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Articles from the Parish Newsletter
Oak Chest, Fonts, Organ, Penance Stone, Railway Disaster, Church Clock
The Oak Chest in St Michael's
The chest at St Michael's is of particular historical interest as, unlike most parish chests, it has been shaped and constructed entirely from a single tree trunk. Various metal straps and locks have been added to it over the years and the area around the hinge seems to have been replaced but the remainder appears to be original. This is impressive considering the chest may actually date back as far as the time of Richard 1st (1189 - 1199). At that time, during the middle ages, it is likely to have been used to store simple but valuable items such as church plate, vestments, alms for the poor, precious books, etc.

Parish chests did not achieve great significance however, until 1538 when an Act of Parliament was introduced which stated that every parson, vicar or curate should keep a written record of every wedding, christening and burial in the Parish. To ensure these records would not be tampered with a 'sure coffer' was required for secure storage of the documents. The chests were also required to have three locks for added security. The three keys would then be kept by the Vicar and the two churchwardens so that all three had to be present to unlock the chest.

Most Parish chests in existence today date back to this 16th century Act and are commonly made of separate wooden slabs rather than the single tree trunk of older models. Today, the chest contains items such as old Bibles and Prayer Books as well as copies of registers dating back many hundreds of years making it a fascinating treasure trove of local history.

Facts about Fonts
The word ‘font’ comes from the Latin for ‘spring of water’ or ‘fountain’. Fonts are used for the administration of the sacrament of holy baptism. Baptism is the means by which a child or adult enters into the family of the church. Therefore baptism is the start of the Christian journey. This is why it is common, for symbolic reasons, for fonts to be placed near to the entrance door of the church. This is the case in St. Michael’s.

The font at St. Michael’s, like many other fonts, is octagonal. This is not an accident but another symbolic feature. Originally fonts were hexagonal (6-sided) representing the six days of creation. However a further two sides were added so that sides represent the seven days of the week, with the eighth side representing the day of Christ’s resurrection.

Fonts normally have a cover. This is not to keep the dust off! It has a more sinister reason. Holy water has always been a prized possession, and in the middle ages the Church became fearful of holy water being stolen for inappropriate purposes including satanic worship. Another reason was that some people would wish to steal holy water to drink – normal water was frequently unsafe to drink and holy water was seen as a safe alternative to beer, the common drink of the time. So, in 1236, Archbishop Edmund of Canterbury ordered all baptismal fonts to be kept under lock and key. This later became standard practice across Wales as well as England.

The font in St. Michael’s is actually made of three different pieces, all dating from different times.

The oldest part is the middle piece, or pedestal. Its design (known as ‘perpendicular’) suggests that it was carved sometime around the year 1400. In other words it was made about fifty years after the Black Death, possibly during the reigns of either Richard II or Henry IV.

The next oldest part is the bowl at the top. A date of 1663 can clearly be seen carved on it, along with the initials of the Churchwardens of that year. The bowl was a gift of the Vicar, Henry Pugh (you can also see his memorial slab on the north wall – he died in 1671). It is thought that the previous bowl had been destroyed by Roundhead soldiers (supporters of Parliament) after their victory over King Charles I in the Civil Wars. This is possible as many Roundheads were Puritans - Christians who disliked pomp and ceremony in churches.

The final part of the font is the base, which was probably added in 1879 during the restoration of the Church (along with the porch). This was in the reign of Queen Victoria and was the year of the Battle of Rorkes Drift, made famous in the film ‘Zulu’ starring Michael Caine.

St Michael’s Parish Church Organ
The organ has recently been moved from the west end of the church to its original site in the chancel to facilitate choir and general musical work. At the same time the opportunity was taken to modernise the pneumatic action and also to augment the tonal scheme to make the instrument more effective in leading worship and to enhance its capabilities for recital and performance. This also called for a detached console.

Work on carefully dismantling the frame and mechanisms of the organ began during 1999 and all relevant parts were removed to the organ builder’s workshop for cleaning, adjustment or renewal as required in each case. At the same time work was put in hand to design and build the detached console in French oak to march the existing organ case and to make new panels for the case in its new position.

As each section of the organ was refurbished or replaced the instrument was rebuilt on the selected site in the chancel. Firstly the old pneumatic action was replaced by a new electro-pneumatic action, providing an ease and accuracy of touch for the player. This was augmented by a state of the art modern capture system which enables the player to set any combination of stops in advance of playing, thus granting complete flexibility in performance.

