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Brecknockshire Churches Survey

Church of St Meugan , Llanfeugan

Llanfeugan Church is in the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon, in the community of Talybont-on-Usk in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SO087245.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16851 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Llanfeugan Church, CPAT copyright photo 388-35.JPG

Summary

St Meugan's church (with variant spellings) lies on a spur between two small streams that feed into the River Usk a few kilometres south-east of Brecon. The church itself has a complex architectural history, the earliest elements dating from the 13thC, and more detailed analysis is required to resolve its structural development. It contains a significant but not exceptional range of medieval and earlier post-medieval furnishings and fittings.

One of the more complex sequences of development amongst the small churches of Breconshire, with much of dating sequence based on the windows.

Haslam argues for an historically attested 13thC Early English church, consisting of a nave and chancel extending a little to east of where north aisle terminates. In 14thC, nave perhaps rebuilt, with reconstructed chancel, north aisle with arcade added (on basis of cusped Y-tracery windows), and lancets from old north wall of nave and north door moved to aisle.

One alternative argument would see north aisle as earliest element - a view articulated during the restoration of 1891 - with the nave added in 14thC. Haslam also articulates the theory that much of what he terms 'rustic work' could date from after the Glyndwr troubles. Dawson claimed a 15thC date for the north aisle.

In the 15thC or even the 16thC, new windows and doors on south side of church; complete rebuilding towards east end, or alternatively an extension at this time. Tower added.

In 1891 north and east walls of chancel rebuilt, Victorian windows, perhaps modelled on originals. More recent repointing.

Note: there are unresolved queries regarding the church at Llanfeugan: why is westernmost bay of the arcade of different design and what is the significance of re-used dressings in its build. Why does tower plinth appear to pre-date south nave wall?

It must also be noted that there is a useful discussion in Jones and Bailey (1930) which is given here. They conjectured that in the early 13thC, a stone church was erected, consisting of nave and a chancel extending somewhat to the east of the point where the north aisle joins the nave, and that in the early part of the 15thC the west wall of the nave was taken down and the present massive tower was built. However when tiles were stripped from the nave, the wall of the tower showed clear traces of an older nave roof at a lower level and a lower pitch. A window was inserted between the south porch and the tower to correspond with the windows in the tower. In the latter part of the 15thC the chancel was probably extended further east; the small plain 13thC windows were removed and replaced by four square-headed, cinquefoil, cusped windows; the rood screen was erected at the entrance to the former chancel (which was exactly half way the tower arch and the present east wall). A portion of the north wall was taken down, and the present north aisle erected; the 13thC windows and doorway were put here, with the timbers of the north wall placed on it. These timbers had been manifestly shortened - the ends having perished- and the span of the aisle was regulated by their length. When the windows in the north aisle were cleared and the stopping removed, two of them "proved to be of very composite character". The window high up on the east wall consisted of portions of two , if not three separate window. Portions of the stone steps leading to the rood-loft from the outside were still visible in the south wall. In 1813 the rood-loft was in position. In 1890 old inhabitants of the parish remembered hearing of a gallery once stretching across the nave.

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

History

The location and dedication point to an early medieval origin for the first church at Llanfeugan, some sources positing a 7thC foundation.

It is claimed that Ralph de Mortimer of Pencelli Castle built a church on the old site around 1272. And the Taxatio of 1291 records it as 'Ecclesia de Lanbylien', attributing to it the relatively high value of 13 6s 8d.

The building has gone through series of reconstruction phases. Earliest architectural traces are 13thC, perhaps contemporary with Mortimer's involvement. Major modifications occurred in 14thC and 15thC.

The rood loft was taken out during alterations around 1813/14. External stone steps leading to the roof loft were still visible but the external doorway was replaced by a window at this time. A gallery was constructed in the north aisle, and the arch leading to the tower was filled with lath and plaster leaving only a doorway.

