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Brecknockshire Churches Survey

Church of St Matthew , Llandefalle

Llandefalle Church is in the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon, in the community of Felin-fach in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SO1075735573. At one time it was dedicated to St Maelog.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16827 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Llandefalle Church, CPAT copyright photo CS953610.JPG

Summary

Llandefalle Church, some 5km to the north-east of Brecon, was originally dedicated to St Maelog but now to St Matthew. The present building probably originated in the late 13thC or early 14thC, but much of it is 15thC, and there appears to have been little if any Victorian restoration. It contains a fine rood screen (dating from about 1500), a 13thC font and fragmentary wall paintings, as well as a good range of 18thC wall monuments. The churchyard retains a degree of curvilinearity on the north and encloses a well within its perimeter.

Parts of the present church are believed to date from c.1300, and comprise the most westerly window on the north side of the nave and surviving masonry of the nave's west wall; it is possible too that other parts including perhaps the lower part of the tower could be this early, while some of the masonry in the south aisle appears to conform with the early fabric but could be re-used. The rest is Perpendicular or later: most of the windows are of the 14th/15thC, contemporary with the arcade between the nave and aisle, and the porch has a possibly 16thC doorway. Questions remain about the chancel; it is supposedly broadly contemporary with the nave and south aisle but why the different type of masonry? More work is necessary to elucidate the constructional sequence at Llandefalle.

The upper part of the tower is said to have been built (or rebuilt) c.1661, and windows of local design were added to south chancel wall about 1700.

The east window replaced in the 19thC, perhaps with part of the east wall of the chancel.

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 Llandefalle seems probable in view of the earlier dedication and the churchyard morphology.

Its early history is however obscure. At one time it was a possession of Clifford Priory in Herefordshire and in the Taxatio of 1291 it is recorded as 'Ecclesia de Landevathleir' with the relatively high value of 13 6s 8d, an indication perhaps of its importance in the area.

At the beginning of the 19thC Theophilus Jones referred to the survival of part of the rood loft which was converted to a gallery but then taken down.

Until 1904, the westernmost bay of the nave was partitioned off and used as a schoolroom, the north part of churchyard being used as a playground.

No Victorian restoration is known but in 1908 it was reported that there had been an appeal for funds about four years previously to put the building in proper repair. The architect's description of that time mentions the seats being square pews - it was intended to replace these and maybe use the old ones as panelling around the church; the small two-light window over the chancel arch, then blocked, would be opened again. The windows had fallen into decay and needed immediate attention. By 1908 the church had been restored. The whole of the nave had been re-floored and re-seated, and both nave and chancel re-roofed. Dawson's (1909) description clearly refers to the church before its restoration.

Architecture

Llandefalle church comprises a nave, a chancel which is slightly narrower than the nave, a west tower, a south aisle the same length as the nave, and a porch off the aisle. The church is oriented east-north-east/west-south-west, but 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted here for descriptive purposes.

Fabrics: Fabric 'A' of roughly coursed, small to medium shale slabs, some of larger proportions, with occasional blocks of sandstone, both red and (iron-stained) brown. Fabric 'B' as 'A' but large shale slabs. Fabric 'C' of coursed sandstone with some shale. Fabric 'D' of large regular blocks of shale with some sandstone, not dissimilar to Fabric B. Fabric 'E' similar to 'A' but lumps of stone less coursed. All external surfaces have exposed stonework with no more than slightly obtrusive pointing. Fabric 'F': well coursed shale slabs only.

Fabric 'A' is medieval and earlier than 'C', perhaps c.1300. Fabrics 'B', 'E' and 'F'(?) are late medieval; Fabric 'C' could also be late medieval though conceivably earlier; Fabric 'D' is thought to be second half of 17thC.

Roofs: reconstituted clay tiles, but tower roof is stone tiled. Terracotta ridge tiles.

Drainage: drainage trench visible; but not on south side of chancel.

Exterior

Tower. General. Fabric 'C' at lower levels with sandstone quoins; upper stages in Fabric 'D'. Battered at base for c.1.2m; first string-course is two-thirds of the way up the tower, with the stage above inset; next string-course with water-spouts at base of belfry stage; pyramidal roof with weather vane. Lower part of tower Perpendicular, dating to 15thC/16thC, though Griffiths (RCAHMW) queried whether it could be Norman; two upper stages are later, perhaps c.1661 according to Haslam though no obvious reason why this date has been selected.

