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Church of
St Deiniol


Inscription upon the Tenor Bell of St Deiniol’s


Our first written record of St Deiniol’s Church is, perhaps unsurprisingly, to be found in the Domesday Book. But it’s likely that there had been a church here for some centuries before the arrival of the Normans in the late 11th century. Traditionally, it is believed that the church here was founded by St Deiniol in the 6th century.


‘Earl Hugh holds Hawarden in demesne. Earl Edwin held it. There are 3 hides paying geld. There is land for 4½ ploughs. In demesne are 2 ploughs and 4 slaves. There is a church to which half a carucate of land belongs.’

Domesday Book, ed. A. Williams & G. H. Martin, (2002), p.735


Deiniol was believed to be the grandson of Pabo Post Prydyn, and a son of Dunawd Fwr - a lineage of kings and warriors from Northern Britain that found themselves in North Wales and prospered. Deiniol felt himself called to holy orders, and is thought to have founded the monastery at Bangor is y Coed, said, until its destruction at the hands of King Æthelfrith after the Battle of Chester at the beginning of the 7th century, to have been the largest monastic foundation in Wales. He is likely to have been responsible, along with his father, for the foundation of the monastery at Bangor in Gwynedd, under the patronage of Maelgwyn Gwynedd, leading to him being known in some quarters as, ‘Daniel of the Bangors.’ Churches dedicated to him at Marchwiel and Worthenbury, as well as Hawarden certainly suggest he was active in north east Wales.


St Deiniol - Llandyrnog Church, Denbighshire - Lives of the British Saints Vol II

Much is vague, much is debatable and disputed, and how Deiniol came to be identified with Hawarden is not known. But what is without doubt is how profoundly he exists within the fabric of the village. One legend of Deiniol’s arrival in Hawarden suggests that he was involved in a shipwreck in the Dee and was washed up on the river bank. Others are less dramatic. It is said that it was here, close to the Dee that he placed his staff, from which an ash tree grew. Today, this spot is known as Deiniol’s (Daniel’s) Ash, now the site of a house of 16th century origins - not far from the current Church of St Deiniol. Whether it was the site of an early church or clas is unknown.


There is a tale, of which the origins are unknown but said to have occurred in AD 946, that Lady Trawst, the wife of the Governor of Hawarden Castle, was killed by a falling statue of the Lady Mary whilst praying in St Deiniol’s for rain to end a drought. The tale as told, is told elsewhere, but the 10th century, pre-Norman date is intriguing, if not entirely convincing - suggesting, of course, that there was a church here for her to pray in.


So, we can be certain that there was a church here at the time of the Domesday Book, and we can safely assume, perhaps with a little winced squint, that the church was of a very early origin. It seems likely that this early church was on the site of the current building, though the shape of the graveyard does not rest the case definitively.


In 1093 Hugh d’Avranches, the first Norman Earl of Chester, bestowed a tithe of Hawarden to Werburgh Abbey in Chester. This was to become something of a controversial act.  At some point, the church of St Mary and St Helen at Neston was added to the tithe and both the church and manor of Neston came under the control of Barons of Montalt. However, around 1180, the widow of Roger de Montalt granted it to Werburgh Abbey. This was not to be borne by Roger de Montalt (1265-1297), who seized Neston Church by force. A compromise was reached, in which Neston was relinquished in exchange for certain other lands and the surrender of the tithe of Hawarden to the rectors of St Deiniol’s. This led to the rectors enjoying not only the tithes of Hawarden, but the privileges of a Peculiar, in which St Deiniol’s was exempt from the jurisdiction of bishops and exercising episcopal powers in its own right until 1849, despite an attempt in the second half of the 17th century by the Ecclesiastical Court of Chester to assume control, seen off by the Rector of the time - the wonderfully named, Orlando Fogg.