The church was restored by S. W. Williams in 1891. It was found that sand had been conveyed into the church, raising the floor level of the north aisle some 20 inches above the original level. Removal of the lath and plaster from the tower arch revealed the remnants of the medieval screen, and the demolition of the gallery uncovered re-used parts of the rood loft, notably moulded oak beams. Together with the late medieval choir stalls and benches the beams were dumped in the churchyard. Fifty-five years on Crossley and Ridgway noted that the beams were still left to rot in the churchyard.

Architecture

General

Llanfeugan church consists of a west tower, a nave and chancel in one, a north aisle, and a south porch. The church is aligned west-south-west/east-north-east, but for the purposes of this description 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted.

Fabrics: 'A' of small to medium, fairly regular slabs of grey sandstone, weathered, intermittently coursed, with larger pieces used as quoins. 'B' is similar to 'A' but larger number of lumps of sandstone giving more irregular appearance. 'C' is small and medium slabs of grey and red sandstone, rather random in appearance though some coursing. 'D' is of small to medium, more regularly cleaved slabs and lumps of sandstone.

Fabrics 'A', 'B' and 'C' are medieval, although some later rebuilding re-using the old material is indistinguishable. 'D' is Victorian or later.

Roofs: all roofs have reconstituted clay tiles which weather from red to grey, and semi-circular ridge tiles.

Drainage: No obvious drainage trench on south side, but on north side of chancel and north and west sides of tower is drain formed of stones on edge; this probably continues round north aisle but too much overgrowth for certainty.

Exterior

Tower. General. Set on stepped chamfered plinth in Fabric 'B', topped by a rounded string-course; above this all Fabric 'A'. Next stage has chamfered string-course; top of the third (belfry) stage defined by a further stringcourse with lead flashing and waterspouts, with battlemented parapet above.

North wall: halfway up the second stage is small slit window to light newel stair in north-east angle of tower. East of the slit is what appears to be the fragment of another string-course, stopping short of window. Third stage contains central slit and above it louvred double-light window, trefoil heads to lights under four-centred arch; the mullion replaced in red sandstone, while the tracery is in yellow sandstone and might be original. West wall of north aisle abuts north tower wall. No waterspout.

East wall: apex of nave roof up to middle of second stage, with slit window just above. Standard two-light belfry window in third stage, central mullion and some tracery replaced in red sandstone. Weathercock rises above battlements at south-east angle.

South wall: at top of first stage is a simple slit window with unweathered chamfered dressings and string-course rising over it to act as a label. Second stage has two similar slits not quite aligned, and the stringcourse at top of stage again rises over it as a label. Next standard belfry window with four-centred arch and hollow chamfering of jambs, containing two trefoil-headed two-centred arched lights with louvre boards - the tracery is in red sandstone and may be replaced. A straight butt joint between nave and tower, the tower having obvious quoins.

West wall: as south wall with three slit windows in first two stages, though aligned vertically. Belfry window as on south side, with signs of tracery replacement in red sandstone. In addition to water-spouts at angles, two further lead spouts on wall itself at a slightly higher level.

North aisle. General. Thought to date from 14thC, though Dawson claimed 15thC and reported that in her day it was still known as Eglwys Newydd. Each wall face has a slightly battered base. Generally Fabric 'C', although in places slightly larger blocks and some less weathered, perhaps heralding localised rebuilding? Render traces particularly on north wall.

North wall: from east: i) one two-light window with cusped Y-tracery under a two-centred arched head with chamfered dressings; much restored in grey, yellow, pink and red sandstone, but difficult to tell what is original; ii) a simple double lancet window, the jambs and mullions of different coloured sandstone, again betraying some replacement; iii) near the north-west corner, simple two-centred arched doorway of 13thC or 14thC date, with stopped chamfers; the jambs in original red sandstone, the head of the arch in yellow might be replaced; doorway now blocked. Some rebuilding of wall suspected but difficult to define precise position(s).

