Lon Garmon, Abersoch, Pwllheli LL53 7UH
A simple stone-built church of the mid-1950s, with additions of 1969-70, designed by Maurice T. Pritchard of Blaenau Ffestiniog, who was responsible for a number of post-war churches in the diocese. At the time of writing (August 2018) the building is no longer used for worship, though the fittings and furnishings remain, including a fine carved stone panel of St Garmon by Rosamund Fletcher.
In 1885 the Rev. Henry Hughes, a Catholic convert originally from Caernarfon, was granted permission by Bishop Edmund Knight of Shrewsbury to build a monastery of the Third Order of St Dominic (of which he was a member) on the site of the ancient monastery of St Tudwal, on St Tudwal’s Island off the coast at Abersoch. Bishop Knight’s hope was that the monastery would become a ‘centre for Missions to the Welsh of North Wales’. A small community was formed, living in two cottages in Abersoch until a jetty was built on the island. On Rosary Sunday 1886 Mass was said in one of the cottages, the first in Abersoch since the Reformation. Soon after, the community settled on the island where they converted a dry-stone building into a chapel. Fr Hughes would travel from the island to Abersoch and Pwllheli each week to preach, however, in the winter of 1887 he fell ill and died suddenly and the monastery plan was abandoned. Thereafter Catholics living around Abersoch would travel to Pwllheli for Mass, some twenty miles away.
After the Second World War Abersoch developed as a resort, with the small resident Catholic community supplemented in the summer months by holidaymakers. In the early 1950s plans to establish a chapel-of-ease were initiated by Fr Cunningham, parish priest of Pwllheli, who had previously built churches at Porthmadog and Pwllheli (qqv). The land was given by the Misses Isambard-Owen, daughters of Sir Herbert Isambard Owen (one of the principle figures in the founding of the University of Wales), and granddaughters of the Chief Engineer of the Great Western Railway and associate of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, hence the ‘Isambard’ (information from Sue Copp, Wrexham Archives, pers. comm.). The foundation stone was laid on 3 August 1953 by Bishop John Petit of Menevia. In January 1954, with the church only half-built and further funding still required, Fr Cunningham died and construction work stalled. It resumed in 1955 and was finished later that same year, through the help of volunteers.
Built to seat 120 people, the chapel was dedicated to St Garmon, or St Germanus of Auxerre, who visited North Wales in the fifth century to combat the Pelagian heresy then rife amongst the British clergy. The design has been attributed (in Coflein and elsewhere) to Clough Williams-Ellis, but the basis for this attribution is unclear; a contemporary press cutting, which is also illustrated by a photograph showing the original appearance of the chapel, names Maurice T. Pritchard of Blaenau Ffestiniog as architect.
In 1969 with the popularity of the resort growing and the congregation increasing, Pritchard was reappointed to extend the church, which he did by adding transepts. This work was completed in 1970 and included the fitting out of a sacristy and a small flat for a visiting priest on the lower level beneath the transepts.
The building was renovated and the lower level converted to a two-bedroom flat in 2001-02. In 2016 the church was closed and at the time of writing (August 2017) it remains unused. The lower floor accommodation remains in use as a holiday home/retreat.
The building is cruciform in plan with a holiday flat under the transepts and sanctuary. It is constructed of randomly coursed granite with ashlar granite quoins and lintels, and slate sills. The east, north and south walls of the transepts are rendered and the roofs are pitched with slate coverings. External decorative detailing is limited to a simple raised stone cross high on the east wall (early photographs show a bellcote atop the west gable end but this has been removed at some point). Below this there remains a projecting, gabled porch, while in the northeast corner there is a stair leading to an external landing, providing an emergency escape from the north transept. In the southeast corner is a lean-to extension to the lower floor accommodation. The windows throughout are double glazed with modern uPVC frames.
Inside the porch and sanctuary have stone floors, the centre aisle and crossing is carpeted and the transepts and nave have hardwood herringbone parquet coverings. The walls throughout are plastered and painted and the timber-framed roof is a king post truss construction. The nave is of four bays and the sanctuary one. The north transept has a partition at the north end with four doors, behind which are the sacristy, a former confessional and a store. The simple altar is made up of a large granite mensa set on two uprights constructed of squared granite blocks. Other sanctuary furnishings are a modern hardwood ambo, celebrant’s chair of carved, stained oak and an oak bench. The tabernacle is silvered with a PX detail on the door, replacing one now in store, which is painted gold with embossed Gothic detailing and an image of the pelican in her piety. A Gothic crucifix hangs on the east wall of the sanctuary, painted and with the emblems of the Evangelists at the terminals. In the south transept are a painted wooden statue of Our Lady and a painted plaster statue of St Thérèse. The foundation stone is at the east end of the north wall of the nave. A large black slate low-relief carving of St Garmon by Rosamund Fletcher is fixed to the west wall of the nave (formerly outside).
Architect: M. T. Pritchard
Original Date: 1955
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed