historian Webb described it as "a fair new church".
However, during the Civil War in the 17th century, when soldiers were billeted inside and fighting reached the churchyard, such extensive damage was inflicted that in 1658 the church, except the tower, had to be completely rebuilt. This resulted in inconsistencies in the style of the present building. Hanshall, an early-l9th century historian, says "the architecture of the church is much varied, although the pointed Gothic is most prevalent". You can see this in the very pointed arches of the nave.
Further changes and restoration were made during the 19th and 2Oth centuries, most recently in 1988, resulting in the church you find today, at peace to serve the local community.
The Roar of Musket and Cannon
The story of the church's role in the Civil War is an exciting one. It was in 1643, when Sir William Brereton, commander of the Cheshire and Lancashire Parliamentarian forces, was using it as a barracks for his troops, that the building suffered the damage referred to above. The Parliamentarians needed to force a passage over the Dee and invade the Royalist stronghold of Wales. On 9th November some 2,000 Roundheads were assembled near the bridge, on which the Royalists had built a defensive gatehouse. On the opposite bank, the Royalists were well prepared, their ranks swelled by extra troops from Ireland. They rang the bells of Holt church backwards and lit beacons to warn of the invasion. Brereton distracted the defence by marching a detachment of his troops down river. Then a second division attacked the bridge with the full force of their grenades, and broke through. Both sides fought backwards and forwards along the bridge and as far back as Farndon churchyard. In the confusion of battle few even noticed that the church roof was ablaze. Brereton by-passed Holt Castle to take Wrexham and Hawarden. Although severely damaged, Farndon church remained a garrison until the winter of 1645, when advancing Royalists, led by Prince Rupert and Prince Maurice, forced the Roundheads to flee, after more heavy fighting, leaving the church derelict.
The guide takes the form of a tour round the church in an anti-clockwise direction, beginning by the font at the back of the centre aisle.
During the 17th-century restoration, the walls were heightened and the clerestory windows added to let in more light. The earlier building was much lower and darker.
There are many references in the church to the Barnston family, influential landowners in the area for many generations. Records mention Barnstons living in the neighbouring village of Churton in the reign of Henry VI, in the 15th century.
It was William Barnston who was largely responsible for the restoration of the church in 1658. A well respected man, he had been one of Charles I's close advisers at the Siege of Chester in 1645.
On the first pillar on the right hand side of the tower arch you can see a number of masons’marks. Each mason had his own special mark, recognised by the master mason – and the pay clerk. There are about 40 different marks throughout the Church, revealing what a large workforce was needed to build and repair St Chad’s.
At the height of the fighting in 1643, the medieval font was badly damaged and was later repaired by Samuel Woolley of Churton. However, the font you see today is more probably the one installed by the churchwardens in 1662 and first used in 1664. The plain octagonal design is typical of that period.
Look for two slanting lines above the arch. These show the much lower pitch of the 14th-century roof, which burnt down. Follow the line on the left of the arch. It continues down the wall, well below the level of the present lofty arches.
Until the 19th century, Farndon had a musicians' gallery in front of the tower arch, from where the church band accompanied the singing. Among the instruments played were a bassoon, bought in London in 1785 for £6 Os 8d, and a violin. The churchwardens' accounts for 16th January 1785 show that extra support was also given to the choir at that time: - " ...it is agreed that the sum of £1 1s 0d shall be paid yearly by the Churchwardens to the singers as long as they continue to sing such tunes as the inhabitants of the parish shall approve of. Mr. Vaughan, the present Churchwarden, is ordered to give them a guinea immediately".
Sadly, the village musicians were eventually silenced by the introduction of a barrel organ.
Continue across the back of the church and turn left into the south aisle.
The South Aisle
Look up at the roof timbers. In both side aisles, many of the beams running lengthways are very rough and dark in colour, as they were rescued after the fire in 1643 and used again in the restored roof. In between the first two windows, near the top of the wall, there is a carved wooden bracket, in the form of a sheep or goat's head. According to tradition, it represents Thomas Cromwell, Henry V111's notorious Vicar General, appointed in 1534 to oversee the dissolution of the monasteries. He took a large part of their wealth for his personal schemes.
