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Brecknockshire Churches Survey

Church of St Cynog , Defynnog

Defynnog Church is in the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon, in the community of Maescar in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SN9253127928.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16764 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Defynnog Church, CPAT copyright photo CS953903.JPG

Summary

St Cynog's church lies on the northern side of Defynnog village about 12km miles west of Brecon. The church undoubtedly has a long history though whether the reputed 'Celtic window' is an authentic pre-Conquest feature cannot be ascertained. The tower and the body of the church are late medieval though of different builds, and internally there is an interesting range of furnishings including an early medieval inscribed stone and a font and stoup both of early date. The churchyard is large and irregular.

The tower is attributable to the late 15thC on the basis of details such as round- and camber-headed windows, gargoyles, and battlements; little change except for some replacement of window dressings.

Nave may contain a section of walling on north side which belongs to the earliest church, though whether it is 'Celtic' remains a moot point. Two of the windows are late Perpendicular but several later windows have been inserted and the upper part of the western end of the south wall has been reconstructed.

Chancel and north chapel are of the same build, with some reconstruction of north-west corner of north chapel and probably the replacement of a doorway in the north wall with one in the west. On the south wall of the chancel a fabric break at its juncture with the nave indicates that the former was built on to an existing structure.

On the basis of the windows the body of the church is usually ascribed to c.1500, but it is evident that the chancel has been extended eastwards. Are both the rebuilding and the extension likely to have occurred close together in the early 16thC, or is it possible that the nave is earlier and that Perpendicular windows have been inserted into it? There is also a belief amongst earlier writers that the north chapel (or north aisle as it was often referred to) was later in date than the chancel, although this cannot be verified from surface observations.

Porch could be original, though the RCAHMW placed it as late as the 18thC.

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

History

An early medieval origin for the church seems reasonably plausible on the basis of its dedication and its siting. Pre-Conquest features may include the font, stoup, the incised stone and the architecture of the north wall of the nave though it must be stated that for a variety of reasons none of these can categorically be used as confirmatory evidence for an early church.

Nevertheless it is generally understood that this was a mother church for the region, and its importance is demonstrated by the fact that the 'Ecclesia de Devennoc' was valued at the high level of 8 18s 9d in the Taxatio of 1254, and 17 6s 8d in that of 1291.

It seems likely that the church saw some restoration in the 18thC or early 19thC though no records of this work have been identified. Certainly the south windows west of the porch would seem to be of this date.

Glynne visited the church in 1855, noting that it was "above par" for the region in both size and condition. The plan was described and the Perpendicular windows except for those on the north side had escaped mutilation. The tower was massive, with a south-east turret. The roofs of nave and aisle were coved and panelled, the western end of the nave was partitioned off by a gallery.

The church underwent some restoration in 1888. This included the removal of the gallery, gallery stairs and pews, the replacement of three windows in the north chapel and nave, the rebuilding of part of the south wall and the walling over the arcade, re-roofing of the building, new concrete and tile floors etc.

Further more minor alterations occurred in 1905 including work on the partitions at the west end of the nave.

Architecture

Defynnog church comprises a nave and chancel in one, a north chapel extending eastwards in line with the end of the chancel, a south porch central to the nave, a west tower, and a small modern structure, perhaps a boiler house, in the angle formed by the nave and the north chapel. The church is oriented fractionally south of grid west.

Fabrics: 'A' is of squared blocks and slabs of red and grey sandstone with occasional vesicular lumps, small and medium in size, rarely larger; irregularly coursed. 'B' contains more red sandstone than 'A', and in places the coursing is more regular. 'C' has predominantly squared blocks of sandstone, both red and grey in colour.

Roofs: slates with lead along ridge crest.

Drainage: drainage trenches along both sides of the nave, and the north and east sides of the north chapel. A metalled path runs along the east side of the building.

Exterior

Porch . General. Fabric 'A', though sides particularly in smaller rubble than the nave walls.

East and west walls: plain; large mural slab of 1837 set against former.

South wall: two-centred arch with chamfered sandstone dressings; 15thC according to Haslam. Gable has ornamental wooden bargeboard of recent origin. Iron gates.

Tower. General. In Fabric 'C'. Battered base topped by string-course; second stage also defined by rectangular sectioned string-course; belfry stage has a third string-course at top and above this is battlemented parapet. The tower supports a small pyramidal spire with a weathervane, and has a stair turret at the south-east angle.

