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Brecknockshire Churches Survey

Church of St Bilo , Llanfilo

Llanfilo 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 SO1189933251. At one time it was dedicated to St Milburga.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16858 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Llanfilo Church, CPAT copyright photo CS920727.JPG

Summary

St Bilo's church "rivals Partrishow and Llanelieu in its beauty, peace and holiness" (Griffiths). This small church a few miles to the north-east of Brecon is a medieval structure, a successor to a Norman edifice, with a late 19thC tower. It contains a wealth of medieval and later fittings and is set in a sub-circular churchyard which in turn lies in a village that preserves more than the normal range of medieval relict earthworks.

Nave walls are medieval, perhaps 13thC though only on the basis of a small lancet window; much replacement of masonry probably in early 20thC. Rood stair housing could be a medieval addition. Chancel largely original though not windows or door. Absence of datable details, and the more diagnostic windows in chancel and nave are 17thC/18thC. Porch, with one original wall and two others rebuilt, is thought to be 15thC.

Tower and spire rebuilt in 1881, reportedly in imitation of its predecessor.

Llanfilo is claimed to be Norman, but there is nothing in situ to suggest that the present building goes back that far, though the ornamental lintels do reveal a Norman predecessor. Nor is there anything substantive to support Haslam's contention that the nave was subsequently extended and the chancel added, though the extraordinary thickness of the nave/chancel wall could be significant.

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

History

The church is dedicated to St Bilo (Beilo), the daughter of Brychan and a local saint. Formerly the dedication had been to St Milburga, the Abbess of Wenlock (daughter of Merwald a 7thC king of Mercia), and although this was used until quite recently it appears to have been in error, as the dedication to Beilo is clearly recorded in 13thC and 14thC documents.

The morphology of the churchyard together with the dedication point to an early medieval origin.

The Episcopal Register of St Davids refers to 'Lambillowe' in 1400, while the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535 refers to 'Llanvillo' and its value of 6 14s 9d, a little above the local average.

The chancel and perhaps other parts were restored or partly rebuilt in c.1710. The west end was partitioned off as a school room in the early 19thC, and in the early 20thC was used as a vestry.

Glynne in 1861 noted its nave and chancel divided by a rude semi-circular arch, the rood loft and screen, a 'remarkable low and coarse tower which looks as if it were never finished' and 'is entirely devoid of architectural character' with only one slit opening and no original door, and a closed off Norman doorway on the north side with a semi-circular archway and an ornamented lintel. There was the trace of a lancet window on the north side, but a new window had been introduced on the same side. Internally a "rude semicircular arch separated the nave from the chancel".

It was extensively restored by W. D. Caroe in 1913 and other works occurred up to 1951. A plaque in the church records restoration by Caroe and Martin in 1982.

Architecture

Llanfilo consists of a west tower, a nave with a centrally placed south porch and a chancel. The orientation is fractionally south of grid west.

Fabrics: 'A' consists of slabs of yellowish-green sandstone weathered to grey, generally coursed; ashlar quoins are in the same material, and the appearance is one of consistency. 'B' is of red with some grey sandstone in irregularly fashioned small slabs, together with some medium sized blocks, irregular coursing and extensive remains of a render coating. 'C' is of weathered red sandstone slabs, small, and more regular in appearance than 'B'. Some medium sized blocks used at the angles. 'D' is similar to 'A' but quoins and dressings are in red sandstone, as are some of the slabs. 'E' has points of similarity with both 'B' and 'D'; some grey and red blocks of sandstone at lower levels, but at higher levels frequent thin slabs; render remnants.

'B' and 'E' are presumed to be medieval, 'A' is new masonry of Victorian origin and 'D' is presumed to be 20thC; 'C' could also be 20thC. A village guide suggests that at the beginning of the 20thC the church was whitewashed externally every year.

Roofs: shale slabs throughout, except for slates on tower; simple plain ridge tiles; no cross finials.

Drainage: deep concrete lined drainage trench around south side (0.6m wide x 0.6m deep maximum); on north a faint depression suggests a possible grassed over trench, continuing around sides of tower. Nothing obvious on east. Note that west end of trench on south terminates at sub-surface stone wall - unexplained.

Exterior

Tower. General. A squat, uninspiring tower in 'A'. Rebuild of 1881. Base battered to maximum height of 1.1m. Broach spire surmounted by weathercock.

