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Brecknockshire Churches Survey

Church of St Mary , Hay-on-Wye

Hay-on-Wye Church is in the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon, in the community of Hay-on-Wye in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SO2257842142.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16794 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Hay-on-Wye Church, CPAT copyright photo 405-29.JPG


St Mary's church lies on the western side of the town of Hay, immediately to the south of the River Wye. The church may have been founded early in the 12thC, but only the tower of the medieval structure remains, the rest having been rebuilt in the 19thC. It contains some interesting Victorian features including its gallery and an elaborate pulpit, but from the middle ages only a worn effigy has survived. The churchyard is triangular in shape and perhaps fossilises an earlier and smaller yard of similar design.

Tower is 15thC, but its battlemented top is 19thC. The nave and chancel are completely 19thC, though of two different periods.

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


The early history of this church is obscure. There is nothing substantive to indicate an early medieval origin, its location apart.

At an early date it was appropriated to Brecon Priory and was dedicated to St Mary sometime between 1115 and 1135.

It is recorded as 'Ecclesia de Haya' at the time of the 1254 Taxatio, when it was worth 7 2s 2d, and nearly double at 14 less than forty years later in the 1291 Taxatio.

In 1684 Dineley sketched a nave and smaller chancel, both buttressed, a half-timbered porch and a west tower with a pyramidal roof; drawings of two grave slabs and the font were also included. The building collapsed about 1700, leaving only tower, although Dawson has it that this catastrophe related to another church dedicated to St John, and sited elsewhere in Hay.

It was rebuilt by Edward Haycock the elder in 1833-34 in Late Georgian Gothic style, and the chancel was enlarged in 1866, possibly by T.Nicholson the architect of Hereford. A Faculty application of 1873 covered the re-flooring of the nave in wood and tiles, and the introduction of new seating, and a further application of 1906 was necessitated for four new windows on the south side.


Hay church comprises a broad nave, a chancel with organ chamber to the north and vestry to the south which together are only fractionally less wide than the nave, an apse at the east end, a tower set centrally at the west end of the nave, and a south porch. Tucked into the northern angle between the tower and the nave is a lean-to stone building. It is oriented a little to the south of true west.

Fabrics: 'A' consists of grey sandstone blocks and slabs, irregularly coursed. Ashlar quoins some in brown sandstone. 'B' is of blocks of grey and grey-red sandstone, irregularly coursed. At higher levels in the walls 'B' becomes more heterogeneous, suggesting some re-use of material. 'C' well-fashioned blocks and slabs of sandstone.

Roofs: of slate; ornate octagonal finial to nave end.

Drainage: because of the vegetation it is impossible to determine whether any drainage gullies have been dug beside the walls.


Tower. General. Fabric 'A'. 15thC. Battered base to height of c.1.2m topped by moulded string course (first stage). A second, corbelled, string course of rectangular section lies just below the projecting, battlemented parapet (third stage). Low pyramidal roof, and flagpole in south-east corner. The whole tower cleaned and re-pointed recently. The corbel table and the battlements look as though they might be later than the main tower structure.

North wall: louvred lancet with grey sandstone dressings showing some renewal, low down in second stage. At the top of the stage a louvred two-light belfry window, the lights with?ogee-heads and a collar between the mullions and the heads; some original dressings but the mullion is certainly replaced. At the north-east angle is a heavy buttress with ashlar masonry.

East wall: nave roof apex reaches just to belfry window which is set slightly higher than its counterpart on the north side. This is a louvred lancet with some renewal of the dressings.

South wall: as north side with buttress at south-east angle, which conceivably could have been built after the nave. Two small lancet windows low down in the second stage, the upper one has original dressings and like that in the north wall is louvred. The louvred belfry window has two lights with a two-centred arch over, the arch heads and the upper mullions replaced.

West wall: low in the second stage are two four-centred lights revealing much replacement, particularly of the jambs. Above is a single louvred lancet. The louvred belfry window has a broad, almost triangular head with original dressings - in appearance rather different from the other belfry windows.

Nave. General. Fabric B, but re-used material at higher levels in wall faces. Plinthed at c.0.5m, diagonal buttresses at angles. North wall has six large lancet windows with wooden frames and voussoirs in arch over each; between the windows, five stepped buttresses. South wall is similar but five windows rather than six, stone jambs, and stopped hoodmoulds; five buttresses plus those at angles. Above the porch is a squared recess, containing a much weathered coat-of-arms. West wall also has lancets, that to the north of the tower without a hoodmould, that to the south with one.

