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Brecknockshire Churches Survey

Church of St Afan , Llanafan Fawr

Llanafan Fawr Church is in the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon, in the community of Llanafanfawr in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SN9690555781.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16804 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Llanafan Fawr Church, CPAT copyright photo CS974927.JPG

Summary

St Afan's church at Llanafan Fawr lies some miles to the south-west of Builth Wells. Part of the medieval church survives but there has been considerable rebuilding in the 18thC and 19thC. It contains several interesting features, most notably several early medieval stone fragments and a pillar stone. The churchyard is massive and would originally have been nearly circular.

The tower rebuilt in 1765, but earlier base used for foundation, and older slit windows incorporated into new structure.

North and east walls of nave and chancel retained at time of restoration in 1887, but new windows inserted, old chancel demolished, new chancel formed in east end of existing nave, though latter lengthened by c.1.5m. The south wall completely rebuilt. Porch taken down and rebuilt in 1887.

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

History

The churchyard morphology together with the dedication to St Afan denote an early medieval beginning for the site and this is perhaps reinforced by the number of decorated stones from the early medieval period within the church, even though their original context is not known.

The churchyard may have been enlarged in the early medieval period.

It is thought to have been the mother church for the area.

In the Taxatio of 1291 'Ecclesia de Lavanan' is recorded as having the relatively high value of 13 6s 8d. In the Valor of 1535 it appears as 'Llanavon Vaure'.

The tower was rebuilt in 1765. The church guide also records a stone on the north side of the tower inscribed: 'This church was rebuilt at the expense of this Parish AD 1814. Thos Pritchard, Wm Jones, Churchwardens, John Davies, Undertaker'. Little is known about the scale of this rebuilding.

Glynne in 1869 noted that all ancient architectural features had disappeared, and the interior bare and cold.

By 1887 the church was in an almost ruinous condition. The tower was renovated, the chancel demolished and the church rebuilt on a smaller scale by S. W. Williams.

Architecture

The church at Llanafan Fawr consists of a nave and chancel in one, a south porch set half way along the side of the nave, and a west tower. It is oriented almost exactly east to west.

Fabrics: 'A' is a mixture of multi-coloured blocks, slabs and lumps of mixed stone including sandstone, conglomerate, waterworn pebbles etc; set irregularly and no coursing; a small number of stones have limewash remnants. 'B' consists blocks of stone, more weathered than 'A', all medium sized and showing some coursing; colour uncertain because all are weathered to uniform grey. 'C' is of blocks of stone of different types, randomly coursed. Perhaps less colourful than 'A'.

Roofs: slates with ornamental ridge tiles; cross finials to chancel and porch but the former broken.

Drainage: a grass-free zone all around the wall base suggests drainage around the church.

Exterior

Tower. General. Battered base to height of c.0.7m with a flat slab string-course above. This lowest stage of tower in 'B' in contrast to rest of tower in 'A', and therefore perhaps earlier than the rest of the tower which can be attributed to 1765 (see below). A second string-course above the belfry windows and below the battlemented parapet. A stair turret rises above north-west angle, yet no windows to light stair.

North wall: belfry lit by pair of four-centred louvred lights with yellow freestone dressings; relieving arch over.

East wall: nave apex rises to just beneath belfry level. No belfry window and instead a slit window at a slightly lower level with chamfered dressings that look original. Above this is a distinct line of slabs creating horizontal zoning across this wall face.

South wall: two-centred arched window for ground floor, a trefoil-headed light with stopped hoodmoulding; in buff sandstone and part of 1886 restoration. Above this is an inscription reading 'This steeple was erected at ye expense of ye Parishioners by Thos. Thomas Undertaker M Morgan Gwilliam John Jones Churchwardens 1765'. Next a slit window comparable with that on the east side, and above this a sundial, its face flaking but the gnomon in position - no obvious inscription. This at a height of around 6m. Standard belfry window with relieving arch over.

West wall: one slit window, slightly lower than that in south wall. Standard belfry window.

Nave and Chancel. General. No external division between the two components.

North wall: masonry classed as 'C' but similar to that of tower which is classed as 'A'. Two windows (both lighting nave) consist of pairs of trefoil-headed lancets with stopped hoodmouldings, all in buff sandstone. These are clearly inserted, and much of the rest of the wall face has heavy mortar finish with extensive traces of render. This is also missing from the north-west angle (presumably re-built), an irregular zone behind a modern downpipe to the east of the more easterly window (coincides with former stove and chimney added in 1887) and the north-east angle (coincides with a butt joint and reveals the extension of this wall by c.1.5m in 1887).

East wall: probably Fabric C. Three stepped trefoil-headed lancets with continuous hoodmoulding. Some stones with remnants of limewash. Three mural slabs of 1791, 1795/1813 and 1807) at ground level.