North wall: featureless but for two rectangular chamfered windows with wooden louvres, tucked under eaves.

East wall: apex of nave fractionally below tower eaves. Belfry window on either side of this.

South wall: as north wall.

West wall: as north wall except for addition of single trefoiled lancet of Victorian origin.

Nave. North wall:- from west: i) north-west angle replaced in Fabric 'A'; ii) stretch of wall in 'B' and above this projecting from the roof is a chimney in red sandstone, perhaps re-used material (Fabric 'C'); possibly some masonry may also have been replaced in wall face below chimney; iii) a buttress in Fabric 'D'; iv) east of the buttress the lower wall is in 'B' but the upper is in 'D' surrounding a rectangular window with hollow mouldings, containing four round-headed lights with sunken spandrels, all in red sandstone and all 19thC/20thC; v) further east is a blocked rectangular door. It has unchamfered jambs and the upper ones are in Victorian red sandstone, though the lower ones could be original or at least re-used; there are threshold stones at the base and the lintel is one of the two decorated slabs at Llanfilo. The blocking has three angular recesses in it and the whole, at least in its present form, appears to be 19thC and was certainly there at the beginning of the 20thC, though there is no clear evidence of insertion into the 'B' masonry; vi) the rest of the north wall projects outwards to form the housing for the rood stair; in Fabric 'E'; there is one recent window with a wooden lintel and selected slabs for jambs, clearly inserted. Overall there are signs of the wall bulging beneath the main four-light window, while the rood stair extension is relatively vertical.

East wall: rises 1.5m-2m above chancel; no render and is presumed to be in Fabric 'B', though stone of mixed colours. At base of south-east angle is a large, projecting block of red sandstone, presumably a wall support; quoins in red sandstone to only three-fifths of wall height - might this indicate subsequent rebuilding or heightening?

South wall: wall is heavily rendered but presumed to be Fabric 'B'. East of porch is an inserted rectangular wooden window of three lights; signs of insertion to west and below; designed to light the pulpit and dated by Haslam to c.1680. Below this and set into the wall almost at ground level is the head of a small Early English lancet window, which Griffiths of RCAHMW thought was a leper's or hermit's window. Just beside porch there has been some modification for the appearance of the masonry without render suggests something has been removed. Much render remains to the west of the porch; two windows, the more easterly has two round-headed lights, hollow mouldings, a hoodmoulding with square stops; perhaps only the grey jambstones are original though some of the dressings in brown sandstone have render or limewash traces. To the west is a rectangular wooden window with three lights, a relieving arch above, Victorian insertion surrounded by 'D'. South-west angle of wall in Fabric 'A'.

West wall: where visible this has been replaced in 'A'.

Chancel. General. North wall bulges slightly.

North wall: Wall may be in 'B' but limewash and perhaps render effect camouflage. No obvious signs of rebuilding. No windows; one piece of chamfered ashlar -?re-used. Another chimney originally set in angle with nave, leading to some reconstruction in 'D'; also a section of the eaves has been cut back and there is a plaster mark on the nave wall indicative of the former stack.

East wall: set on projecting foundation plinth (max. 0.4m high by 0.3m deep) which is not an earlier feature. Main east window is rectangular with three round-headed lights, additional lights in the spandrels, a hoodmoulding, all in red sandstone and thought to date to c.1913. The lower wall is in 'B' with thick limewash remnants, 'D' surrounds the window, while the gable is probably rebuilt using original stone but without limewash, a disconformity in line with the top of the window strengthening this view.

South wall: in 'B'. A sanctuary window with wooden lintel now blocked with old masonry and covered by mural tablets. To the west is a priest's entrance, rectangular with a wooden lintel, no jambstones, a heavy wooden door, a modern threshold stone, and in front a gravestone bridging the drainage trench. Finally there is a rectangular window in grey sandstone with two round-headed lights and sunken spandrels, which could be entirely original; attributed to late 17thC or early 18thC.

Porch. General. Original element considered to be 15thC.

East wall: clean fabric with little render, either 'B' or 'D'. Slit window without dressings.

South wall: rebuilt in 'D'. Gable displays an arch-braced collar, the first truss of the porch's wagon roof.