The church is recorded in the Lincoln Taxation of 1291 as, ‘Ecclesia de Haworthin’ and valued at £13 6s 8d. A traditional date of 1272 is given for the foundation of the current church, though there is no written evidence to support that belief. It is thought that parts of the current building on the current site can be dated to the latter part of the 13th century, with some of the chancel walls thought to date from around 1272. Some of the corbelling within the church is stylistically similar to that of the old castle, which has been dated to the end of the 13th century. There was a considerable amount of building work in the 14th and 15th centuries, and the walls of the nave and aisles date from the former, while the central tower and the Whitley Chancel (sometimes referred to as the Whitley Chapel, sometimes as the Aston Chapel), within which consistory courts were held, date from the latter.


The Whitleys were of an established and ancient line in Flintshire, and known for their military exploits during the English Civil Wars (1642-49). Thomas Whitely had been fined for his presence at the siege of Denbigh Castle, while his second son, Captain Richard Whitely had been killed in the defence of Hawarden Castle. The eldest son, Colonel Roger Whitely was an excellent soldier, who became a commander of horse and foot and governor of Aberystwyth in defence of the King, surrendering the town in 1646 only when ordered to do so by the King. The chancel which still bears their name, a monument resplendent within, had been in their ownership for a unknown time, but was surrendered to the parish in 1817 by James Whitley Deans Dundas, who also donated £100 to its restoration, retaining only the rights of burial and the continued maintenance of the monuments within.


During the early 17th century, the church underwent some alterations and repairs, largely to the roof. During the Civil Wars, the church suffered some damage, along with the village, presumably during the siege of Hawarden Castle in 1645. Further repairs were undertaken in 1671, probably in an effort to repair the Civil War damage.


The original bells, 5 large (and 1 small),  were thought to have been cast in the 16th century (a date of 1563 is given by Clouston), but were said to have been cracked in 1740 (possibly 1741) by the over enthusiastic parish campanologists, elated at the birth of a son and heir to Sir John Glynne. It would seem the damaged bells were recast soon after, by Rudhalls of Gloucester, with an addition of a 6th large bell. Curiously, there are two bells in All Saints Church in Ledsham, West Yorkshire, which originated in Hawarden. The likely real story is that the five bells were sold to Rudhalls to defer the cost of six new bells - the two Hawarden bells of Ledsham sold on by Rudhalls. The inscriptions upon the bells, as known to Clouston are:









Further alterations and restorations took place in the years 1733 and 1734, largely within the churchyard, while in the 1760s the nave and aisles were re-pewed, replacing the benches and exchanging the strewn floor rushes with flagstones. An organ was installed in 1810 at a cost of £248 and placed within a new gallery beneath the west window built for this purpose. It was enlarged in 1825, with a new organ installed in 1836. The rood screen was removed in 1817, at the time of the restoration of the Glynne and Whitley Chancels. The north chancel had originally been held by the Cratchley family of Deiniol’s Ash, but when the house was sold to the Glynne’s the chancel came with it. It would seem while the Whitley’s of the 17th century were upstanding Royalists, Thomas Whitley of the 18th century was something of a disagreeable character, who was said to have spent much of his time drunk, and very little of it in church. His chancel became somewhat decrepit, much to the annoyance of the people of Hawarden, and especially the Glynnes. As mentioned above, the Whitley chancel was eventually surrendered to the parish in 1817. During the years 1855-1856, James Harrison of Chester undertook a series of extensive improvements, installing oaken stalls, stained glass within the windows, described by W. Bell Jones as bringing the church to, ‘a more ecclesiastical type’.


Within a year of the completion of the Harrison works, a devastating fire ripped through the church, destroying the roofs of the chancel, nave and side aisles, the organ gallery, pulpit , lectern, screen and font, though the new seats in the chancel, the Whitely Chancel, the stained glass of some of the windows survived. The nave and aisles were left a shell.


‘Instead of the usual peaceful wakening for Church we were roused about five by the announcement that the House of God was in flames.’

