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Eastern Conwy Churches Survey

Church of St Elian , Llanelian-yn-Rhos

Llanelian-yn-Rhos Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Betws yn Rhos in the county of Conwy. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SH8635576428.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16713 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Llanelian-yn-Rhos Church, CPAT copyright photo CS971232.JPG


St Elian's church is situated in the village of Llanelian-yn-Rhos, less than one mile to the south of Colwyn Bay. A double-naved structure, its north nave and perhaps the north chancel are of two phases and could be 13thC or 14thC if not earlier, but the south nave and chancel and the surviving medieval windows are all Perpendicular and the doorways, of which there are several, utilise massive limestone blocks but are inherently undatable. Internally the roofs are late medieval and that over the south sanctuary has surviving paintings. Medieval furnishings and fittings include the lower part of the rood screen, painted panels from the rood loft, a disused font, and a chalice of late 15thC date. There are the usual range of wall monuments, some re-used pew panels of the early 18thC and a benefaction board of the same date. The churchyard is rectilinear and there is now little sign that it was ever curvilinear; it contains graveslabs going back to the middle of the 17thC.

Constructional sequence is not entirely clear. Western half of north nave is considered by Hubbard to be the earliest though its west and north walls are in different masonry; nave then extended eastwards and chancel added. However, could it be that the church was extended westwards thus enlarging the nave? Part of east wall subsequently rebuilt, perhaps when Perpendicular windows added, which implies that masonry shell might be 14thC or 13thC if not earlier - local tradition has it going back to the 9thC.

South nave and chancel added, probably in 15thC, but masonry is again different. Also is the appearance of 'C' in the east wall a sign of masonry re-use or an earlier structure? The latter does seem to be indicated by the differently aligned foundation course near the porch.

The few original windows surviving are Perpendicular, while the cyclopean doorways are not readily datable.

The porch itself could be a 19thC rebuild re-using medieval roof timbers.

Parts of the following description are quoted from the 1986 publication The Buildings of Wales: Clwyd by Edward Hubbard


The dedication and perhaps the location suggest an early medieval foundation, but there is no circular churchyard and, inevitably, no confirmatory records. It is claimed that the church was established by Elian Geimiad in the 6th century, though another dedication is said to have been to Eleri. Llandrillo-yn-Rhos appears to have been its mother church.

Thomas noted that the parish was originally known by the name of the township in which the church stands - Bodlenyn. The 1254 Taxation gives the name "Ecc'a de Bechwylemyn" and that of 1291 gives "Eccl'ia de Bodwelennyn" when it was valued at 4 2s 1d. Sometime after 1291 this was superseded by the name of its founder, St Elian. In the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535 gives "Rectoria de Llan Elian".

The church had a thatched roof in the 18thC and continued to be whitewashed into the 19thC. Glynne visited in 1854, noting that the west gallery had remnants of the rood loft panelling, that the windows on the south side were modern and poor, and that there were a few plain bench ends but the building was generally pewed.

Restoration occurred in 1859 when the seating was re-arranged, though there are few details of the other works that occurred at that time. In 1874, the painted ceiling over the chancel was cleaned, and the surviving panels of the rood screen were varnished.

At the time of further restoration in 1903, a drainage trench was dug round the church, the masonry was repaired and repointed, particularly the west wall, the floor was re-paved, the seats were remodelled, and the vestry enlarged.


Llanelian church is a double-naved building with both elements of precisely the same length. It has a west bellcote over the north nave, and a south porch close to the south-west corner of the south nave.

The church is oriented slightly south-west/north-east but for descriptive purposes 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted for the church, though not for the churchyard.

Fabrics: 'A' comprises small to large blocks of grey limestone, with very occasional shale blocks; large tooled quoins of limestone, shale and sandstone; randomly coursed; heavy pointing which in places covers remnants of render and/or limewash. 'B' is of small blocks and slabs of dark grey shale with some coursing; lacks limewash traces. 'C' is comparable with 'A' but overall the size of the stone is smaller, there is more dark shale, and less limestone; random coursing. 'D' has medium and larger sandstone blocks predominating but there is some limestone; random coursing; limewash flecks. 'E' is of fairly regular blocks of pale limestone, some with a pinkish tinge; some coursing.

'A' and 'C' probably date from the 15thC, 'E' is 15thC or early 16thC, 'D' is undated but could be post-medieval and 'B' is Victorian.

Roof: slates with grey clay ridge tiles; cross finials, set up in 1931, at all terminals except the west end of the north nave, where there is a bellcote constructed in regular masonry with a single aperture and bell.

Drainage: open drain around south, west and east sides, 0.3m wide and up to 0.5m deep. North of the chancel the drain floor is almost at surface level but it drops as it runs westwards beside the nave.


North Nave and Chancel. General. Recorded as one cell for the only external distinction is the inset between a former nave and chancel, not the present one.

