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Brecknockshire Churches Survey

Church of St Cynog , Merthyr Cynog

Merthyr Cynog Church is in the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon, in the community of Merthyr Cynog in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SN9848337443.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16909 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Merthyr Cynog Church, CPAT copyright photo CS920613.JPG

Summary

St Cynog's church sits on an interfluvial ridge some 10km to the north-west of Brecon. The relatively simple building is an interesting mix of medieval masonry and 19thC restoration and has a long history back into the early medieval era when it probably functioned as a mother church. It contains some significant fittings, notably a 14thC screen. The churchyard is large and sub-circular, a fine example of a medieval 'llan'.

Nave is largely original except where window insertions, and could be 12thC or 13thC, though on very little substantive evidence; and Haslam has argued that the south doorway in the nave is 14thC. We should note in passing that there is evidence to suggest that the south wall of nave was rebuilt in the 19thC.

Chancel added to nave and on basis of trefoiled north lancets this could be a 14thC development; east and south wall of chancel rebuilt wholly in 19thC.

Size of tower has suggested to some that it is Norman; what can be said is that the uppermost stage has either been rebuilt or added, and that there are Tudor details notably a 16thC doorway. Main arch-braced roof is also 16thC.

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

History

By tradition this is the burial-place of St Cynog, the son of Brychan, who established a settlement here before 500 A.D.

It was reputedly a clas church in the early medieval period.

In the 1291 Taxatio it was termed 'Ecclesia de Merthir' and had the remarkably high value of 30, implying a church of exceptional status.

It was restored in 1860-1 by C. Buckeridge, and Glynne on his visit in 1865 complimented the restoration. He remarked on the partial rebuilding, the low tower, strongly built, almost of military character, with slit openings and no buttresses or external doorway; the parapet rested on a corbel table. Nave and chancel were undivided except for the restored rood screen. An arched piscina was set to the south of the altar, there was a stone stoup near the south door, and new open benches in the nave.

Architecture

Merthyr Cynog church consists of a nave and chancel in one, a west tower and a south porch giving access to the nave near its south-west corner. The church is oriented a little south of grid west, and 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted here for descriptive purposes.

Fabrics: 'A' of red-brown and grey sandstone slabs, with increasing number of sandstone blocks at higher levels; large dressed sandstone blocks for quoins. 'B' is of randomly set blocks and slabs of red sandstone. 'C' is of weathered blocks of sandstone, originally red but now weathered to grey and lichen covered; some coursing. 'D' is similar to 'C' but of smaller blocks. 'E' shows a greater mixture of blocks and slabs with some rounded lumps, randomly set, and a mixture of colours from olive to red though the latter predominates. 'F' is of regular blocks of dark red sandstone.

'A', 'C' and 'E' medieval. 'D' and 'F' Victorian. 'B' is infill.

Roofs: slates, ceramic ridge tiles; metal cross finial at east end of chancel, concrete one minus its top on the gable of porch.

Drainage: trench along both north and south sides; not obvious on east and nothing on west side of tower.

Exterior

Tower. General. Broad and low tower, with thick walls; Haslam has queried whether it might even be Norman. Walls have chamfered plinth to 0.5m (1st stage), and a corbel table below battlemented parapet (3rd stage). Waterspouts in the form of pipes at the north-west corner and on south side. Low slated pyramidal roof with weathervane and weathercock above. Some evidence of rebuilding, for disconformities on south and west faces. A square north-east stair-turret rises to two thirds of the tower's height.

North wall: Fabric A. Two original slit windows with chamfered dressings in main, 2nd stage; these are not centrally placed because of presence of stair-turret at north-east corner. Just below the corbel table and centrally placed is a louvred slit without dressings to illuminate the belfry. The stair-turret has two small slits with chamfered dressings and stops just below belfry window level. With its large quoins and the chamfered plinth continuing around its base it is certainly an integral part of the original design. North wall rebuilt from top of stair-turret upwards.

