Situated on the hillside below Llanbedr Hall, behind the new church built to replace it in 1863, the weather worn remains of the Old Church of St Peter’s are delightfully atmospheric.
Llanbedr Dyffryn Clwyd first enters written record with the Norwich Taxation of 1254, and the church referred to is likely the worn red sandstone ruins of the western end of the building, dated to the early 13th century. The later limestone eastern end of the church is probably a 14th or early 15th century extension to the single celled building. The walls have been much reduced, probably as a result of a report of 1896 which voiced safety concerns. The western end, however, retains its original height, with the 19th century bell cote largely intact. The font, probably contemporary to its foundation in the 13th century, is in the chapel of ease at nearby Berth. The graveyard has a number of 17th century burials, including those of Margaret Lloyd (1616) and Robert ap Thomas of Llanbedr 1677.
A view through the worn sandstone entrance of west tower
The Old Church was abandoned in stages over a period of forty years or so. The churchyard was becoming full and was closed by an Act of Parliament in 1859 to all but the spouses of those already buried. The new owner of Llanbedr Hall, John Jesse had become determined to build a new church for the community after witnessing the distressing sight of the disinterring of previous remains at a funeral at around this time. Rather than give up more land about the old church, he resolved to build what is today the stunning new church of St Peter’s a little way down the hill. The site was not deconsecrated until 1991. John Jesse himself was buried in the old church in 1863.
Margaret Lloyd was the sole heiress of John Lloyd of Llanbedr Hall (Plas Llanbedr). Her marriage to Richard Thelwall brought the Hall, and thus the Church, into that family until it was sold to Joseph Ablett in 1804, who in turn left the Hall in 1848 to his step-nephew, John Jesse, provider of New St Peters Church.
The new church was consecrated in 1864, and services moved from the old church to the new. After this date, the old church was still used, but only for funerals and burials, which where allowed, up to 1905. The Church itself fell into considerable neglect, until by 1914, The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments describes a,
‘building which might have been preserved at a very slight cost is a sad spectacle of indifference and neglect’.
While the building might have fallen into neglect, I struggle with the description of ‘indifference’. I fancy those two words have a gulf between them.
In 1973, the Church was taken into the care of, ‘The Friends of Old St Peters’ and is looked after by the ‘Old St Peter’s Conservation Committee’. Formed 2005. To wander the church today, amongst the broken and slowly eroding tombstones is to be transported back an age and a day. Stand in front of the warped red sandstone walls and look out towards the Clywdian wonder.
The 19th century bell cote addition to the 13th century tower is clear.