North wall: in 'A', with a slight batter to base of wall. From west: i) window of two lancet lights in yellow sandstone, the dressed stone with pecked faces looking Victorian and is packed around with 'B'; ii) blocked doorway of cyclopean form, dressed but unchamfered limestone, peaked head to the arch; both the dressings and the blocking have limewash traces, the latter also having been rendered; blocking is like 'B' but less regular; iii) next an inset to the wall, a matter of 0.15m+ only at base to <0.1m at top; fabric changes to 'C' and wall is vertical; iv) four-light window, round heads to the lights and all in yellow freestone; heads are renewed but jambs with slightly hollowed chamfers, and hollow-chamfered hoodmould terminating in much weathered head stops are original Perpendicular; some packing around window; v) slanting buttress of dressed stone; vi) flat-headed three-light window, the lights cusped, with sunken spandrels above; chamfered, grey limestone dressings; of relatively recent construction and a localised render coat along both vertical edges presumably coating masonry packing; vii) concrete 'bin' at ground level, now disused, but apparently covering the organ blower; viii) short diagonal buttress which could be an early feature.

East wall: in 'C' though with subtle differences from north wall. East window has four lights which are square-headed and cusped, and sunken spandrels, all in yellow freestone; some renewal including mullions, but some original dressings including pink sandstone jamb stones, and also a hollow-chamfered hoodmould with simple dogs-leg stops. Walling around window appears to have been rebuilt as does the gable, but there may be more than one phase of reconstruction. Original south-east angle of wall, pre-dating the addition of the south nave and chancel, visible as a butt joint.

West wall: wall face is cleaner (i.e. less pointing etc) than that of north wall and can be classed as 'D'. Blocked doorway with two-centred arch; dressed but unchamfered cyclopean limestone jambs though one stone in darker shale; limewash traces. Doorway, however, does not look to be of great antiquity and is perhaps post-medieval. Above is a two-light window in dark yellow freestone, cusped lights and of Victorian date. Much of the wall is original for the quoins at its south-west angle are visible integrated into the west wall of the south nave; above the window the gable has been rebuilt with limestone slabs and blocks of regular shape, though some might be re-used including one block that could be dressed sandstone.

South Nave and Chancel. General. Nave and chancel treated as one cell for no external differentiation.

East wall: bottom of wall in 'C', comparable with that in east wall of north chancel, but most in 'E', from below the base of the east window. This window has a peaked, almost four-centred arch with three, stepped lights that have two-centred heads, cinquefoil tracery, mullions and tracery largely renewed, but the jambs are original and the hoodmould has weathered head-stops. The whole wall is founded on large projecting slabs exposed in the side of the drain.

South wall: in contrast to the east wall no projecting foundation. Stone is a variation of 'E' with a little more shale and overall less uniformity of appearance; much limewash residue. From the east are: i) square-headed window with three cusped lights, sunken spandrels; jambs of cyclopean limestone but window heads and mullions renewed in pale freestone; ii) flat-headed window, the three lights with round heads in tooled grey limestone, relatively recent in date; iii) two-light window but otherwise as ii); iv) porch. Running out from porch wall is a projecting ledge at the base of the south wall of the nave, and below ground level; this converges with the south wall, disappearing from view to the east of iii) and suggestive of an earlier phase.

West wall: in Fabric 'E'. Quoin stones of north nave immured in this wall face to full height. Square-headed window with two cusped lights, the dressings of limestone, and similar to window in north wall of chancel; window set fractionally off centre.

Porch. General. Fabric is a mixture of largish blocks of limestone and shale; limewash remnants.

East wall: plain wall, limestone blocks for lower part of wall.

South wall: contains a broad, round-headed doorway, its arch turned in limestone but not chamfered; constructed in 1935. Above is a featureless lump of sandstone, perhaps once a face corbel or stop which is believed to have been a representation of the patron saint.

West wall: plain; again larger limestone below, smaller shale above.


Porch. General. Three steps up from exterior. Stone slab floor; walls plastered and whitewashed except on south. Two-bay roof with three arch-braced collar trusses and two tiers of windbraces; some replacement and loss of wind-brace timbers, but much of timberwork looks old.

North wall: two-centred arched doorway, large blocks of dressed limestone for jamb and arch stones, no chamfer; comparable with other external doorways. Adjacent plaque records construction of outer doorway in 1935.

East wall: stone bench.

South wall: bare wall of rough limestone masonry, conceivably earlier than external facing.

West wall: as east wall plus war memorial plaques.

North Nave. General. Floor of red quarry tiles, carpet over part; flush wooden flooring under benches. Walls plastered and whitewashed. Roof of four full and two half bays (one shared with chancel); arch-braced collar trusses set into north wall where there is an over painted wall plate and supported on south by wooden corbels; two tiers of cusped windbraces. Most of timberwork looks original but replacement of rafters.

Rear of north nave screened off for vestry. Radiators and pipes for heating along walls.

North wall: features from west are: i) splayed window embrasure, painted except for the soffit; ii) panel from rood screen, but no indication of blocked doorway beneath; iii) slab of 1954; iv) inset wall in line with that on outside. Inset wall has distinct internal batter; v) deeply splayed window with only the window dressings not painted; vi) marble memorial of 1717/1743; vii) above vi) is a wooden corbel, much lower than roof corbels and now obsolete; perhaps associated with a former rood loft?

