St Peter’s Church is the Anglican Parish Church (Church in Wales / Yr Eglwys yng Nghymru). It was built in 1842. According to Hugh M. Lewis (Aberdyfi: Portrait of a Village) it was established on the site of a preceding Chapel of Ease, built in 1837. A wooden sign has been retained at the base of the tower of St Peter’s which says that the Chapel of Ease could seat 372 people, and that 186 places were “appropriated free sittings,” meaning that they were not allocated to any one family or business, and were exempt from any rental of pews that might be paid for the upkeep of the church and its clergy. The church was built on the site of a row of former thatched cottages called Tai Pen Shelff, which were in the process of demolition by the time they were shown in the following 1834 sketch (from the Hugh M. Lewis booklet Aberdyfi, A Glimpse of the Past). The main entrance of the church faces out over the mouth of the Dyfi estuary on Sea View Terrace, and can also be accessed via Church Street to its rear, through the churchyard.
St Peter’s has an instantly recognizable appearance typical of Anglican churches in England and Wales, with a square bell tower topped with crenellations, a chancel, simple lancet windows along each side, a big arched stained glass window at the east end in the chancel with three others on the south side of the church, and a slate roof. Set on a site above the road, it has a very prominent position in the centre of the village, with the main churchyard extending in a slope at the rear of the church towards a gateway on Church Street. The style is Gothic Revival and it is made of local stone with bathstone dressings. The interior layout is straight forward with a west tower, a simple nave, a rather fine tiled aisle along the nave, and a vestry incorporated into the north side. The bell tower was fitted with two bells, the largest of which was inscribed to the Reverend Richard Scot, BD. The smaller was simply inscribed with the year 1838. The church is Grade 2 listed.
The new church, with its own newly appointed vicar, substantially altered the character of the sea front, unlike the earlier Calvinistic Methodist and Wesleyan Methodist chapels, which were set back from the road in Chapel Square (at that date Copperhill Square). The view to the right shows St Peter’s in relation to the busy heart of Aberdovey, its wharf and jetty. Increasing import and export activity translated into growing demand from an expanding population and a growing number of visitors, which resulted in the addition of the new chancel with a hammer roof and and two stained glass windows in 1890. The chancel has a very Victorian feel to it, with plenty of wood carving and the incorporation of ecclesiastical symbolism including the crossed keys symbolizing St Peter and the chi-rho representing the first two letters, in the Greek alphabet, of ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, Christ. The wooden altar rail features a set of motifs picked out in gold.
The main entrance to the church is a doorway in the south side of the west tower, overlooking the sea. A flight of stairs in the tower leads up to the bell chamber, and the commemorative wooden plaque that was installed when the Chapel of Ease was built is preserved on the wall at the foot of the stairs. Entering the nave, above the west doorway, on each side, are the Creed and the Paternoster, both written in Welsh. The interior is relatively plain, but has a number of features of note. At the east end of the church, The Ten Commandments are displayed in Welsh either side of the the rood arch that separates the the nave from the chancel.
There are four stained glass windows, of which only one dates to the original construction. The window to the right of the door, depicts John 21:15 “Feed my lambs,” made by Ward and Hughes, in 1873. At the far end of the nave, also on the right, is an original window from 1837 by David Evans, with a simple but very attractive pattern framing plain glass. On the south side of the chancel there is a small window with another finely coloured scene showing the the Good Shepherd, by James Powell and Sons and designed by Frank Mann. At the far end, above the altar and dominating the church, is a window by James Powell showing a series of narratives, dominated by Matthew 19:14 “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven,” which was installed in 1890 and bears at its base the inscription “In Loving Memory of Maria Jane Pugh of Craigydon Who Died December 15th 1872.”
The organ chamber was added in 1907, with an organ built by Brindley & Foster. Charles Brindley started the business and was joined by Foster in 1854. Brindley trained in Germany, probably under the renowned organ builder Edmund Schulze. He went on to set up his first workshop in Sheffield, employing German organ builders. He was soon joined by organist and voicer (a person who regulates organ pipes) A. Healey Foster, and between them they continued to improve the design, technical sophistication and reliability of the organs that they produced. At the International Invention Exhibition of 1885 they were awarded a silver medal for excellence. Charles Brindley retired in 1887 and died in 1893 but was replaced by his son who, with Foster, continued to make improvements, with two major innovations in 1902 and 1904. From 1885 a total of 18 patents were filed and between 1909 and 1914 they built an organ every month on average, but in the post-World War I years they struggled and the company eventually went into receivership in 1936. The organ’s electric pump was added in 1934 in memory of Hugh Copner Wynne-Edwards, contributed by his wife.
As with most Anglican churches, a number of memorials line the walls of the nave. The ornate Gothic style memorial to Mrs Susan Scott is of particular interest, having been contributed by her pupils. Over a period of twenty years Mrs Scott ran a boarding school for young ladies to teach them social graces in the building now known as Penhelig Lodge, which has been discussed on an earlier post. It is difficult to make out the inscription in the adjacent photograph, but as well as listing her parentage it reads: “Died in Penhelig on the XIV day December MDCCCXLII in the LXV year of her age. In testimony of their admiration of her character, gratitude for her affectionate and maternal care, this tablet is erected by some of her pupils who are sensible that they shall best perpetuate her memory by conforming their lives in her excellent example.” The size of the memorial and the warmth and sincerity of the message say much about how Mrs Scott was regarded by her pupils. The rest of the memorials are fairly plain plaques in brass or stone, commemorating people who died elsewhere, former vicars and parishioners, all beautifully kept.