The Swell Organ had a two-rank Mixture added to provide more sparkle and ‘bite’ in the upper registers, and an 8’ Trumpet stop was added to the Great Organ giving the tonal range greater authority and commanding presence. An Open Diapason of 16’ pitch and an Acoustic Bass of 32’ pitch were added to the Pedal Organ, all to provide for the acoustic demands of the building and giving greater power and resonance.

The effect of all this has been to provide St Michael’s with an organ of great depth and presence, as well as much brighter effect in the upper registers. Accompaniment is greatly improved by the re-siting of the organ and the specially made console. The flexibility of the instrument makes it extremely useful as a recital and performance instrument.

The work was undertaken by organ builder Eric Newbound of Penmaenmawr.

The Penance Stone
This is by the south door of St Michael's Church. For a long time it was thought this roughly shaped, undressed boulder was a stone used for mounting horses. However with a diameter of two and a half feet and a height of only eighteen inches it would not have suited this purpose very well! We now know that it is actually a penance stone and dates from the 17th century when public penance was commonplace. It was normal at this time for a church to have two stones for this purpose, one on each side of the porch. St Michael's apparently still had two stones until late in the 19th century.

Doing penance was basically a way of subjecting offenders to public humiliation as punishment for their sins. Archbishop Laud's CONCILIA of 1635 commands 'He is to stand all the time of divine service and sermon in the forenoon in the porch of the church ... in a white sheet, with a white wand in his hand, his head uncovered, his countenance dejected.' Services at this time could last from two or three hours therefore it is suggested the stone was introduced in order that the elderly and the weak could sit down during their penance. The second week of the penance required the offender to be escorted by the church wardens, to the font where he/she would beat his chest, ask for mercy and kiss the font step before returning to the stone for the remainder of the service. On the third Sunday the penitent would be required to make a public confesstion in front of the congregation and only then would they be forgiven.

Penance may well have been entertaining as well as humiliating and it is likely that folk would have had great fun teasing the embarrassed offender as they sat on their stone - at least until the Parson appeared!

The Railway Disaster Memorial
By the north wall of the churchyard stands a memorial and communal grave of the thirty-three people who perished in the railway collision near Llanddulas on Thursday August 20 1868.

The train involved was the Irish Mail which made daily trips from Euston, London to Holyhead and was widely regarded as the fastest train in the country. It transported many a wealthy person to their estates in Ireland via the Holyhead ferry. On this particular day the train comprised of four carriages for first and second-class passengers, a post office van and another carriage where the mail was sorted on the journey. As the train was approached Abergele a little after midday, goods trucks, two of which contained fifty barrels of flammable paraffin, were being shunted into position on the line at Llanddulas. Normally this would not have been a problem as they would have been removed in time but on this occasion some of the trucks became loose and began descending unstoppably towards Abergele and the Irish Mail, which would have been travelling at close to 60mph.

There was no telegraph connection at this time and, due to the slow curve of the line, the Mail’s driver would not have seen the oncoming trucks until it was too late. Professor George B. Grundy, D. Litt was a schoolboy at the time and was sitting on an embankment nearby. He describes seeing the engine ‘rise like a horse’ as they collided and the dense black smoke which rose as the paraffin exploded. As a result of this accident it was made illegal to carry that type of fuel by train.

The internment and burial took place on the following Tuesday and the church registers contain records of each body buried, albeit they were unidentifiable.

The Church Clock
St Michael’s clock was built by J.B. Joyce of Whitchurch and installed in 1894. The hands on the north and south faces of the clock are controlled by the main device which sits in a room halfway up the tower. J.B Joyce still service this device once a year and it remains a glorious piece of Victorian machinery to admire with its complex arrangement of cogs and gears and its green and black finish. Although the current device is over 110 years old, photos from the 19th century show that there was also a clock at St Michael’s prior to this and if you look at the south side of the tower, you can still see the markings where the old clock face was positioned before the tower was raised to its current height.

The clock mechanism is an eight day flat bed turret movement. This is the common type used when it comes to tower based clocks. Even Big Ben itself at Westminster uses the same mechanism. The clock is driven by three weights which hang down inside the tower, from the main device all the way to the bottom. One weight is used to drive the quarter chimes, one for the striking mechanism and one for driving the hands on the north and south faces of the clock. Normally, these types of weights would have had to be strenuously wound, by hand, once every week to keep the clock functioning. However, owing to the height of the clock device at St Michael’s tower, there was only actually enough distance for the weights to fall for an annoying six and a half days before they needed winding again therefore the clock had to be wound twice a week. Thankfully, in 2002, the clock was converted to electric winding.