North wall: horizontal groove c.2.0m off the ground reveals former lean-to, and for the first 3m the tower incorporates an earlier wall, its masonry appearing to be butted against but bonding with the earlier wall which is in Fabric 'A'. Second stage has glazed lancet window, its dressings replaced; third stage has two broken water-spouts and two separate simple rectangular belfry windows with louvre boards; crumbling cornerstones at 3rd stage level.

East wall: window in second stage replaced; standard belfry window and new pointing to this stage.

South wall: small lancet in first stage at ground floor level, sandstone dressings with the arch in a single stone; higher up is an inserted relatively modern lancet; upper stages have windows comparable with north and east sides, and two water-spouts.

West wall: in first stage at ground floor level a slit window without ashlar surround; in second stage an original single-light window with a four-centred arch; belfry stage as north wall, with one water-spout.

Nave. General. Fabric 'E'.

North wall: from west: i) a four-centred arched doorway at west end, chamfered dressings, a relieving arch in pseudo-voussoirs, graffiti of 188? on one jamb stone; ii) a two-light window with two-centred arch, trefoiled heads to the lights with lozenge above, sandstone dressings, central mullion renewed, thought to be of c.1300; iii) a three-light window also with a two-centred arch, but the lights with cinquefoil heads, panel tracery, complex jamb mouldings and one mullion replaced; iv) a similar three-light window near the east end of the wall, all original dressings; v) stair well for rood loft projects with one small, simple lancet, original. All the main windows once had shutters: hinges survive as does one S-shaped shutter catch.

East wall: chancel roof lower than nave, allowing space for a pair of small but quite wide lights with pointed arches under a flat head.

South wall: not present because of south aisle.

West wall: appears to be of 'Fabric A' and inset at eaves level; considered to be part of church of c.1300.

Chancel. General. All Fabric 'F', except where stated.

North wall: one blocked window of unexceptional design, centrally located.

East wall: fabric change with 'F' at bottom of southern side giving way to masonry similar to Fabric 'A' at top of northern part; a four-light window, panel tracery, under a two-centred arch, all the dressings are replaced and perhaps too is the wall; two mural tablets pinned to wall, both of 1767.

South wall: two three-light windows with broad flattish four-centred heads in large rectangular frames and complex mouldings, probably 17thC; priest's door has chamfered sandstone jambs, a four-centred arch and a relatively modern door; one memorial tablet of 1767.

South Aisle. General. Primarily Fabric 'A' (perhaps re-used?) with Fabric 'B' for highest 1.5m of south wall; better coursed than usual on west wall; sloping roof in one with south roof of nave.

East wall: one three-light window with complex panel tracery, replaced mullions, and complex moulded jambs; join between masonry of nave and south aisle visible from distance, much of the corner south of window rebuilt.

South wall: east of porch are two three-light windows with panel tracery, original jambs with complex concave mouldings, but mullions and tracery (comparable with that in nave windows of north side) replaced; these are set high in the wall with the apices only 0.7m below eaves level; east end of wall rebuilt from just below east edge of more easterly window to corner, new section slightly inset and on fractionally different alignment. Two mural tablets on wall, one of 1789. West of the porch is a three-light window with elaborate panel tracery and similar jambs to other windows in this wall; jambs and tracery original but cleaned, mullions replaced; relieving slab above window; this window is closer to ground level than the others in the south aisle.

West wall: the plain, external face of the earlier nave is visible as a fabric change close to tower; the wall supports one mid-19thC memorial slab and two projecting square-sectioned blocks, c.1.8m from ground and 0.8m apart, of unknown function.

Porch. General. Fabric 'A' but containing a little sandstone.

East wall: no windows, but memorial slab of c.1832.

South wall: original two-centred arch with complex mouldings, thought to be 16thC; light over; memorial of 1777 to east.

West wall: no windows.

Interior

Porch. General. Three steps lead up into porch. Flagged floor with one step up to church door; plastered walls; arched-braced roof, the braces alternately moulded and unmoulded, and probably collars above, but panelling disguises these, and nail holes suggest that panelling may once have been lower.

North wall: two-centred arched doorway of the 14thC with two roll-mouldings in plane with each other on the underside of the arch, and above it is a small rectangular recess; thought to be re-erected. Adjacent a stoup with an hexagonal bowl set in a niche with a two-centred arch and hollow chamfered sandstone dressings.