Gladstone’s Diary, 29th October 1857


Thomas, writing in his History of the Diocese of St Asaph, speculated that the fire was deliberate, suggesting that it had originated in two separate places within the church. This would seem to be borne out by the sermon of the Rev. Waldegrave Brewster, who during the fire had almost been killed by falling timbers, in a sermon of November 1857, in which he describes the fire as, ‘this great crime’, and asking how it could be that, ‘God can permit the evil mind of one man to do such dishonour to Him’. However, it is the diary of Lucy Lyttleton, later Lady Caroline Cavendish, a niece of W. E. Gladstone, that gives real substance to the drama, and categorically states that the fire was deliberate.


‘The much loved, time-honoured old mother church was set on fire between three and four in the morning, and before the afternoon was destroyed with the exception of the walls, tower and chancel windows and stalls.’

Diary of Lady Frederick Cavendish, Vol. I, October 29th 1857, p.58


Her diary suggests that the fire was started in the organ, while the poor box was also broken into, the money stolen. As may be imagined, the fire not only seriously damaged the church, but from Waldegrave’s sermon and Lyttleton’s diary it is clear that the fire deeply affected the people of the village, who it would seem became deeply suspicious and worried, perhaps not used to such maliciousness.

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An illustration of St Deiniol's after the fire - notice the absence of a spire, raised in Gilbert Scott's restoration.

‘No one, indeed, who witnessed the general zeal and activity which was shown on the occasion of our cruel disaster, can think that all regard for these holy places has died out in the minds, even in those who seem ordinarily but too careless and indifferent about such matters.’

Rev. Waldegrave Brewster, A Sermon Preached in the Ruins of Hawarden Church, 1857


‘We feel like living beset with dangers; great fears for St Johns, for a man keeps skulking about it. However, they are on the watch. All the clergy are sending for 6-barrelled revolvers. Uncle Henry has his gardener under his stairs, and Mr Austin sows gunpowder on his window sills: he will probably blow up.’

Diary of Lady Frederick Cavendish, Vol. I, 5th November 1857, p.60


Work to rebuild the church began almost immediately. Sir Gilbert Scott was taken on as the architect, while the work itself was undertaken by Mr Howe of Stafford Cottage in Hawarden.  Completed by July 14th 1859 at a cost of £7000, it was fashioned in the Decorated style, and included the addition of a spire to the tower with the organ chamber incorporated into the north chancel. New roofs were installed almost everywhere, including to the south chancel which, while having seen little actual damage from the fire, was thought to be ugly and so replaced. The pillars of the nave had been badly damaged and were rebuilt exactly as they had appeared. The nave was fitted with open benches of oak, while the chancel stalls were made good. The south porch was entirely rebuilt, while a new oaken altar and font were installed. Much of what is to be seen today is of that time.


In the nave, the rector’s reading desk is a wonder. Once a bench end and partly destroyed in the fire of 1857, one end of the desk is original - a richly decorated heraldic carving, displaying a pelican in her piety (pelicans were a popular Christian motif, since a pelican was said to feed its young with its own blood in times of famine - an allusion to the sacrifice of Christ). The armorial bearings are those of Rector Randle (sometimes known as Randolph or Ralph) Poole, who despite being a priest chose to display here a helm upon which can be seen his family crest. Flanked by stag heads, the helm has atop a torse upon which rests the Poole family griffin - head erased. The whole dates from the early 16th century, possibly 1520. Randle Poole was presented to the living of Hawarden by Margaret Beaufort, mother to Henry VII, wife of Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby.

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The rectors reading desk - a surviving 16th century  bench end, displaying the family arms of the Poole family


As you enter St Deiniol’s, it’s likely you will be struck by the truly breathtaking beauty of stained glass and elaborate monuments, and much of this was installed at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century, subsequent to Scott’s restoration and rebuild. Much of this, in fact, can be attributed to the endearing influence of the Glynnes  and Gladstones who, it must be said, have had a more profound impact upon the village than St Deiniol.


Upon William Gladstone’s death in 1898, a memorial to the great man was commissioned for St Deiniol’s. It is often mistakenly said that he was buried at St Deiniol’s, but in fact, he was interred at Westminster Abbey, a king and heir to the throne as pallbearers. Rather, a memorial chapel was built within the north chancel to remember Gladstone and his wife, Catherine. Designed by his friend, Sir William Richmond, consecrated in 1902 and officially dedicated in July 1906, it is described by Hubbard as of, ‘luxuriant Arts and Crafts character, with the variations in materials typical of the ‘New Sculpture’ of the turn of the century.’ Decorated with Christian symbolism and literary references (as might be expected for the man who donated upwards of 30000 of his own books to St Deiniol’s Library). It is frankly a stunning piece, the effigies of Gladstone and his wife in Carrara marble, with a huge crucifix laying between them, a winged angel overlooking them at the ‘prow’, the whole formed to create an image of a ship, which, in the words of Richmond, is ‘ploughing its way through the sea of life.’ A truly moving monument.


The Gladstone Memorial - a worthy monument to W. E. & Catherine Gladstone.


A view of the Gladstone Memorial from the Chancel.

Other works of the later 19th century include the restoration of the Whitley Chancel in 1884 as a morning chapel by Henry Hurlbutt, along with some astonishing stained glass, of which more will be said. Above the chancel arch is a rood dedicated to Lt. William Gladstone, grandson of W. E. Gladstone, who died in action in France on 13th April 1915. The rood was dedicated on the anniversary of his death in 1916.












The wonderful stained glass has already been mentioned. St Deiniol’s is truly spoiled with splendid pieces by Frampton and Wailes, but two pieces amongst the many stand out.  The Armenian Martyrs Window, a two light work featuring St Bartholomew and Gregory the Illuminator was designed by Edward Frampton in 1896 and a gift from the Armenians of Tbilisi. W. E. Gladstone had been roused raging from retirement by the massacre of Christian Armenians at the end of the 19th century. His last two public speeches, in Chester and Liverpool were thunderous in their denunciation of the continuing massacre of the Armenians. The window was thus in grateful thanks for Gladstone’s support.


The Armenian Martyrs Window

‘To the glory of God and in memory of the Armenians in Turkey who have suffered for the faith, and in undying gratitude for the inspiring example of William Ewart Gladstone. This window is dedicated by Arakel Zadouroff of Baju, Russia A.D. 1897’

Inscription beneath the Armenian Martyrs Window


The Adoration of the Shepherds and the Magi, is the last great work by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, and is considered by many to be the greatest 19th century stained glass window in Wales. Burne-Jones was a friend of the Gladstones, and had already produced works for the windows of St Deiniol’s. Dedicated a matter of days after the death of Gladstone, his daughter, Mary Gladstone (later Mary Drew, having married Harry Drew, curate of St Deiniol’s and ten years her junior in 1886), later gave an understandably effusive description of the work.


‘One striking feature is the consummate skill with which the artist has overcome the difficulty of a central subject in a four-light window. Instead of making the design subservient to the mullions, it takes no heed of them; the picture stretches continuously across the whole space behind the tracery. Were Hawarden Church without any other attractions or historical associations it would be well worth visiting for this window alone.’

Mary Drew, Some Hawarden Letters 1878 -1913, p. 299


The Adoration of the Shepherds and the Magi - Edward Coley Burne-Jones


For anyone who has delighted at the work of the Pre-Raphaelites within the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight on the Wirral, the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Magi is well worth a visit.


A further curiosity is to be found within the chancel. Upon one of the choir stalls close to the altar is to be found a small and touchingly simple brass cross. It was here on the morning of Sunday 11th October 1896 that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson died. He had been visiting the Gladstones and staying at Hawarden Castle. After breakfasting with W. E. Gladstone, Benson walked to St Deiniol’s alone - Gladstone, at 87, was not allowed to attend given the poor weather of the day. During the service he suddenly took ill, and was carried to the rectory where he died. The news was returned to the congregation, and the rector, Stephen Glynne, ended the service with prayers and muffled bells ringing as the congregation left.


