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Brecknockshire Churches Survey

Church of St Dubricius , Gwenddwr

Gwenddwr Church is in the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon, in the community of Erwood in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SO0648443255.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16788 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Gwenddwr Church, CPAT copyright photo 95C0356.JPG

Summary

A small rather unimpressive church dedicated to St Dubricius, and largely rebuilt in 1886, with few furnishings and fittings of pre-19thC date. Its small rectilinear churchyard may be the shrunken remnant of a much larger oval enclosure related to the 6thC monastic foundation reputed to have been established here.

Some of the earlier, medieval church survives, notably as Fabric B in lower stages of tower, porch, and probably western part of nave. Rest rebuilt using mixture of old and new masonry, though this is at variance with 1878 faculty specification which implies south wall and part of east are original. Most windows have been replaced with Victorian imitations, but two in chancel retain original dressings. Both doors on south side retain original features, but priest's door may have been reset. Overall, surviving architectural features suggest that the church goes back to the 14thC, and that some alterations perhaps only to the chancel and porch were made in the 15thC.

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

History

Gwenddwr is supposed to have emerged in the 6thC AD as a monastic establishment. Jones claimed that St Dubricius had a seminary named after him on the banks of the Wye.

The Cistercian Abbey Dore (Herefordshire) had a grange here in the 14thC, though its precise site is not known.

The church does not feature in the 13thC Taxatios or in the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535, perhaps because of its subsidiarity to Dore, but the St Davids' Episcopal Register for 1513 refers to 'Gwenthur'.

Theophilus Jones in the early 19thC recorded the church as having a heavy and clumsy steeple, the nearby publican's roof was in better repair than that of church, the porch was very low, there was an uneven earth floor, the seats were decayed and irregular, and the chancel indifferently flagged. An inscription on the south wall recorded "this church was beautified and adorned by the church wardens in 1790". Jones also reported that after 1801 the parishioners had spent some money on improving the building, without specifying what had been done.

In 1876 a fire destroyed much of the church, and it was restored at a cost of 890 in 1886. The specification for the work, dated 1878, required that: the north wall of the nave and chancel and a portion of east wall be taken down to foundations, and rebuilt with hammer-dressed stone with random walling to correspond to earlier walls; original windows should be reused; dressings replaced where necessary; ground on the south side of church was to be removed to the depth of the internal floor level; the floor in nave was to be raised 14"; pews and stalls replaced; and tower repaired with new window on south.

Architecture

Nave and chancel in one, with west tower and south porch. Note that church is oriented west-north-west/east-south-east, but 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted for descriptive purposes.

Fabrics: 'A' consists of blocks of mixed sandstone, some irregularly shaped, and some shale; colours range from red through to yellow and grey. Irregularly coursed and heavily pointed, generally clean appearance; large ashlar quoins. Possibly old stone mixed with newer material, or on basis of faculty specification, new masonry matching old? 'B' consists of slabs and blocks of dark shale, irregularly coursed.

Roofs: recent on both tower and on body of church, using reconstituted clay tiles with ceramic ridge tiles over recent timber.

Drainage: narrow gully, c.0.15m wide on both north and south.

Exterior

Tower. General. Fabric B except where otherwise stated. Battered base for first 0.7m, the lowest stone courses projecting more. Flattish pyramidal roof. Three stages on basis of windows. No string-courses, weather vane or other embellishments.

North wall: Fabric B to about top of second stage, above this more sandstone mixed in, a Fabric A variation. Two simple and separate rectangular louvred windows at belfry level.

East wall: apex of nave roof virtually touches eaves of tower roof. Visible wall is plain and could be Fabric A.

South wall: Fabric B below, A above. First stage has window with shouldered-arch, completely Victorian, simple slit in 2nd stage, and belfry window as north wall.

West wall: plain with pronounced bulge in masonry at second stage level.

Nave. General. Wall lower on south than on north because of ground slope; both slightly battered.

North wall: Fabric A, with more modern masonry at higher level, and more uniform ashlar quoins also. At north-west corner, foundation course stonework projects for distance of nearly 2m along wall face - earlier foundation? Three broad lancet windows, with chamfered dressings, entirely Victorian.

South wall: Fabric A but more weathered than on north; three Victorian windows as on north.

West wall: on south side lowest courses project and appear to pre-date tower masonry; on north side wall in Fabric B, tower appears to abut nave, and foundation course projects.

Chancel. General. No external separation from nave.

