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Brecknockshire Churches Survey

Church of St Mary , Bronllys

Bronllys Church is in the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon, in the community of Bronllys in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SO1437934901.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16721 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Bronllys Church, CPAT copyright photo 1037-13A.JPG

Summary

The church of St Mary at Bronllys, 12km to the north-east of Brecon, has a medieval structure, perhaps of 14thC date, at its core but was considerably reconstructed during the 19thC. It is unusual however for its detached bell-tower. Internally the church retains its original font and a 16thC rood screen, but otherwise has been largely Victorianised. The churchyard is rectangular but could contain the fossilised outline of a curvilinear predecessor.

The layout of the church conforms to a plan that could be 12thC or 13thC.

Nave rebuilt on east and south sides and some of west; all the windows are Victorian, whether inserted or erected when the walls were rebuilt.

Chancel also largely rebuilt on all three sides; original masonry only in lower part of north wall and a little of the south wall. Windows again all Victorian. Priest's door thought to be 14thC, one of the few authentic pieces of diagnostic stonework.

Porch rebuilt presumably in the Victorian period, but retains late medieval roof and entrance, 15thC or perhaps earlier 16thC.

Haslam has dismissed comments on the tower in Archaeologia Cambrensis that it was 'the erection of a nineteenth century humourist', but there have been other suggestions that it was rebuilt in the 18thC. Yet there is no obvious reason to disregard the weathered ogee-headed windows which ought to be 14thC.

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

History

There is nothing to signal an early medieval origin for the church here and indeed it is generally assumed that the first church was built by the Clifford family as a new 12thC foundation, following the building of Bronllys Castle. However, the possibility of an earlier churchyard with a curvilinear boundary cannot be wholly ignored.

The church and much of its land were subsequently given to the Cluniac Priory at Clifford in Herefordshire, and were still held by them at the Dissolution. In 1291 it was referred to as 'Ecclesia de Brentles' at the relatively high value of 13 6s 8d, but in 1535 'Bronlles' was worth only 4 15s 11d.

Both nave and chancel were rebuilt in 1887 by Nicholson and Sons, and the roofs and fittings replaced in pitch pine. The bell-tower was restored in 1938-39, and further changes including the shifting of the screen to the west end were made by G.G.Pace in 1969.

Architecture

Bronllys church comprises a nave, a narrower chancel, a north porch set centrally on the side of the nave, and a detached bell tower. It is aligned on an east-north-east/west-south-west axis, but for descriptive purposes 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted here.

Fabrics: 'A' consists of small to medium, irregular lumps and slabs of primarily grey and brown sandstone, though some other colours are also represented, and there are occasional coarser sandstones and 'waterworn stones'; some larger blocks at ground level; the masonry is randomly coursed and there are limewash remnants in places. 'B' is of small lumps of sandstone, grey and red in colour, irregularly coursed. 'C' is of small to medium slabs and blocks of sandstone, with a range of colours: cream, grey, brown and red; regularly coursed. 'D' comprises long slabs of grey and buff-grey sandstone, ranging in size from small to large, irregularly coursed; large blocks used for quoins, some slabs also.

'A' and 'D' are medieval. 'B' and 'C' are Victorian fabrics.

Roofs: reconstituted clay tiles, toothed ridge tiles, and a finial only at the end of the chancel. The bell tower has a low pyramidal roof with similar tiles, and a weathercock above.

Drainage: there is no obvious drainage trench, although in places a hollowing of the ground surface along the wall edges may indicate sub-surface drains.

Exterior

Porch. General. Stone foundation walls with chamfered tops, timber superstructure. In Fabric B with dressed sandstone for quoins and chamfer. The side walls are Victorian but not the gable and entrance.

East wall: plain; undated benefaction board pinned to it.

South wall: broad arch, the same width as the porch. The camber arch formed by arch-bracing that springs from wooden uprights. The gable above is infilled with a tie beam, king post and struts all visible.

West wall: plain.

Nave. General. Fabric A. Buttresses and windows are all Victorian. Lean-to, perhaps a boiler house, against west wall.

North wall: three windows all of different designs. From west: i) round-headed lancet; ii) trefoiled lancet with integral relieving arch; iii) lighting choir is a two-light window with a two-centred arch, the lights with trefoil heads and a trefoil above; also a hoodmoulding with human-headed stops. All three windows clearly inserted with the surrounding masonry slightly sunken compared with the wall face. Possibly the stonework beneath the eaves is of the same build. Interestingly the replacement masonry around the windows has more residual limewash than the rest of the wall.

East wall: on the north side of the chancel, a chamfered plinth continues around the east wall from the step in the angle buttress, and above this is a hollowed string course. The fabric is re-cycled 'A' with limewash traces, and there is no certainly original masonry in this wall. On the south side of the chancel, the wall is all rebuilt in 'C'.

South wall: in 'C' throughout with the windows as on the north side but no sign of insertion.

West wall:- fabric is probably 'A', but it is heavily pointed and lichen covered. The west window consists of a pair of tall lancets with complex moulding, and the hoodmould follows the line of the individual window heads. Around the window the wall is rebuilt and the masonry bulges slightly. The apex of the gable is slightly concave and shows cleaner masonry, suggesting that it may have been restored even more recently.

Chancel. General. Fabric A, with later rebuilding in 'C'.

North wall: Lower part of wall in 'A', while the upper part is a variation in 'A' - partially re-cycled masonry? - with some smaller material, and also a more weathered appearance. It seems quite likely that the upper part of the wall including the window is rebuilt. Priest's door of 14thC date, with two-centred arch, the whole in red sandstone and original; a single window with a trefoil-headed lancet and a hoodmould with human-headed stops; angle buttress.