In 2014 a conservation project was started to restore the late 19th Century soft furnishings in the church, of which the Celtic cross that hangs from the pulpit is a particularly fine example (see photographs at the end of the post). The Glorias meet on the first Monday of the month from 2pm-4pm in the church. Anyone with an interest in sewing or embroidery is very welcome to join.
At the time of the church’s construction a gallery was installed, but this was removed in 1907, the same year that the organ was installed. In 1936, ready for the centenary of the establishment of the Chapel of Ease in 1937, the Reverend Alfred Abel placed on order with bellfounders John Taylor for 10 chime bells on which the famous song The Bells of Aberdyfi (described on an earlier post) could be played. Donations contributed £600.00 (in today’s money approximately £30,397) for the set of bells that are played by a carillon, a keyboard-like device with wooden keys called batons that are connected to individual bells and can be used to produce quite complex tunes. The bells are each engraved with a dedication. The smallest is 1ft 3.5ins in diameter, and the largest is 3ft 1in. They were formally dedicated in a service held on 27th June 1937.
One of the running themes of the church is how important donations were to maintaining and upgrading the church throughout the 19th Century and early 20th Century. Examples include the furnishing of the new chancel, the stained glass window over the altar, the electric pump for the organ and the new set of bells. All are indications of both how central the church was to the Anglican members of the community.
The rectangular churchyard is entered via a gate through an archway in a stone porch on Sea View Terrace. The gate is topped with a lovely curvilinear wrought iron feature with curving leaves and a central circular panel topped with a cross bearing the Welsh words, in gold, “ER COF AM A. ABEL FICER 1931 -1945,” meaning, roughly, “In memory of A. Abel, vicar 1931-1945” The porch is topped by a sun dial.
According to the church website, repair work took place in 2010 following a serious outbreak of dry rot, which had inflicted damage to the ceiling and walls. A wooden window near the vestry had to be replaced and lime plaster was stripped from the walls and ceiling around the entrance to the church. In 2017 the church was awarded £100,000 by the Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Scheme, to pay for repairs to the tower, which included re-plastering the damaged interior walls.
The churchyard is small. A small number of graves are at the front of the church, but most are in the churchyard to the rear, where a number of gravestones are still in position, all east-facing. Most of those that remain date to the early and mid 19th Century. They are inscribed in either Welsh or English and many of them are reminders of Aberdovey’s connections with the sea and the seagoing trade. Examples are the gravestones of Jane Lewis, wife of Captain Elias Lewis who died in 1862, age 33; Evan Evans, a boatman who died in 1863; Anne, wife of William Lloyd, timber merchant, aged 39 years; and Mary Jane, daughter of Captain John and Jane Rees (Schooner John Wesley) who died in 1862, aged 9. As in most graveyards of this period, there are a sad number of child burials, some infants. The gravestones are all slate, and are all very finely carved. There are also a small number of tombs, with inscribed lids.
Set into its sea-facing wall is a memorial to local men lost in the First and Second World Wars. This was first erected in 1919. Made of granite, the memorials are set into slate, and as well as providing a focus for Remembrance Day events are a constant and much-needed reminder of the sacrifices made during both wars.
St Peter’s Church is part of the Bro Ystumanner Ministry Area, which covers the Dyfi Estuary and Dysynni Valley and includes five other churches: St Cadfan in Tywyn, St Peter ad Vincula in Pennal (posted about on this blog), St David in Abergynlowyn, St Michael in Llanfihangel-y-Pennant and St.s Mary and Egryn in Llanegryn. The Mother Church for the Ministry is St Cadfan’s Church in Tywyn. The Reverend Ruth Hansford presides over the Ministry Area, supported by both clerics and lay personnel.
On the departure of the previous Vicar and Ministry Area Leader, Reverend Richard Vroom, he was temporarily replaced by Associate Vicar Janet Fletcher, who was also appointed acting Ministry Area Leader, and it was Reverend Fletcher who welcomed Reverend Hansford to St Peter’s and the Ministry Area in 2017. There was considerable interest in the local media, including The Cambrian News, about the appointment of Reverend Hansford, who had been formerly based in Exeter, where she was ordained after a career as a clinical biochemist in the NHS. Her move to Aberdovey with her family fulfilled her desire to work in rural communities. She has made significant strides in learning Welsh since her arrival and has enjoyed becoming involved with the community, including braving sailing lessons! One of her innovations has been the introduction of prayer walks in lovely local places, and she has continued to run the excellent “Messy Church” project that is designed to involve children in the church. I was particularly amused by the Jason and His Coat of Many Colours poster where children had pinned their dreams. One read “My dream is for people to be kind to one another,” another dreamed of “peace and justice for everyone in the world,” whilst Oliver, far more prosaically, quite simply dreamed “to have a motorbike” and another hoped for “thousands of dog biscuits.” Great fun, and such a good idea.
The church also holds weddings, has hosted a number of classical concerts by visiting chamber orchestras and is one of the organizers of and contributors to the monthly Community Lunches held in the Neuadd Dyfi (the Aberdovey village hall) during the winter months. These and other events are announced in the Bro Ystumanner Newyddion newsletter. More information about the Bro Ystumanner ministry, which also publishes their newsletters, can be found on their website.
Services are held in English every Sunday at 11.15: the Holy Eucharist on the first and third Sundays, an All Age Worship service, started this year, on the second Sunday of the month, and a sung Matins on the fourth Sunday of each month, but do check their website in case of any changes since this post was published.