Penmorfa was conveyed to the Friends in 1999. Set in a sea of slate headstones and tomb chests and approached through a massive stone lychgate, St Beuno’s simple exterior conceals a more elaborate interior with medieval stained glass, monuments and nineteenth century fittings associated with the William-Ellis family.
There was an extensive restoration in 1899 by the great John Douglas of Chester who worked for the church’s patron, RM Greaves, at his own house, ‘The Wern’. The Cambrian News (27th April 1899) describes how, “The inside of the church is a model of architectural beauty. All the woodwork, including the pulpit and handsome screen have been skilfully carved by Miss (Constance Mary) Greaves who has been engaged on the work for some two or three years. One of the five panels is a representation of St Beuno.” It is clear from the article, but the fine carved wooden lectern with an almost life-size angel, may also be her a work. Constance was an aunt of Clough Williams Ellis and clearly very gifted.
“The Romanticism of the site inspired a not very good but much read, novel, ‘The Secret of a Life’ by MM Bell of 1858 which made Penmorfa Church the location of the untimely marriage of Reginald and Ellen, the two soon being ripped asunder by the reappearance of Terese, the first wife. ‘They reached the little church. It stands there still, with the gigantic yews before the quaint old porch. “God’s Acre” crowded with tombstones..'”
Matthew Saunders, ‘Saving Churches’, p91.
Sir John Owen: The Welsh Musketeer
There is a touch of Alexandre Dumas’ D’Artagnan about Sir John Owen, a little known figure todaym, who is buried in the churchyard at Penmorfa and whose monument sits proudly in the chancel.
He was born at Clenennau in 1600, into one of the most important estates in Caernarfonshire, into wealth and politics – his father had made his fortune as secretary to Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. When civil war erupted in 1642 Owen proved himself a loyal servant of the king, and was singled out to command the foot regiment raised in north-west Wales, and then as governor of Reading, and later Conway, with responsibility for all the royal forces in north-west Wales. Involvement in civil war in 1649 and again in 1659 during the faltering Protectorate of Richard Cromwell, led to his imprisonment and trial for treason, which he twice narrowly escaped. At the age of 60 Sir John Owen retired to Clenennau to live quietly – and he is buried at Penmorfa.