East wall: wall is wholly in 'C' with frequent coursing, a chamfered plinth and, at a higher level, a hollowed string course running off the step in the angle buttresses. There is a Victorian three-light window with stepped trefoil-headed lights under a two-centred arch and the usual stopped hoodmould.

South wall: most of the wall is in 'C' but the westernmost 1.5m rises to eaves level in original 'A'. One window as north wall.

Tower. General. Detached, standing a few metres to the north-east of the chancel. Based on a stepped plinth, a single step at the lowest level and two steps above. Above c.6m is a second stage, simply inset without a string-course. First stage in 'D', bottom 2m of second stage in 'A', the remainder in 'D', though the number of blocks of stone included in 'D' varies.

North wall: first stage in 'D' though with some blocks incorporated; it has a slit window with chamfered dressings, probably in the main original. Belfry lit by two louvred lights with ogee heads, though part of one head and the upper part of the mullion have gone.

East wall: slit window in first stage, perhaps with some of the chamfered dressings renewed. Slit window with original dressings in lower part of second stage, and above it a belfry window with an iron band supporting the lower part of the mullion.

South wall: standard belfry window with original, weathered dressings.

West wall: camber-headed doorway at ground level is a complete, modern rebuild. Second stage has standard slit window with original dressings; the belfry windows are in poor condition, the ogee heads have gone and the whole is held together by a modern wooden frame.

Interior

Porch. General. Flagged floor, bare walls of 'C', which in view of the location may indicate that this masonry is simply a contemporary variation of 'B'. Roof of two bays with an arch-braced collar to the central truss, and against the nave wall a tie beam with raking struts; one row of trefoiled windbraces. It is unclear how much of the timber has been replaced but basically this is a 16thC roof.

East wall: stone bench with flag seating along wall.

South wall: two-centred arch with grey sandstone dressings and broach stops to the chamfers - all Victorian and set in contemporary 'C' masonry.

West wall: as east wall.

Nave. General. Stone flags for floor with carpet over most of the exposed surfaces; no obvious grilles; wooden block floors under benches. Walls plastered and whitewashed, though dressings and embrasures just whitewashed. Victorian roof of close-set scissor braces. Step up at eastern end of nave into choir, the area around the stalls tiled. Utilising the old screen, the western end of the nave is panelled off for a vestry, one step up and its floor of wooden blocks.

North wall: deeply splayed windows; doorway not splayed and has a triangular head to the reveal. Modern stoup beside the door.

East wall: a narrow, high two-centred Victorian chancel arch with floriate decoration. Beside it a simple rectangular doorway, with stopped chamfers, giving onto stairs to the former rood loft.

South wall: deeply splayed windows.

West wall: plain but for splayed window.

Chancel. General. Three steps up, staggered, to altar. Carpeted and tiled aisle and altar surround; re-used graveslabs, the earliest of 1666 through to 1779, on both sides of the aisle. Walls as nave. Painted wagon roof over altar, but elsewhere, braced collars.

North wall: priest's door has triangular-headed embrasure, presumably original, with graveslab for the floor.

East wall: nothing of significance.

South wall: splayed window with sedile beneath and piscina adjacent: the recess and its decoration is Victorian, but the bowl with traces of limewash, has scalloped sides and should be earlier.

West wall: nothing of significance.

Tower. General. Ground floor has flags covered by carpet; bare walls; wooden ceiling and joists at height of c.4m. First floor has wooden floor, and putlog holes in all walls at same level, three in south and north walls, two in west and east walls; also longitudinal timbers, containing mortice holes and running the full length of the south and north walls, just below the present joists, and probably representing an earlier floor support. The third floor has six bells on a solid frame; the belfry windows have cambered arches of edge stones to the reveals, and above each is a re-used timber with mortice joints to relieve the weight on the window.

North wall: deep basal splay to embrasure, the masonry having heavy pointing. Marble mural tablet leans against wall.

East wall: similar to north side.

South wall: no window. A small rectangular recess of unknown purpose, its lintel carved with?bellringers' initials.

West wall: faintly splayed reveal to doorway, with camber-headed arch matching the windows.

Churchyard

The churchyard is rectangular, and is level in the west part of the yard but drops off gently eastwards. To the south-east the ground falls away to Afon Llynfi, and both church and settlement lie on the northern lip of the valley edge.

The churchyard is well-maintained and is used for modern burial.

Boundary: a stone wall defines the churchyard, free-standing on the north-west but acting more as a retaining wall on the south-east where earth has been banked up behind it and the level of the road outside is perhaps one metre lower.

Monuments: these are spread evenly throughout the yard except to the north of the church. There are a few localised concentrations. Virtually no 18thC graves are recognisable even on the south side of the church. Stacked against the south-west corner of the nave are some mural tablets which were removed from the church in about 1968. One accessible example dates to 1740.

Furniture: none.

Earthworks: a slight scarp appears to curve round from opposite the school on the south-west side, passing beyond the south-east angle of the chancel and curving towards the vicarage. The possibility that this is an earlier curvilinear church enclosure cannot be ignored. There is the hint of a second outer scarp further to the east, but this is less convincing.

Ancillary features: stone lychgate with wooden superstructure and gates at the north-east entrance, together with a metal kissing gate. A small wooden gate gives access to the vicarage on the north-west and both are served by tarmac paths.

Vegetation: several yews of which the two north of the church (and close to the putative earlier boundary) could be the oldest, while those near the lychgate and against the south-east boundary are younger.

Sources consulted

Cadw Schedule of Listed Buildings 1995
CPAT Field Visit: 6 June 1996
Crossley and Ridgway 1952, 59
Haslam 1979, 302
Martin and Walters 1993, 29
Owens 1994: Church Guide
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 Bronllys 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 ( 22:00:32 ).
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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