Cheshire 14 - Farndon- a tale of two churches, a medieval bridge and the Dee cliffs

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April 27th 2022
Published: April 27th 2022
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"They are building a church over there " I could imagine the conversations going on in Farndon and Holt just across the river in the 14th century. The villagers would have looked across the River Dee and perhaps envy crept in .

The two villages are just a stones throw from each other separated by the river Dee and the medieval bridge that crossed between two worlds . England on one side and Wales on the other. Two different cultures . Two different languages and just a few hundreds yards between them .

There was a church in Saxon England at Farndon and a church was mentioned in the Domesday Book . Holts church was built around the 1200's. I imagined the conversations " If they can afford a church then we need to build one " "Lets go round the landowners, the rich and get some cash and build a new place of worship" "We cannot have those English across the border having a better church than we have " "We cannot have those Welsh across the river building something more beautiful than we have ".

There must have been a flurry of activity was fundraising , finding a suitable architect, designing something that would be awe inspiring and finding the sandstone to build both churches . Who would get the best design for a church . Actually they look similar . The churches look directly at each other . The workers probably all knew each other . What about the workers ? As we stood in the sight of the medieval bridge near the Dee cliffs we wondered how they found enough tradesmen to work on the churches and how they found enough stonemasons . And what about materials ? Where did they get all the sandstone ? How did they transport it to the sites ? Who made the medieval glass ?

Farndon on the English side is one of those villages that straddle the River Dee . The same river that flows past our home at Bangor on Dee . This bridge looks different to our bridge . Our bridge has no traffic lights on it . Once we did have lights but they are not required any more due to the by pass . Farndon has no by pass so the traffic lights remain on this low bridge . The arches are not as large as Bangor but there are more of them . The Farndon bridge is flat whereas Bangor has a hump in the middle. Both bridges are lovely in their own way. We stood for a while aware that we were just six miles from home . But the river felt different . It was probably a touch wider and flowed more slowly .

. We were going for a walk up to St Chads Church in the hope that it will be open . Churches are not always open . And those that used to open before Covid can be closed now.

Farndon has not changed much . It is still a quiet village with a number of shops and two pubs. Once there were three but one has long gone . The Raven remains but the Nags Head has become the Hare . I did not like that much . Why change a name that has remained the same for years.? A pharmacy and a village hall . Black and white tudor houses which lined the lane to the church .

So how about a quiz question ? What's the connection between Diana Princess of Wales and Farndon ? Paul Burrell her butler lived here for a while after her death . He ran a florists shop if my memory serves me correctly . . Whats the connection between the conservative party and Farndon? Matt Hancock the previous Health secretary I believe was born in the village and went to school in Farndon . It has a bit of recent history as well as medieval history . And it is the home to the Barnston Memorial and a new woodland graveyard.

The churchyard was lovely with the table tombs and commonwealth war graves . The church built of red cheshire sandstone was open . We tried the door expecting it to be locked but it swung open and we were inside . It felt an airy church with plain white ceilings. The church was described as a fair new church in 1622 by the historian Webb.

During the civil war was badly damaged and in 1643 was used as a barracks for the Parliamentarians under local Sir William Brereton . It was attacked by the Royalists and during a fierce battle was set on fire . The Parliamentarians continued to use the church until 1645 when they abandoned it and left it totally derelict . STanding inside it felt odd to think of such a battle going on . With the silence you cannot imagine the noise of a battle going on. The church had undergoing renovations over the years . Rebuilt in 1658 by the local William Barston and renovated in the 19th and 20th centuries. Farndon perhaps fared better than the church across the river which is pockmarked with holes from bullets from the Civil War battles . Our next visit should be across the Dee to the small village of Holt to look at the church there . Would you believe it - they are both dedicated to the same saint . The Mercian St Chad .

The church was empty. We had it to ourselves . Standing at the end of the nave we looked up at the altar piece , the more modern stained glass , the wooden lectern and the signs of the children and the messy church . A huge banner was draped with the words Jesus loves you.

We noticed the stone effigy of the knight . Apparently there were three of them but two were ground to sand and thrown away. This one had a defaced face but that was through being used as a door stop and the wearing of the face was caused by the rubbing of feet over the years .

What we were looking for was the ancient window which depicted the civil war soldiers . The window was divided into sections . Civil war musicians . The clothing and the armour of the civil war soldiers . They were all there in the Barnston Chapel . The window is painted and only uses some very muted colours . It was smaller than I expected . The details were of Sir Francis Gamul standing in front of his tent . He was one of Charles I followers at the siege of nearby Chester . Another panel depicted Sir Richard Grosvenor, Sir William Mainwaring and William Barnston. Barnston commissioned the window in 1662. Is there another in the country I wondered that showed the Civil War in such detail.

The church was lovely enough but the window was the exceptional part of it . We had never seen anything like this anywhere in the country .

We left the church , drove over the bridge and headed for Bellis farm shop for a coffee and a bacon sandwich . We have home a week and here we are finding things to see in the area just a few miles from home .


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