North wall: some zoning of stonework visible in second stage; tower wall abuts nave wall except for one large block which bonds in. Two-light, louvred belfry window; gargoyle projects from string-course above.

East wall: nave roof rises to top of second stage; belfry window has round-headed twin lights, louvred. Stair turret at south-east angle is lit by two slits in the same stage. Water spout on top string-course.

South wall: belfry stage has two windows, the lower a single round-headed light with chamfered sandstone dressings and, above, twin round-headed lights, faint markings in the spandrel, and sockets for the louvre boards. Stair turret on south-east is battered to a higher level; upper two string-courses continue around the turret; one slit window below middle string-course, and a second in the west face of the turret. Highest string-course has one gargoyle.

West wall: round-headed windows at bottom and top of second stage, the former larger than the latter; a standard twin-light window lights belfry; two gargoyles on top string-course.

Nave. General. Essentially Fabric 'A' throughout, though some variation.

North wall: slightly battered at base. From east i) above the boiler house, a three-light Perpendicular window, completely replaced; ii) high up on wall is a square wooden-framed two-light window with a wooden lintel, post-medieval; iii) the blocked, so-called 'Celtic window' with its two jambs and a lintel which narrows over the aperture and far overlaps the jambs; it is fixed in a section of wall about 3m long which is inset from the main wall face at its base but bulges at a higher level and is flush with the rest of the wall; iv) immediately to the west of this section of walling is a small buttress-like protrusion though it extends no more than 0.1m from the wall face - its significance is unclear.

South wall: east of the porch are two Perpendicular three-light windows, the dressings entirely replaced on that to the west, the other less so; Haslam describes the tracery in these windows, as elsewhere on the south and north, as unusual with an almost round-headed frame with two mullions, the outer pair of lights with a single cusp at impost level, the inner with a trefoil head but otherwise plain. Occasional traces of limewash adhere to the masonry on this part of wall. West of the porch are two two-centred arched windows with wooden mullions and Y-tracery, voussoirs for the arch and rough stonework for the jambs; late insertions possibly at the time when the school room was partitioned off. South-west angle of nave abuts tower; there are no quoins strengthening the view that the tower is slightly earlier than the nave. However, it is also likely that the upper part of the wall, west of the porch, is rebuilt. At eaves level the roof drops by c.0.1m and the upper wall face is inset by the same distance.

North chapel. General. Limewash remnants.

North wall: Fabric is similar to 'A', but irregularities in wall face hint at some reconstruction perhaps re-using existing stone. Two Perpendicular-style windows but that to west is certainly Victorian, and that to east may be, though it is in red sandstone. In addition a jamb stone at ground level towards the western end of the wall face could be the sole in situ survivor of a north door, and this reinforces the belief that the western end of this wall has been reconstructed.

East wall: Fabric 'B'; four-light window with panel tracery under two-centred arch, hollow chamfers.

West wall: standard Perpendicular window of three lights, the dressings largely original. Adjacent is a Victorian two-centred arched doorway, the slightly battered base of the wall broken through for its insertion, and the wall face above the door, and to the north of the window is probably all rebuilt, with distinctive slabs of sandstone and heavy pointing.

Chancel. General. Fabric 'B'. Masonry retains intermittent limewash traces.

East wall: no butt joint with north chapel: they are of same build. Window as east window of north chapel, in red sandstone; patched up but largely original.

South wall: one three-light Perpendicular window with a broad two-centred head, comparable with windows in nave; some replacement of sandstone dressings, particularly the mullions; brackets for hinged shutters. West of the window is a priest's door with two steps down to it, and half a step up to the threshold stone; it has an obtuse two-centred arch and chamfered dressings of mixed colours, showing little sign of wear; the masonry surround to this door stands out from the general Fabric 'B' and has been rebuilt. West of the priest's door is a change from Fabric 'B' to Fabric 'A'; this is not a butt joint more a dovetailing of the masonry; one ashlar quoin stone has been re-used.

Interior

Porch. General. Stone flag floor; plastered walls except that on north which is bare; plastered ceiling showing only the purlins.

North wall: two-centred arch with chamfered dressings in red sandstone looks original, but jambstones in grey sandstone on either side may be replacements.

East wall: stoup set in wall.

West wall: plain but early medieval stone rests against it.