North wall: in Fabric A, with tooled quoins of recent date at north-east corner. Two lancet windows; more westerly has replacement dressings in yellow sandstone except for sill, in contrast to red sandstone of nave, but otherwise the four-centred chamfered arch in red sandstone set in square-headed frame is original. To east is smaller lancet with two-centred arch with hollow chamfers, probably all Victorian replacement.

East wall: ?Fabric A but weathered. East window has three stepped lights with trefoil heads, Victorian, comparable with north nave windows, though 15thC in form.

South wall: Fabric A. Lighting the sanctuary is flat-headed window with complex mouldings, the two lights having cinquefoil heads with circular depressions in the spandrels (though Griffiths of RCAHMW thought them unfinished): mullion replaced and perhaps sill, but tracery original and perhaps some of jamb stones. Blocked priest's door, 14thC, with two-centred arch, chamfered dressings with much abraded stop on one jamb in red sandstone but many of dressing stones in yellow or buff sandstone, possibly indicating replacement; threshold stone now 0.4m above ground level.

Porch. East wall: Fabric A, no features.

South wall: heavy ashlar dressings provide pillar supports for truss, crudely carved with central quatrefoil and what pass for trefoils (but see also porch interior).

West wall: possibly Fabric B, and at its base the nave wall appears to be later.

Interior

Porch. General. Floor of two colour Victorian tiles. 15thC roof (cf Crickadarn), with two quatrefoil and trefoil trusses and an arched one between, and pairs of trefoiled wind-braces. Inner truss better carved than outer. Bare walls partly in Fabric B.

North wall: two-centred, stopped-chamfered arched doorway in red sandstone; head replaced in cream sandstone, but otherwise claimed as 14thC. 19thC door.

East wall: Fabric A(?), stone slab bench against wall.

South wall: stone pillar supporting gable truss.

West wall: as east wall, but in Fabric B.

Tower. Not accessible.

Nave. General. Floor of black and red Victorian tiles with carpet over; benches raised slightly on wooden planked floors. Roof has ugly scissor trusses. Walls all plastered and whitewashed except for dressings of windows. Windows throughout have iron grilles.

North wall: splayed window embrasures with peaked rere-arches and slightly sloping sills.

South wall: doorway reveal has peaked top, windows as on north.

West wall: irregularities in wall surface at c.3.5m+ point to rebuilding; at ground level shouldered arch to tower comparable with tower window on south side, Victorian.

Chancel. General. One step above nave, and two further steps to altar. Floored with Victorian encaustic tiles. Roof as nave.

North wall: as nave, though more easterly of two windows has minor repairs to it, possibly suggesting that not complete Victorian replacement.

East wall: nothing of note.

South wall: tracery of main window has modern backing.

Churchyard

The churchyard lies some 60m south of Nant Gwenddwr, the fairly steep valley slope interrupted by a gently sloping shelf on which the church squats. Possibly the ground level within churchyard has been levelled through use, though still slight drop from south to north; church certainly terraced into slope.

Churchyard is rectilinear in shape, the only curve to boundary being on south side. No evidence on earlier maps of any modifications. Maximum dimensions of 53m east/west by 36m north/south. Possibly this represents a substantial reduction in former size. Curvilinear boundary on south is continued by adjoining property boundaries, and line can be extended to an almost complete oval circuit of about 150m diameter, incorporating stream. Larger enclosure might be in keeping with traditional 6thC monastic foundation. But it occupies an extremely steep slope and the present church is in an unusually eccentric position within it.

Boundary consists on west and south of stone wall capped in concrete with wire fence set on it and hedge inside; on east stone wall continues with hedge above, an external drop of perhaps 1m not matched internally where 0.2m. An outside revetment wall and hedge on south, ground drops away for several metres; internally slightly embanked.

Churchyard well maintained and has won prizes in recent years. Recent burials.

Monuments: reasonably dense on south where table and box tombs of mid-18thC, with late 18thC gravestones in south-east corner. 19thC graves around north side, but ground relatively clear in north-west corner. Earliest inscription noted: 1754.

Furniture: none noted.

Earthworks: none noted.

Ancillary Features: three-quarter size wooden gate and kissing gate also in wood provide main access from east; modern gate in north-west corner. Both served by tarmac paths.

Vegetation: numerous yew trees, none very ancient, around whole perimeter except north.

Sources consulted

CPAT Field Visit: 19 October 1995
Faculty of 1878: NLW/SD/F/181
Haslam 1979, 323
Jones 1994,
Jones and Bailey 1911, iii, 13-15
Powys SMR
Williams 1990, 43


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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 Gwenddwr 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 ( 22:00:39 ).
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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