East wall: stone bench with flagstone seat; World War I memorial plaque above it.

West wall: stone bench as east wall with mural tablet of 1792 above.

Tower. General. Not accessible.

Nave. General. Rear of church divided off by a beam and curtains to provide a vestry, and until 1904 this functioned as the village school. Victorian tiled floor but wooden boarding under benches and stone flags at rear including occasional re-set memorial slab; also a few grilles over vents at the west end. A curious feature at the front is the two steps up to the screen and the one step down into the chancel beyond. Plastered and whitewashed walls. Wagon roof of 78 panels but also three tie beams supported on short wall posts.

North wall: door in extreme north-west corner approached by three steps. Deeply splayed windows. A shallow four-centred arch with stopped chamfers provides access to the rood loft stairs; a small niche above the doorway. Two wall paintings: that to east near the screen is of floral design, the other probably depicts St Christopher (or possibly St George).

East wall: massive two-centred chancel arch, chamfered dressings; screen; above is a small splayed window of two lights, providing light for the upper doorway to the former rood loft.

South wall: double-chamfered arcade of four bays on octagonal piers with moulded capitals; floral wall painting plus inscription over one bay.

West wall: in extreme south-west corner the wall face of the nave gives way to the tower wall: a vertical joint is visible with the former inset. Two-centred arched doorway to tower, chamfers with broach-stops, and two steps up into tower. Small slit window high up on tower wall.

Chancel. General. Flagged floor includes several graveslabs of 17thC and 19thC date in the sanctuary; plastered and whitewashed walls; wagon roof of 80 panels is lower than that of nave.

North wall: ten mural tablets ranging from 1739 to 1842.

East wall: splayed window. Mural tablet of 1840.

South wall: windows have wooden lintels in embrasures. 18thC benefaction board on wall.

South aisle. General. Floor and walls as nave, though at west end one slab has illegible inscription and another is undated, and also two grilles over heating vents; two steps up to altar. Roof is plain, plastered and relatively flat.

South wall: piscina; the peaked head over the recess perhaps re-used from elsewhere. One 19thC mural tablet.

Churchyard

Llandefalle churchyard is medium sized and irregular in shape. Its north-western boundary is strongly curvilinear with an overgrown trackway curving around the outside, but the south-eastern side is rectilinear and looks very much like an extension. That said it is not possible to define an earlier perimeter to the south of the church.

It is sited on a moderately sloping hillside which drops to a small stream about 100m to the south of the church. The ground level north of the church is flatter than that to the south which descends in a series of an artificially enhanced terraces.

It is well kept, although to the north of the church where there are no burials it has been invaded by bracken; it is still used for burial.

Boundary: on the east this is formed by a stone wall with, internally, a bank up to 0.5m but otherwise little change in height between the inner and outer ground levels. The wall continues round to the north with a holloway beyond, and on the west side near the gate the ground outside the wall is about 1.5m below the churchyard level. South of this the buildings of the Old Rectory determine the perimeter but on the south the stone wall probably resumes though it is obscured by vegetation, becoming visible only towards the south-east corner. Just to the north of this there is a 2m+ drop to the lane running past the churchyard.

Monuments: these are numerous and reasonably dense on the south and east sides of the church, but there are virtually none on the west and north sides. There is a slab of 1695 by the south-east corner of the chancel and 18thC monuments on and near the south walls of the church.

Furniture: none noted.

Earthworks: a well lies within the churchyard to the north of the church though it is largely overgrown. A bank up to 4m wide and 1.25m high curves round to the north and north-west of the church, and with it is a ditch c.2.75m wide and 0.5m deep, which carries the stream emanating from the well. Though possibly associated with an earlier enclosure, the bank is more likely to be a feature related solely to the well, notwithstanding two old yews growing on the bank.

Ancillary features: a relatively modern stone lychgate with timber superstructure provides access on the east side, together with an adjacent kissing gate. On the west are double iron gates with a vertical stone stile and another similar stile is set in the north-east sector. Concrete paths serve the first two entrances.

Vegetation: about half a dozen yews grow in the churchyard.

Sources consulted

CPAT Field Visits: 13 July 1995 and 18 August 1995
Crossley and Ridgway 1952, 62
Dawson 1909, 81
Haslam 1979, 332
Jones and Bailey 1911, iii, 24 & 31-32
NMR Aberystwyth
Powys SMR
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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 Llandefalle 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 ( 22:00:46 ).
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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