West wall: heavily rendered and could be in 'B'. One broader slit window with external chamfer.

Interior

Porch. General. Flagged floor; unplastered walls; 15thC roof of six arch-braced collars, three of which are grooved, and three transverse ribs, all grooved. Some woodwork replacement.

North wall: main doorway, broad and low, with two-centred arch, chamfers with eroded stops. Formerly whitewashed. Maltese cross and wheel cross (consecration crosses) engraved on opposite springers. Door itself is early, with outer boards bearing the date 1767. Bench along wall with flag seating.

East wall: splayed window and to the north of it, a simple rectangular recess. The second of the decorated lintels rebuilt into this wall.

West wall: formerly whitewashed. Deeply splayed window is original. Bench as on east.

Tower. General. Flagged floor; walls whitewashed, and safes built into them, but nothing of interest; timber ceiling at c.4.0m.

Nave. General. Two steps down from porch. Flagged floor incorporating occasional graveslab (one of 1770), flush wooden block flooring under benches and pews. One step up towards rear of nave and another into tower, with floor sloping down into chancel. Walls plastered and whitewashed, except for west wall which has simply been whitewashed. 15thC wagon roof of 54 ribbed panels and one massive tie beam over step towards rear of nave.

North wall: wall leans outwards; deeply splayed Victorian window in red sandstone with wooden lintel; stove recess towards west end with irregularities above it in wall face. Door to rood stair is simple unchamfered rectangular aperture. Eight mural tablets, four of the 18thC with the earliest 1769.

East wall: disguised by rood loft and not accessible. There does however appear to be a semi-circular mark which would warrant closer examination. One mural tablet of 1792.

South wall: pulpit window has virtually no splay; main doorway, a segmental-headed embrasure; two windows to the west have stepped sills. Four mural tablets of 1759, 1776, 1800 and 1808.

West wall: tower arch has a sharp two-centred archway with broach stops to the chamfers, all in Victorian grey freestone in a contemporary wall of 1881. Inscription board in Welsh to north of arch.

Chancel. General. Flagged floor with one memorial slab to rector (1952) and, in sanctuary, three older graveslabs of 1624, 1709 and 1817, two of them at least to the Vaughan family. Plastered and whitewashed walls. Low coved plaster ceiling.

North wall: eight mural tablets, to of 1732, the rest of the 19thC.

East wall: Victorian window in red sandstone. Two mural tablets of 1779 and 1803.

South wall: simple rectangular opening for priest's door. Six mural tablets, of 1766, 1774, 1789 and three 19thC examples.

West wall: thickness of this wall as shown by depth of the wall reveal is considerable.

Churchyard

The church is set eccentrically within a roughly oval churchyard some 50m by 75m. Its eastern side has probably been shaved back, but most of the perimeter other than the north-east corner may be original. It occupies a relatively level shelf on a north-west facing slope, but the ground within the churchyard does slope gently from west to east.

It is relatively well-maintained and is used for modern burial.

Boundary: a stone wall surrounds most of the churchyard, sometimes acting as a revetment, though on the north it is ruined and has been reinforced by a wire fence. Around the curving south and west sides there is evidence of an earlier bank to which the wall was added. It is also raised, the external ground level being consistently lower, by as much as 2m or more above the road on the south.

Monuments: these are widely spread but not dense on the south, west and east. The earliest identified was of 1755, and other 18thC examples are located across the southern sector.

Furniture: Haslam claims the base of the medieval preaching cross to the south of the church. This was not identified in March 1996, unless it is to be equated with the stone block that supports the octagonal shaft, grooved head stone, undated bronze plate and gnomon of a sundial which does lie to the south of the church. Ivy covered and tilting badly.

Earthworks: none other than the internal bank around the perimeter.

Ancillary features: stone lychgate on the east side claimed to have built c.1700, and repaired after first world war; double wooden gates; wooden kissing gate adjacent. Single and double wooden gates on west side of churchyard. Tarmac path.

Vegetation: three yews of some age around south perimeter.

Sources consulted

Church guide 1973
CPAT Field Visit: 29 March 1996
Crossley and Ridgway 1952, 72
Dawson 1909, 195
Glynne 1886, 277
Haslam 1979, 340
NMR Aberystwyth
Powys SMR
Price 1983
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 Llanfilo 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 ( 22:00:52 ).
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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