East wall: dominated by a two-light window, the lights with trefoil heads set in a flat-topped embrasure with chamfered dressings; a mixture of red and yellow sandstone, the latter primarily for the tracery. Holes (presumably for bars) in north jambstones.

South wall: not present.

West wall: plain wall, much weathered, but probably Fabric 'C'.

Nave. General. Some evidence of rebuilding. Only south wall visible externally.

South wall: from east: i) four-centred arched Tudor doorway with stopped chamfers, the red sandstone dressings much weathered. Door itself has heavy ornate hinges; ii) west of door is a masonry join running full height of wall: the fabric appears much the same on both sides, but some change in weathering of stone. Newer section to east on slightly different alignment; iii) a Victorian replacement three-light window comparable with those in chancel; iv) a fourth three-light window, this one with original dressings. Both of these windows show fabric changes directly above, partly revealed by absence of render patches, though this is most noticeable above the Victorian replacement; v) porch; vi) west of porch is a two-light Y-tracery window with cinquefoil tracery, the spandrel containing an irregular quatrefoil light, all under a two-centred arch in grey sandstone with complex moulding. Above this and just below the eaves, the masonry is less weathered and projects, suggesting rebuilding.

Chancel. North wall:- contains one two-light flat-headed window with cinquefoil tracery in lights. All Victorian with yellow sandstone for tracery and red for other dressings. Whole wall rebuilt in Fabric 'D' and limewashed.

East wall: perhaps Fabric 'A'-type but ivy and other vegetation prohibit examination. Decorated east window with three-lights and Y-tracery, the lights with cusped heads. But largely replaced in the Victorian restoration in yellow sandstone with a relieving arch over. Indeed, whole wall may have been rebuilt.

South wall: this wall is continuous with that of nave, though no external indication of the division. South-east corner has heavy quoins, and a short length of south wall was probably rebuilt with the east wall. Only features in chancel section are adjacent square-headed windows. Both have three lights with cinquefoil tracery under shallow peaked arches, complex jamb mouldings and hollow-moulded mullions. Red sandstone used for dressings but more westerly window has one lintel stone replaced in yellow-grey sandstone and one mullion stone in bright red sandstone. Two windows linked by a common sill stone.

Porch. General. In weathered Fabric 'C'. Roof apex just above nave eaves. Walls appear to butt against nave wall.

East and west wall: plain, but ivy growth over.

South wall: two-centred doorway. Some jambs of well dressed freestone, others look as though better lumps were simply selected.

Interior

Porch. General. Flagged floor, but no graveslabs. Roof of two bays, one brace with collar and tie beam. Walls not plastered though some evidence that north wall was originally.

North wall: two-centred arch but with curving asymmetrical head! Heavy double doors with ornate hinges.

East and west walls: stone benches with wooden seats.

South wall: wooden lintel to reveal, but behind voussoir arch.

Tower. General. Flagged floor, including one graveslab of 1764. Whitewashed walls. It reportedly has priest's room on first floor.

North wall: narrow, four-centred arched doorway to tower stair in north-east corner.

East wall: tower arch raised on chamfered plinth.

South wall: splayed window; mural tablet of 1762.

West wall: splayed window only.

North aisle. General. Floor of flagstones including re-used graveslabs; wooden floor under benches; carpet at east end. Dawson claims that floor of aisle and of nave raised some 20" with sand, presumably at the time of 1891 restoration. Modern roof of scissor trusses on angular braces. Walls of bare stone.

North wall: blocked door with internal jambs showing. Two splayed windows, the more easterly clearly showing some tracery replacement.

East wall: splayed window; could be some replaced tracery.

South wall: blocked holes, formerly for corbels, above arcade.

West wall: plain.

Nave. floor as in north aisle, with flags including re-used gravestones, wooden boarding under benches, carpet down centre and at least two grilles over heating vents. Wagon roof of 250 ribbed panels, no earlier than 15thC. Bare walls.

