St Margaret's, "The Marble Church," Bodelwyddan, Clwyd, N. Wales, in its setting. John Gibson (1817-1892). 1856-60 (from the laying of the foundation stone to the consecration). Exterior: gleaming locally quarried limestone in different finishes, with slate roofs in a honeycomb pattern, and a tower with flying buttresses, two sets of pinnacles, and a slender spire.
The listing text describes the church's most prominent feature, seen at different angles above, as "a massive tower and spire which reaches to over 60m" — no wonder it can be seen from far around. But, as shown on the left below, with the Gothic gargoyles leaning out at each corner of the top of the tower, there is plenty of attention to detail as well.
Left: Close-up of one of the gargoyles/water-spouts. Right: View showing the length of the south asile.
The interior is richly fitted with a variety of marbles, including red Griotte (the chancel piers), Belgian Red (the nave arcades) Anglesey marble (the columns of the nave) and Sicilian marble (the floor paving). Aptly enough, Simon Jenkins describes the church as a "Victorian swagger church" (74), putting nearby St Asaph's cathedral in the shade, and the listing text explains that its Grade II* listing was given because it is a "leading work of the Victorian High Gothic movement in church architecture under aristocratic patronage, containing exceptional materials and craftsmanship."
Left to right: (a) Interior, looking east towards the chancel. (b) Window depicting St Margaret, in the porch. (c) The other window in the porch features St Kentigern.
The church was built as a memorial by his widow to Henry Peyto, 16th baron Willoughby de Broke, who had died in Warwickshire in 1852. Lady Margaret had come back to her own family seat in Bodelwyddan, and it was at her wish that the parish was created (it had formerly come within the area served by St Asaph's) and the church erected. The heads of the bishop and Queen Victoria are carved on the moulding labels of the east window. Gibson designed the church in the Decorated Style with Geometric tracery, and, according to the listing text again, "appears to have had an unlimited budget for materials and workmanship." Jenkins says that it cost the (then) incredible sum of £60,000. The communion rails, choirstalls and pulpit were all carved by Thomas Earp. Other well-known craftsmen were involved, including, later on, W. D. Caroe, who designed the fittings in the War Memorial chapel. The result is so dazzling that Jenkins finds the stained glass windows here by Ward and Hughes, Michael O'Connor, and (according to the church records) even one by Burne-Jones (though there is no sign of such a one now), somewhat overshadowed. However, John Murray's contemporary Handbook for Travellers in North Wales seems equally impressed by the stained glass, singling out the east window, by O'Connor, as "the most exquisite" (68). It seems worth mentioning, too, that the bells came from the Whitechapel Foundry (listing text).
As for the porch windows shown above, these were installed in about 1860, but are unattributed. They depict the saints to whom the church is dedicated. St Margaret of Scotland, treading down the dragon, was an obvious choice for a church commissioned by Lady Margaret. St Kentygern, also known as St Mungo, was venerated in Scotland too, but pursued his missionary activities in and around Cumbria (the 16th Baron Willoughby had died in Warwickshire) and is said to have visited Wales as well (see Cohn-Sherbok 168).
In the churchyard are the graves of some eighty or so Canadian servicemen. These were among the many stationed at a military camp nearby (Kinmel Park in Conwy). Most died of the flu epidemic at the end of World War I, but some died during rioting over being kept there too long, in difficult conditions.
- Stained glass windows here by Ward and Hughes
- Stained glass windows here by Michael and Arthur O'Connor
Photographs by Colin Price, except for the one on the far right in the second row; this photograph and commentary, by Jacqueline Banerjee. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Click on the images to enlarge them.]
"Church of St Margaret (the Marble Church), Bodelwyddan." British Listed Buildings. Web. 1 November 2015.
Cohn-Sherbok, Lavinia. Who's Who in Christianity. London: Routledge, 2002.
Database for this church. Stained Glass in Wales / Gwydr Lliw yng Nghymru. Web. 27 July 2021.
A Handbook for Travellers in North Wales. London: John Murray, 1861. Google Books (free ebook). Web. 5 July 2016.
Jenkins, Simon. Wales: Churches, Houses, Castles. London: Allen Lane, 2008.
Last modified 21 July 2021