Tower. General. Flag floor. It should be noted that the lintel of the door to the bellringers' chamber has a decorated ring cross carved on it.

East wall: tall tower arch blocked off.

South wall: small, two-centred doorway to tower turret.

West wall: deeply splayed window.

Nave. General. Western half of nave has a broad vestibule opening off from porch with plaster board panelling to east and a wall to west behind which is the school room.

School room has polished wooden floor and flat ceiling. North wall supports an undated benefaction board, a blocked fireplace (coinciding with the slight protrusion in external wall face to the west of the 'Celtic' window), and a mural tablet of 1758. Windows in south wall have surviving wooden shutters. West wall contains the large pointed archway to the tower, not chamfered; now blocked leaving only a small entrance.

Vestibule has stone flagged floor and false ceiling; modern furniture and an old fashioned school desk.

Nave. General (cont.). Floor of Victorian tiles with one large grille for underfloor heating; wooden block floors beneath benches. Plastered and whitewashed walls, but exposed dressings for windows and arcade. Nave and chancel ceiling in one: barrel-ceiling with close-set moulded ribs.

North wall: one splayed window beneath which is a mural tablet and war memorial plaques. One and a half bays of Perpendicular arcade to north chapel.

South wall: splayed windows; large numbers of 19thC mural tablets.

West wall: plain.

North chapel. General. Floor of flags which include in the sanctuary three complete grave slabs of 1637, 1724 and the third not legible, and another 14 or 15 whole or in part flooring an 'aisle' beside the arcade. Plastered and whitewashed walls. Ceiling as in nave and chancel.

North wall: splayed windows; two 18thC mural tablets and one of the 19thC.

East wall: splayed east window; two 18thC mural tablets.

South wall: arcade. One 18thC mural tablet over arcade pillar and another on east respond.

West wall: splayed window.

Chancel. General. Floor tiled throughout; one step up from nave and two more to sanctuary. Walls and ceiling as nave.

North wall: one and a half bays of arcade. The eastern respond is of slightly different design to the other pillars and the western respond and Haslam felt it might be earlier. Three 17thC and 18thC mural tablets in north-east corner and a 19thC tablet over the arcade pillar to the west.

East wall: splayed window. Ten Commandments painted on wall.

South wall: splayed window but not doorway.

Churchyard

St Cynog's church is sited in a sloping churchyard of irregular rectilinear form. The slope is more marked to the south of the church than to the north, a result of the location on ground that is beginning to drop towards a tributary of the River Senni. The river itself lies little more than 100m to the west and the western edge of the churchyard is perched on the lip of its river terrace.

If Defynnog church did originally occupy a curvilinear enclosure there are no convincing signs of it today. A small extension to the extreme south of the yard is documented in the last century, and it is just conceivable that the scarp bank to the south of the church (see below) functioned as a boundary at some point in the past.

The churchyard is well maintained and is currently used for burial.

Boundary: south-west of the church the boundary is defined by a mortared stone wall with an immediate external drop of around 0.8m more than the internal drop, separated by a narrow ledge before the fall into the river valley. Between the church and the vicarage to the west a low internal bank and a hedge replace the wall, but on the north side the wall commences again, the difference in height becoming less marked as one moves eastwards. On the east the perimeter is edged by houses and again the interior is raised to the extent that some of the cottage windows are on a level with the churchyard. The wall continues on the south-east and there is no real external drop.

Monuments: these are well spread throughout the churchyard and are locally dense, particularly on the north side. Late 18thC and many 19thC graves are prevalent to the north of the north chapel and also to the south of the chancel.

Furniture: none noted.

Earthworks: a scarp bank in excess of one metre high and quite pronounced curves round from beneath the tower to opposite the chancel.

Ancillary features: an ornate lychgate with transoms and tracery across the arches dates to 1903, and offers the main access from the south. The north-west corner has a single painted metal gate, the north-east corner has double cast iron gates and there is a further gate on the east side. All are served by tarmac paths.

Vegetation: four large yews including one on the scarp bank noted above lie in an arc around the church.

Sources consulted

CPAT Field Visit: 15 August 1995
Dawson 1909, 62
Faculty 1887: NLW/SD/F/142
Faculty 1905: NLW/SD/F/143
Glynne 1886, 273
Haslam 1979, 316
NMR Aberystwyth
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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 Defynnog 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 ( 22:00:38 ).
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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