Chancel. General. What is visible of main part of chancel is in 'B' and has diagonal buttresses. The eastern apse is in 'C' and has a battered base and lancet windows with hoodmoulds; on the evidence of the window decoration the vestry and organ chamber were added at the same time though the stonework is rougher than that of the apse; these also display paired ogee-headed windows, and there is a round-arched doorway to the vestry. North wall of organ chamber has early Georgian monument to Richard Wellington (d.1732), and the listed building report refers to an adjacent, recessed tablet to other members of the Wellington family from the 1760s.

Porch. General. In rough Fabric C, comparable with vestry etc. Chamfered plinth at c.0.3m, with string course above, copying tower. But the whole is solidly Victorian.


Porch. General. Tiled floor; walls plastered and whitewashed. Roof of cusped rafters. Elaborate doorway to church.

Tower. General. Ground floor has wooden boards and is utilised as a kitchen, for heating etc; ceiling incorporates old wooden beams. Gravestone to Elizabeth Gwynn of 1702 set against south wall.

Nave. General. Flooring of wooden boards, except for heating grilles edged by encaustic tiles down north and south aisles but not central aisle; stone flags at front between benches and chancel, and also at rear in south-west corner. Walls plastered and whitewashed. Ceiled roof showing exposed tie beams supported on corbels and short braces. Large gallery with Gothic timber front over west and north ends, supported on cast-iron columns; area beneath gallery at west end is open and devoid of seats. East end has tripartite stone screen with cylindrical pillars, dog-tooth ornament and foliate capitals. 17thC graveslab pinned against north wall under gallery. Alabaster pulpit of 1865.

Chancel. General. Two steps up from nave; marble floors; walls as nave; boarded roof with three trusses having trefoils; the ribbed boarded roof of the apse is carried on corbels with foliate carving.


The churchyard is triangular and of medium size, a steep drop to the River Wye immediately to the north, and a shallower drop to the Login Brook just beyond the boundary on the east. And on the west is a dry gully partly within the churchyard, so the church itself occupies a gently sloping spur above the river. It is overgrown with brambles and grass but is still used for burial.

Boundary: the west side has a hedge set atop a low scarp bank, and is in places reinforced by a wire fence. The drop on the north-east has a retaining wall, while the south side has a mortared stone wall separating the churchyard from the street.

Monuments: most of the churchyard now has a reasonable spread of monuments, though generally these are not dense. There are slabs and stones of the 18thC and 19thC but the vegetation makes it difficult to read them easily. The Cadw Schedule notes that there are a number of fine early 19thC memorials, and several Roman sarcophagi-type monuments. The 18thC graves are scattered and no obvious focus can be recognised.

Furniture: a sundial in poor condition close to the south wall. The Cadw Schedule records that there was an octagonal lead dial with the inscription 'Parish of Hay 1826, Joseph Huil(?) fecit Birmingham'. This and the accompanying gnomon have now gone.

Earthworks: north of the church and defining two sides of a triangle is a scarp bank rising to a maximum height of 2m at the northern apex, but fading to nothing close to the north-east corner of the church. At least one gravestone of 1780 lies outside the bank, and the most likely interpretation is that it denotes an earlier, and smaller, churchyard.

Ancillary features: double wrought iron gates on the south side provide the main entrance, and there are similar gates in the south-east corner. Tarmac paths lead to the porch, but elsewhere there are grass paths, and around the north side of the church, graveslabs have been used.

Vegetation: yews are common. On the scarp bank there are several larger examples, while smaller ones grow beside the west and south-east boundaries. Four have been planted around a memorial to the south of the tower.

Sources consulted

Cadw Schedule of Listed Buildings 1988
CPAT Field Visit: 23 October 1995
Dawson 1909, 78
Dineley 1684, 139
Faculty 1873: NLW/SD/F/195
Faculty 1906: NLW/SD/F/196
Haslam 1979, 323
Jones and Bailey 1911, iii, 98 & 103
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 Hay-on-Wye 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 ( 22:00:40 ).
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 -, website -

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