North wall: arcade of four bays of low arches with single chamfers, the arches turned in edge-set slabs; the two central capitals of the three east bays are rudimentary: five diminishing squares of stone. Their short pillars are in ashlar and are octagonal but the top and bottom stones are dressed to a square. East respond has a similar capital and continuous chamfers. Then a change. The fourth, most westerly bay has a continuous chamfer and a pillar of dressed stone, without capitals; three of the stones in the pillar have holes as though to take the rods for window grilles (cf east window of north aisle) - therefore certainly re-used; and three of the basal stones have stops to chamfers but one does not. The west respond is a rubble pier with a thin responding capital. At the extreme west end of the arcade wall (the last 30cm) there is a faint change in both the alignment and the finish of the masonry indicative of a wall earlier than the arcade, i.e. the original north wall of nave. Above each pier and just to east of east respond is a blocked hole, the socket for a corbel that supported an earlier roof.

East wall: screen.

South wall: arches of window embrasures turned in long slabs on edge, those of the Victorian window are shorter than their medieval equivalents. Two door embrasures have their arches also turned in long slabs. Just to east of main door is a simple stoup in a rectangular alcove formed by four slabs on edge. The masonry change visible externally is not paralleled internally but is perhaps disguised by width of window splay.

West wall: at base of wall is the battered plinth of the tower wall, and on south is a chamfered plinth stone disappears into nave wall suggesting tower is earlier. On the same principle, to the north the remnant of the pre-arcade wall is earlier than the chamfered plinth. Tower arch has two-centred head with chamfered voussoirs and stops on the springers.

Chancel. General. Four steps up to chancel from nave, one step up to sanctuary. Chancel floor flagged with graveslabs, carpet in sanctuary. Roof as nave.

North wall: splayed window; mural tablet of 1753.

East wall: window embrasure turned in short edge stones (Victorian); mural tablet of 1683/1701.

South wall: two splayed windows.

West wall: screen.

Churchyard

The churchyard of St Meugan's is an irregular quadrilateral in shape, long and relatively narrow resulting from its location on a spur formed by a steep sided valley on north and a less pronounced tributary valley on south. Dawson suggested one reason for the depth of valley to north was that stone was quarried from it for the church building. There is no convincing evidence of an early curvilinear 'llan' and indeed no convincing length of curved boundary anywhere along its perimeter. Within the churchyard the ground is relatively level, although there is a slope on the south side.

The yard is overgrown and neglected in places.

Boundary: consists of a stone wall/revetment on the south, the outer ground level up to one metre below the interior, though slope position may account for some of this drop. Wall continues around west and north and east, and again ground level externally is lower, though varies from 0.3m to nearly 1.0m, and on east to 1.5m.

Monuments: spread reasonably consistently throughout churchyard, the only gaps being in the north-east and north-west parts of yard. Certainly late 18thC monuments are present - one of 1792 recognised - but no comprehensive search undertaken.

Furniture: base and shaft of churchyard cross in south-east corner near gate. Shaft has irregular octagonal cross-section, and is c.2.8m and 0.8m diameter.

Earthworks: none. However, there are reports of a cockpit represented by a small hollow in north-west part of churchyard, now hardly discernible.

Ancillary features: churchyard served by small modern double wooden gates in south-east corner, beside which is vertical stone stile. Another stile, disused, on north side, and a further one at west end of churchyard near Ty'r Eglwys.

Handball court of uncertain origin utilised west wall of tower and its string-course, certainly in 18thC if not later.

Vegetation: up to a dozen yews, including particularly old ones in north-east corner of churchyard. Most set close to boundary and therefore possibility that those to west of church might define an earlier and otherwise unrecognisable perimeter.

Sources consulted

CPAT Field Visit: 18 August 1995
Crossley and Ridgway 1952, 68
Dawson 1909, 178
Haslam 1979, 337
Jones, 1930, Vol 4, 30
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 Llanfeugan 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 ( 22:00:49 ).
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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