Despite the beauty and interest of the interior, it would be a mistake to neglect the churchyard - further wonders await here. The family grave of the Gladstones can be found to the west of the church, while the bier house to the south west is of interest. Built in 1906, it was used to rest coffins as they were brought to the funeral service, much as lychgates often were. The bier itself is now within the Gladstone Memorial Chapel within the church.

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The bier house - 1906

There are many graves here of those that have fought Britain’s wars. Some having died for their country, were returned and buried within Welsh soil. William Gladstone was one - killed in 1915, he was the last British soldier to be repatriated. There are several graves of young airmen that died whilst training during World War 2, while there is the grave of Thomas Ryan, present at the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaclava in 1854. He survived and lived to the age of 88.


‘Whom God’s High Grace Saved From Death In The Memorable Light Cavalry Charge At Balaklava And During The Perils Of The Crimean Campaign took his final discharge on Oct 20th 1908 Aged 88 Years.’


And then there is the beautiful Boer War Memorial. Sited on, or very near the original churchyard cross (removed in the 1640s), the memorial remembers those that fought and died in the brutal and controversial conflict (1899-1902). The Rev. Stephen Glynne was one of many within Britain that strongly opposed the War, believing it to be robbery in the name of Imperialism. The war became a slog of brutality and viciousness, and while it eventually ended with a British victory, the cost was thousands dead, and crippling damage to Britain’s reputation. Glynne’s opposition did not, however, prevent him showing real pride and concern for those Hawarden men that elected to fight. Indeed, Hawarden was proud of the some 25 men from their parish that decided to join the British forces in South Africa. Seven men did not return, and are remembered on the memorial.


‘To the glory of God and in memory of the following who laid down their lives for their country this cross is erected by many friends, May their souls rest in peace.

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However, perhaps the most thought provoking grave is that of Walter Leslie Roberts, a conscientious objector to the First World War, who died of pneumonia while incarcerated in the Dyce Detention Camp in Aberdeenshire for refusing to fight. The conditions that he and his fellow objectors were forced to live and work in, and which ultimately led to his death, led to heated exchanges in Parliament. It is right and proper that we remember those that so bravely and selflessly gave up their lives for their country, to fight in Britain’s wars around the globe. We should also remember those that choose to bravely refuse to kill, in whoever's name, remembering instead their conscience and their God.


For those that like their churches ancient, and visibly so, St Deiniol’s is often passed over. Hubbard introduced his entry on the church in his characteristically dismissive way.


Interest and importance are largely C19 and early C20, not least as a result of Gladstone associations.

E. Hubbard, The Buildings of Wales Clwyd, p. 366


But still waters run deep here, within the warm light of the nave, aisles and chancel of this church, bathed in the soft coloured light of stained glass. There is memory here; there is honour and dignity and love. In many ways all Britain is here. There is community and a thick thread of time that stretches back far into the bedim of the forgotten and unknown.





Further Reading



ed. J. Bailey, Diary of Lady Frederick Cavendish Vol. I, London (1927)


W. Brewster, A Sermon Preached in The Ruins of Hawarden Church After its Partial Destruction by Fire, London, Oxford & Chester, (1857)


S. Baring-Gould & J. Fisher, The Lives of the British Saints Vol. II, London (1908)


W. Bell Jones, The Memorial Inscriptions in Hawarden Parish Church, The Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, Vol 65 (1915)


Flintshire Churches Survey, Church of St Deiniol, Hawarden, CPAT


Viscount Gladstone, William G. C. Gladstone A Memoir, London (1918)


E. Hubbard, The Buildings of Wales Clwyd, London (1986)


ed. L. M. Philips & B. Christian, Some Hawarden Letters 1878-1913, London (1917)


T. W. Pritchard, A History of the Old Parish of Hawarden, Wrexham (2002)


RCAHMC, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire Flintshire, London (1912)


J. Paul Rylands, An Armorial Bench End in Hawarden Church, Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire Vol 65, (1913)


A. R. Thomas, A History of the Diocese of St Asaph, London (1874)


R. Willett, Memoir of Hawarden Parish, Chester (1822)




Stained Glass in Wales - Church of St Deiniol, Hawarden, Flintshire

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