South wall: four standard Victorian windows as in north wall though with varying number of lights: from east, one, two, three and, to the west of the porch, two lights; no relieving arches. No signs of window insertion and no butt joint near east end suggests that wall was completely rebuilt using older materials.

West wall: as south wall in its appearance.

Porch. East and west walls: plain, in Fabric 'C'.

South wall: two-centred arched doorway with stopped chamfers in Victorian buff sandstone. But quoinwork in roughly dressed masonry contrasts with the quoins elsewhere on the body of the church.

Interior

Porch. General. Red tiled floor, unplastered walls incorporating some early medieval fragments; simple raftered roof. One step up into nave. Nothing to suggest the porch is of any age.

Nave. General. Tiled floor with chairs on flush wooden block flooring; heating vents down aisle. Plastered walls not painted. Roof of nine bays of arch-braced ornamented collars resting on corbels extends into chancel. The nave/chancel division is defined by a truss supported on lower-set corbels with wall posts in stone.

North wall: shallow wall leaning slightly outwards. One mural tablet of 1791.

South wall: shallow wall; Victorian door embrasure.

West wall: a slightly irregular wall face but nothing of interest.

Chancel. General. Tiled floor with carpet over. Two steps up to chancel from nave, one to sanctuary and one to altar. Choir stalls on flush wooden floors. Walls and roof as nave.

North wall: blocked chimney with Victorian two-centred arch over alcove for stove: just behind pulpit. Five mural tablets of 1567, 1783, 1784, 1804 and 1932.

East wall: nothing of note.

South wall: three mural tablets of 1843, 1864 and 1907.

Tower. General. One step lower than nave. Tiled floor; walls either plastered or covered with wooden panelling; ceiled at c.4m.

North wall: Incorporated Church Building Society plaque recording grant for 1886 rebuilding. Photo of church prior to its restoration.

Churchyard

The churchyard is exceptionally large and although now reduced was clearly once a sub-circular enclosure in excess of 130m across. On the west and south it has been squared off in modern times. To the west the original boundary has been lost though road improvement, though its former line is perhaps reflected in the alignment of the Red Lion Inn. On the south a minor road has cut through the churchyard, but the line of the original enclosing bank and ditch is visible as an earthwork in the field to the south.

It is set towards the end of a ridge for while the ground is relatively level to the west, the ground drops gently away to the north and, a short distance beyond the churchyard, to the east as well.

The churchyard is extremely well kept and is used for modern burial.

The churchyard boundary takes various forms, a reflection of the changing position of the boundary. On the south is a drystone wall, embanked behind, but with an external ground level little more than 0.3m below the churchyard. On the south-east the yard is fenced and the front of the earlier bank can be detected beyond it. On the north the perimeter bank carries a fence but throughout the east and north sides the ground level is never much more than 0.5m lower externally. Only on the west above the main road does the drop become more emphatic, and here of course the original boundary has been lost. However, there is a modern grassy bank and a hedge forming the perimeter.

Monuments: there are localised concentrations of monuments but generally graves and their memorials are well spread across the south side. There are also a few to the east of the old chancel but none on the west and north. 18thC memorials do survive, both upright gravestones and tomb chests; the earliest noted was from 1768.

The modern large-scale OS map marks the location of St Afan's tomb to the south of the south-east angle of the present chancel. This is a substantial altar tomb topped by a slab inscribed in Lombardic script and said to date to the 14thC. At the beginning of the century it was recorded as standing 7ft high and being surrounded by a drystone wall. This appears to indicate an upright slab and that the present tomb is a more recent development.

Furniture: none.

Earthworks: the church stands eccentrically on a raised oval platform some 50m in diameter which may be the remains of an earlier smaller churchyard or even a contemporary inner enclosure; on the south this shows as a faint scarp no more than 0.4m high, on the north and west it is much clearer. The position of the former chancel is discernible as a raised rectangular platform. In the outer part of the yard there are faint traces of what appears to be radial ridging - its origin and significance remain unclear.

Ancillary features: the main entrance is in the south-west where double metal gates open onto a gravel path leading to the porch. South-eastwards a grass path leads to a small wooden gate, there is a stile opposite the Inn, and a metal field gate is set close to the north-west angle.

Vegetation: a large yew grows at the east end of the former chancel, and there are others, less mature, around the south side, together with some pines.

Sources consulted

Church Guide n.d.
CPAT Field Visit: 26 March 1996
Dawson 1909,110
Faculty 1887: NLW/SD/F/228
Glynne 1887, 279
Haslam 1979, 326
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 Llanafan Fawr 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 ( 22:00:41 ).
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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