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Brecknockshire Churches Survey

Church of St Mary , Builth Wells

Builth Wells Church is in the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon, in the community of Builth Wells in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SO0396051037.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16675 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Builth Wells Church, CPAT copyright photo CS962411.JPG

Summary

St Mary's church at Builth Wells lies close to the River Wye in a large rectilinear churchyard. Most of the building was constructed in the later 19thC, leaving only the medieval tower, though the site of the medieval church lies to the east of its Victorian successor. There are some internal features of interest, but few for a church of this size.

The tower is the only part of the building with a medieval origin. It is thought to date from c.1300, but appears to have been heightened subsequently. The rest of the edifice dates from 1873-5.

Parts of the following description are quoted from the 1979 publication The Buildings of Wales: Powys by Richard Haslam

History

St Mary's church is traditionally ascribed to the Normans although there is no direct evidence for this. While there would certainly have been a church in Builth during the Norman period its exact site is not known, and the religious needs of the early town may have been met by the castle chapel which is recorded as being served by monks from Brecon well into the 13thC.

A separate church certainly existed by 1283, when it is recorded as being in dispute with the castle chapel over the numbers of services held at each site.

The church does not feature in either 13thC Taxatio, but in the St Davids' Episcopal Register for 1513, it is termed 'Llanfair', while the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535 records 'Ecclesia de Bouelt' with a value of 8.

The medieval church was rebuilt in 1793, leaving the medieval tower. In turn it was replaced with the present building by John Norton in 1873-5. The 18thC nave was left standing during the construction, hence the reason why the tower, conventionally erected at the west end of a church, is now at the east.

Fenton at the beginning of the 19thC saw few graves in the churchyard and most of those were on the south side of the church.

Architecture

Builth Wells church consists of a nave and chancel, a south aisle with the south porch near its south-west corner, an east tower attached to the east end of the south aisle and a vestry-cum-organ chamber on the north side of the chancel. The church is oriented fractionally north of grid west.

Fabrics: 'A' is of blocks of sandstone, yellow brown through to grey in colour, randomly coursed. 'B' is formed of irregular lumps of grey sandstone, uncoursed. 'C' is of red and grey sandstone in somewhat irregular blocks, and occasionally slabs, randomly coursed.

'A' and 'B' are 19thC, 'C' is medieval.

Roofs: reconstituted clay tiles on all roofs, plain ridge tiles on nave and vestry, ornamented ones on chancel. Cross finials on most gable ends.

Drainage: tarmac or cement plinths on north and west and flower-beds on south effectively disguise any drainage gullies if they exist.

Exterior

Nave. General. Plinth in Fabric 'B', with chamfer to maximum height of c.1.0m; rest of walls in 'A'. Stepped buttresses. Windows each consisting of three stepped trefoil-headed lancets under a two-centred arch with a stopped hoodmoulding (four on north side); west end has two two-light windows with roundels above the trefoiled lancets, and a single large roundel in the gable.

Vestry. General. Plinthed with fabrics as nave. Windows either single trefoiled lancets or plain lancets, though one slit window in east wall. Also on east side are steps down to subterranean boiler-room.

Chancel. General. Plinthed with standard fabrics. East window of four lights with trefoiled-heads, quatrefoils and other smaller lights above, all under a two-centred arch. A quatrefoil light is set high up in gable.

Tower. General. Thought to date from c.1300. Base battered to c.1.0m, topped by moulded string-course. A second string-course much damaged is set high up just beneath battlemented parapet. All the walls in Fabric 'C', but the batter is of more regular blocks, and the stage below the parapet and including belfry windows has a greater preponderance of grey stone. This is best seen on the west where a fairly clear disconformity is visible and where the quoins also change, and less clearly on east. The tower has a central weathervane and a flagpole at the north-east corner.

North wall: little of this is visible because of chancel roof etc. Stair turret projects slightly at north-east corner.

East wall: No batter at base. Traces of plaster adhere to wall, particularly at lower levels. Large doorway with two-centred arch, inserted; above this is the infilled arch of entrance to earlier nave in red sandstone. Certainly one but possibly two earlier roof lines have been etched onto wall face. Under the upper string-course is a louvred belfry window, two-centred arch with chamfered dressings in red and grey freestone -?arch stones appear to be in different material.

South wall: about half way up wall face is small, glazed window with voussoirs forming segmental head; no chamfers and stone is not standard material for the wall suggesting an insertion though pre-dating the 19thC rebuilding. Belfry window is of standard form with chamfered jambs, but in addition a stopped label.

West wall: standard belfry window.

South aisle. General. Similar in appearance to nave with three comparable windows in south wall. West wall has a single trefoiled lancet.

Porch. General. Entrance through a large trefoil-headed door, with a pair of trefoiled lights in a rectangular frame above, lighting the first floor. Access to this by a projecting polygonal turret at north-east angle which is capped by a conical roof with weathervane. Small lights in side walls.

Interior

Porch. General. Tiled floor, and flat ceiling. Benefaction board above two-centred arched doorway in north wall. Knight's effigy against west wall, with fine grave slab of 1696 pinned to wall above it.

Nave. General. Completely carpeted floors apart from boards under benches. Bare walls in golden yellow ashlar. Nave roof of four bays with arched-braced double collars supported on wall posts and corbels, and intermediate collar trusses. East wall has high two-centred chancel arch with complex mouldings. Otherwise a range of decorations of no great age around walls.

Chancel. General. One step to chancel, two to sanctuary. Tiled with carpets. 20thC brasses and other tablets.

Tower. Not accessible.

South aisle. General. Four-bay roof of scissor trusses supported on wall posts and corbels. Vestry partitioned off at east end, blocking access to tower. 20thC brasses on south wall.

Churchyard

The churchyard is large, polygonal in shape and virtually level though the ground rises slightly on south side of church. Town and church both lie on the valley floor of the River Wye, which is less than 200m away.

It is well-maintained and continues to be used for burial.

The boundary consists of a stone wall on all sides, except the west where there are buildings and a hedge or fence. On the south the ground level externally is up to 1m below the churchyard level, and on the north 0.5m.

Monuments: the whole churchyard is utilised though density of stones varies. 19thC and much weathered later 18thC gravestones are propped up against east wall of yard, and chest tomb lids have been pushed up to this wall as well, though these are largely covered by vegetation.

Furniture: street light along paths.

Earthworks: ground to south of tower rises irregularly - demolition material from old church?

Ancillary features: two small metal gates and kissing gate at south-west corner; in south-east corner large double ornamental gates and a kissing gate; similar at north-east corner but less ornamental; single kissing gate in north-west. Tarmac paths.

Vegetation: some yews scattered through yard with a few other species. None appears to be of any great age.

Sources consulted

Cadw Schedule of Listed Buildings 1991
Church notes
CPAT Field Visit: 5 March 1996
Dawson 1909, 7
Haslam 1979, 304
NMR Aberystwyth
Powys SMR
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 Builth Wells Church may also be found on the Swansea and Brecon Diocese website.


The CPAT Brecknockshire 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 ( 22:00:33 ).
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 - chrismartin@cpat.org.uk, website - www.cpat.org.uk.

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