Continue along the south aisle and turn right, into the Barnston Chapel.
The Barnston Chapel
This chapel was installed by the Barnston family for their private use, and to house their memorials. In a will dated 1663, William Barnston left a large sum of money for the future upkeep of the Church. He asked to be buried "at the upper end of the south aisle in Farne Church under a gravestone already there for myself'. He died the following year. His painted wooden memorial panel, on the right above the small windows on the end wall, describes him as: "a person of great worth and integrity, ventured his life and fortune with King Charles the First, was sent prisoner from Oxford to London, where he continued till he paid his composition for his estates".
In 1662, William also commissioned the Civil War window, in the end wall of this chapel, to commemorate the Royalist defenders of Chester. The artist obtained accurate details of dress and equipment from contemporary illustrations. You can see that the officers wear "bucket-top" boots, while the musketeers, pikemen and musicians have breeches and stockings with garters tied in a bow. From left to right along the top are Sir Richard Grosvenor, Sir William Mainwaring and William Barnston, identified by their coats of arms. In the centre, Sir Francis Gamul, another of Charles's attendants at the Siege of Chester, stands in front of his tent, reviewing a fascinating array of equipment.
Around the chapel are Barnston memorials from the 18th and 19th centuries. The most notable is the large marble memorial to Roger Barnston, on the wall opposite the Civil War window, which records his valour in the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. In 1857 he led his regiment to the relief of Lucknow, a capital city in Northern India, which had been under siege for five months. He died shortly afterwards from injuries received in the fierce fighting. There is a splendid obelisk to his memory half -a-mile outside the village, beside the B 5130 Chester road.
From the Barnston Chapel, step up into the sanctuary.
Notice that the stonework on the sanctuary arch is smoother and more even than that of the 17th-century tower arch. The whole east end was altered to its present shape in 1853-54 by the then Marquess of Westminster. The Duke of Westminster is still patron of St Chad's, and appoints the vicar.
The detailed representation of the Last Supper on the reredos, behind the altar; was carved in 1910, from a limewood panel. The wood probably came from the old Church Farm estate nearby, where many lime trees grew.
The east window, above the carved reredos, depicts Christ preaching the Sermon on the Mount. It was installed in 1858, in memory of William and Anne Plumpton, of Liverpool and Farndon, who were generous benefactors of the Church.
There are bright, modern windows on either side. The one on the right, as you face the altar, shows St David, patron saint of Wales, in a bishop's robes, with St Cecilia. It was made in 1958, in memory of the Rev. George Vaughan, vicar from 1936 until 1953. Opposite are St Werburgh and St Chad, two saints with local connections.
The carved figures on the pulpit, donated in 1911, are St Chad and the symbolic representations of St Matthew, St Mark, St Luke and St John -all messengers of the word of God.
Step down from the sanctuary, past the organ casing, into the side aisle.
The North Aisle
Sir Patrick Barton, a local knight, lived during the reign of King Edward III, in the 14th century. He is dressed in armour and surcoat, with his head resting on a cushion and his feet on a dog. The Latin inscription on the stone effigy is translated as "Here lies Patrick of Barton. Pray for him".
During repairs to the church in 1800, three effigies of knights, carved from valuable white stone, were found buried near the chancel. Two were immediately ground down and sold as white sand. Only Sir Patrick Barton was saved, and in 1850 was in use as a step in the belfry - hence the worn face. Nearby, on the wall, is a list of incumbents, from 1573. Gaps and uncertainty are evident during the Civil War period. Richard Broughton was responsible for collecting Ship Money (a tax for building warships) for King Charles, and later deserted his ministry to join the army. This left the church without a minister until Thomas Marler took over in 1665.
Further along the north wall is a benefaction board of 1679. Many of the names of the donors are still to be found in the parish and surrounding villages. The large 18th-century oak chest at the end of this aisle, near the door, was used for keeping the parish registers and church plate safe. Many churches have much older chests. Perhaps at Farndon this was another item which needed replacing after the Civil War.
Now turn left and then right under the tower.
The tower consists of three chambers: the first is for the bell- ringers, the next for the clock works, and the belfry is at the top. There were originally just three bells, but these were increased in 1927 to eight, ranging from a four-hundredweight treble to a twelve-hundredweight tenor, supported by a steel frame. From this tower, peals rang out signalling Napoleon's defeats in Egypt in 1799 and at Trafalgar in 1805, the relief of Ladysmith in 1900 and the end of the Boer War in 1902. For the first of these special occasions, the accounts show that the three ringers received a total of three shillings (15p).
On opposite walls are two more benefaction boards. The one on your right as you face the window is dated 1786, while the one on your left was written in 1838, in the wake of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which took some of the traditional responsibility for the poor away from the parishes. Private charity continued alongside more formal provision through compulsory "poor rates". Overseers administered the funds to the poor. In their accounts at Farndon, 1764 to 1783, the clerk sometimes introduces an acid note: -
1766 Paid for a waistcoat and breeches for P.W. 4s 11d
To Petty coat for Mrs G. 3s 8d
1780 To James C. to pay his rent and encourage the said C. to get drunk and abuse people. £1 0s 0d
The tour continues outside the church and around the churchyard.
The heavy oak door in the porch, through which you leave the building, is a survivor from the medieval church, which miraculously escaped damage during the Civil War strife.
A few yards from the porch there is an ancient yew tree, overhanging the path. Here Brereton's troops are said to have rested their pikes and swords before entering the church. The churchyard itself has a curved boundary, often an indication of a site dating from Anglo-Saxon times, or even earlier.
Every year this churchyard is one setting for a tradition which may be of Celtic origin, called Rushbearing Sunday. On that day, the rushes which covered the beaten-earth floor of the church were replaced with new ones. This developed into a festive occasion. According to a lady writing in 1835:
"On Whit Sunday they had a very pretty custom of dressing the church and churchyard. The graves were covered with rushes and neatly arranged, and on the rushes flowers were strewn".
The colourful festival is now held on the Sunday nearest l2th July, with special services, and family graves are cleaned and richly decorated with flowers.
A detail from Speed's "County Palatine of Chester", 1610. As he absorbed the view from Farndon Tower, it would never have occurred to Speed that, fifty years later, Parliamentarian forces would be doing the same thing. Both sides in the Civil War conflict found his small folding maps extremely useful.
The Land that is Afar off
It is said that John Speed, famous for his maps, first began to study "the land that is afar off" from the tower of Farndon Church. The son of the village tailor, he was baptised here in 1552. Speed followed his father's profession until he was nearly fifty. He then journeyed to London, where, through the patronage of the eminent scholar, Sir Fulke Greville, he became well known as a historian and map-maker. He died in 1629, and was buried at St Giles, Cripplegate. Speed did not forget his roots, as Farndon church once possessed a silver chalice given by him.
Follow the path to the right, to the door.
Although the door is modern, most of the wall surrounding it is medieval. Above the doorway you will see a series of small holes - signs of the musket shot fired at the Church from the Royalist side. To admire the view across to Wales from the cliff edge, continue along the path by the wall to a small gate. Follow the path beyond the gate for 100 metres. Through a clearing, you can see beyond the Dee to Holt Church (also St Chad's) and the Welsh hills. The castle at Holt surrendered in 1647 and was dismantled, but you can still picture the conflict which rocked both Churches. On its imposing site, Farndon Church has been a focal point in the drama of local history.
William Barnston, as depicted in the Civil War window in Farndon Church, in the dress of a Royalist officer. He attended Charles I during the Siege of Chester in 1645, and was responsible for the restoration of the Church in 1658.