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On a recent trip to Barmouth in North Wales, I vistied St. John’s Church which is sitting on the side of a mountain over-looking the town.
I don’t follow any religion but I am fascinated by the structure of old buildings so I thought it was worth a trek up the side of the mountain to see it. It really wasn’t that far, or high up on the mountain, but from the town it looks a long hard way if you’re not used to walking a lot. The best thing to do, even if you are an experienced hiker, is to take your time walking up, and check out the views of Barmouth as you get higher!
You can visit the church between 10am – 4pm Monday to Saturday and 11am to 4pm on Sunday. They don’t charge an entry fee, but ask for a donation which is located near the main door.
In 1830, new church dedicated to Saint David was opened by the harbour in Barmouth to accommodate the increasing population in the area since the closest church to Barmouth town centre, the ancient church in Llanaber, is over a mile away.
At this time the railways had not yet reached this part of the Welsh coast and so Barmouth was still reliant on the maritime industry. However in the 1860’s the arrival of the railway caused a vast increase in the number of tourists visiting Barmouth.
Not long after the opening of the railway, Reverend Edward Hughes became the rector of the parish of Llanber and Barmouth in 1887. He soon realised that Barmouth needed a larger place of worship so many trials were carried out in St David’s church to try and increase the seating capacity.
During this same year Reverend Hughes proposed the idea of building a larger place of worship for the residents and tourists visiting the area. The Churchwardens and the Parochial Church Council agreed and the work of finding a suitable location began.
Barmouth town is situated between the mountains and the sea, so finding a location to put another church was limited. However a donation of a rocky precipice above the town was accepted as the final choice.
Fundraising began after a design by architects Douglas and Fordham was chosen. Mrs Sarah Perrins donated an unexpected £15,000 for the construction of the building. Mrs Perrins, a widow of James Dyson Perrins, was mother to Charles William Dyson Perrins, who took over management of the Lea & Perrins company after his father’s death.
The donation from Mrs Perrins provided funding for the cancel, central tower, lady chapel and vestry to be built as a memorial to her late husband. The family owned a holiday home in Barmouth called Plas Mynach which was designed in 1883 by John Douglas.
It took seven years to build St. John’s Church from the foundation stone was laid in 1889 by Princess Beatrice, born in 1857, the youngest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, to its consecration in November 1895 by Bishop Cambell of Bangor. There were a few setbacks dusting the construction stages, most notably on the evening of September 11th 1891. The church was almost finished but the roofs had not yet been slated, the tower was almost complete. During that evening the tower collapsed into the church destroying most of the un-slated roof and most of the walls on the mountainside of the building. The designers Douglas and Fordham blamed the collapse on the blasting operations behind the church that were aimed to allow more light into the building.
The church belongs to the Church in Wales and on 31st January 1995 it was given the status of being a grade II listed building.
At the back of the church is a font sculpted out of pure marble, which is a free-copy of Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen’s font in Copenhagen Cathedral.
There are nine stained glass windows in the church designed by Victorian designer and manufacturer Charles Eamer Kempe.
The church was built with a place for the organ in mind, rather than being an afterthought like in many other church designs. This means that the organ has all parts which are easily accessible without the need for large panels or pipework to be removed during tuning and maintenance.
The organ was built at the Nicholson factory at Palace Yard, Worcester and shipped to Barmouth in large containers by train. Since it was installed in St Johns in 1895 the organ has not had a major overhaul and except for being cleaned in the 1970s and undergoing annual tuning an maintenance the only modification has been to incorporate a “Discus” electric blower system by Watkins and Watson in the basement some time in the 1950s. The organ is in such an unaltered and original state that it can still be hand pumped by three volunteers when required.
Prior to 1895 organs in churches in the surrounding area were virtually unheard of, Dolgellau was the only church in the locality that had a barrel organ to accompany services. Indeed, at the time of its construction this organ was almost as big as the largest organ in North Wales which was located in Bangor Cathedral. By today, this organ is still one of the largest in North Wales (probably ranking between fourth and sixth largest).
All photos in this post were taken by me. Please do not use without permission and do not remove tags. Thanks!