East wall: screen, but only the lowest part and this has radiators screwed to it.

South wall: three bays of five-bay arcade; broad, chamfered, two-centred arches, no capitals, thin, square pillars, chamfered with broach stops, and raised on square bases, some stones of which renewed.

West wall: deeply splayed window embrasure with only soffit not painted. No indication of blocked doorway. Wall reportedly lined, perhaps with brick.

North Chancel. General. One step up from nave; red quarry tiles on floor but graveslabs in centre (1587 to 1749), possibly signalling vault beneath. Walls as nave. Roof of one and a half bays as nave, but over sanctuary, a painted wagon roof, the ribs rising from decorated wall plates with arcading above (re-used from rood screen?). Victorian colouring? Organ fills part of north side.

North wall: splayed window, the dressings and soffit unpainted; wood panelling derived from pews around this and east sides, one carrying a date of 1722. Mural tablet of 1747.

East wall: window and panelling as on north side.

South wall: arcade of two bays, as north nave.

West wall: screen (see above).

South Nave. General. Internal porch. Floor and walls as north nave. Roof similar to north nave; some timber replacement but generally good, though corbels vary in their survival.

North wall: arcade as north nave.

East wall: screen as north nave.

South wall: two splayed windows, benefaction board of 1735 and mural tablet of 1742, plus carved wooden plaque. Thomas also recorded a blocked window on this side which lit the roof loft, though he was not specific as to whether this was an internal or external observation; nothing is visible externally so it must be assumed that what he observed is now covered by plaster.

West wall: splayed window, thick wall, reportedly lined, perhaps with brick.

South Chancel. General. One step up to chancel, one to sanctuary, one to altar. Carpet over red quarry tiles, but sanctuary has black and white marble tiles. One and a half bays of roof as south nave, and a barrel roof over the sanctuary with painted scenes and figures, now faded, including the Magi, and St Anne with the Virgin.

North wall: arcade.

East wall: splayed window with only the soffit bare; wooden panelling derived from (?18thC) pews forms dado; two marble memorials of 1786 and 1794.

South wall: small deep alcove for?piscina; dado as east side; splayed window; wooden board with Ten Commandments etc in Welsh, over mural tablet of 1705.

West wall: screen.


Llanelian churchyard is rectilinear in shape and relatively small, an extension to the burial area being added on the north side in 1933. The original churchyard is raised (see below) and shows a gentle slope from west to east on the north side of the church.

It is sited on a broad interfluvial spur that drops towards the sea, the ground rising gently to the west and dropping away to the north-east.

Boundary: rear wall of the public house to the south-west, stone wall on the west up to 1m high, while the rest of the perimeter has a retaining wall of varying height.

Monuments: spread generally throughout the old churchyard, in places locally dense, and showing some re-ordering of both gravestones and ledgers, particularly to the west of the church. The earliest stone - a chest tomb of 1612 to the Holland family - lies to the south-east of the church and there is a ledger tomb of 1653 and a chest tomb of 1683, together with at least two more 17thC gravestones and several of the 18thC.

Furniture: sundial in extreme south-east corner of churchyard. Rectangular base, chamfered rectangular pillar, plain brass plate with gnomon, no inscription. Church records indicate it was purchased in 1722 for 7s 6d.

Earthworks: churchyard is raised above its surroundings: c.1m on west and north, by perhaps 3m on south and 3m-4m on east. No internal earthworks.

Ancillary features: ornate south entrance with a single wrought iron gate on the south; a cobbled path from this to the porch, but elsewhere the paths of concrete. Store shed to north of the church.

Vegetation: two mature but not very large yews on the west side of the church, other small yews on the north and some bushes on the north-east and east. Church records indicate that yews were planted in 1736.

Sources consulted

Church guide 1986
CPAT Field Visit: 13 December 1996
Crossley 1946, 26
Faculty 1904: NLW - alterations to church
Faculty 1933: NLW - churchyard extension
Glynne 1884, 100
Hubbard 1986, 202
Lloyd Williams and Underwood 1872, pl 49
NMR Aberystwyth
Quinquennial Review 1988
Ridgway 1997, 128
Thomas 1913, 215
Click here to view full project bibliography

Please note that many rural churches are closed to the public at certain times. It is advisable to check when the church will be open before visiting. Information about access, or how to contact parish clergy, can often be obtained from the relevant Diocesan Office which can be found through the Church in Wales website. Further information about Llanelian-yn-Rhos Church may also be found on the St Asaph Diocese website.

The CPAT Eastern Conwy Churches Survey Project was funded by Cadw as part of an all Wales survey of medieval parish churches.

This HTML page has been generated from the Cadw Churches Survey database & CPAT's Regional Historic Environment Record - 17/07/2007 ( 22:01:16 ).
Further information about this and other churches surveyed is available from the Regional Historic Environment Record, Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust, Curatorial Section, 7a Church Street, Welshpool, Powys, SY21 7DL tel - (01938) 553670, fax - (01938) 552179, email -, website -

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