East wall: apex of nave roof reaches to approximately same height as top of stair-turret. Belfry window as on north side, and below it is a rectangular window with lintel and protruding sill but no dressings; this immediately above nave apex.

South wall: two slit windows as on north side, but centrally placed; standard belfry window. Top half of wall rebuilt for upper part has more irregular masonry blocks and rougher quoins, whilst lower quoins are pulling away from masonry of wall face, but this stops at the rebuild.

West wall: standard belfry window. Fabric change half way up, and below this disconformity the wall face is bulging and cracking.

Nave and Chancel. General. No external differentiation between the two elements so they are considered together in this description. Most of wall face on north shows traces of residual plaster.

North wall: a complex wall showing some rebuilding. The two most westerly windows (lighting nave) have trefoiled heads to their double lights, chamfered dressings in yellow sandstone and are Victorian inserts. Further east and lighting the chancel are two single trefoil-headed windows with chamfered dressings in original red sandstone; one has a jamb with a supporting iron band, but the window head is in less convincing grey-brown sandstone. The other, to the east, has one jambstone and at least half its arched head replaced. Most of the westerly part of the wall is in Fabric C and the wall displays a slight batter to a height of c.0.4m; traces of pink render appear to be earlier than the remnant white plaster over Fabric C. Against the tower is a large infilled patch of Fabric B with small slabs plugging the vertical gap between the nave and tower; its date is not certain. Around and above the two Victorian windows the masonry is Fabric D.

East of the more easterly Victorian window, and possibly in line with the internal nave/chancel divide - though Haslam considers it is just to the west of the screen - is a butt joint to a height of c.1.7m; this has freestone quoins at the end of what may be the nave wall, and the batter at the base of the wall terminates here too. Why the butt joint cannot be traced at higher levels on the wall is unclear. Much of the remaining wall including that around the chancel's trefoiled lights is in Fabric E, but the junction with the masonry of the nave is in part obscured by mould growing on the wall face. At the extreme north-east corner Fabric E gives way to Fabric F, the contact edge between the two being more obvious lower down on the wall face.

East wall: all Fabric F. Chamfered base to 1.2m. Victorian window of three stepped lights with trefoiled heads, all under a two-centred arch formed by a string-course. About 14 mural slabs are pinned or leaning against the wall, the earliest from the late 18thC, through to the middle of the 19thC.

South wall: battered for whole length. At east end wall composed of Fabric F, though the uniformity of the masonry is broken by the inclusion of the occasional irregular boulder. Sanctuary window of two lights in grey and red sandstone, comparable with the Victorian windows on north side of nave. Beside it a mural tablet of 1759/1760. Then a priest's door with yellow sandstone dressings, stopped chamfers, hoodmoulding, and relieving arch in edge stones. This completely Victorian replacement is approached by two steps. The last chancel window is also Victorian, a single light in grey sandstone. About 1.5m west of this window and not quite in line with the butt joint on the north side, there is a masonry change with Fabric F giving way to Fabric C. A short distance west of this is the possible position of an earlier priest's door, but what looks like a lintel stone may be fortuitous and is not wholly convincing. The two windows east of the porch are both in yellow sandstone and comparable with the Victorian windows on the north side; but there is no surface evidence of their insertion. Could the whole wall have been rebuilt using older masonry? Certainly the base of the wall is battered and there are traces of white plaster and pink render. Between the windows are two mural tablets of 1777 and 1835. To the west of the porch, which itself butts against the nave wall, is a single standard Victorian window in yellow sandstone.

West wall: coat of render disguises everything.

Porch. East wall: Fabric closest to C, and a large boulder is built into wall.

South wall: Fabric F. A new round-headed arch with stopped chamfers all in grey sandstone, though more eroded red sandstone jambs on east. Padlocked iron gates; light over arch.

West wall: Fabric C.

Interior

Porch. General. Flagged floor; walls particularly the north, formerly plastered and whitewashed; modern roof with collars and rafters.

North wall: two-centred arch with stopped chamfers and massive jambstones in dark red sandstone: an original doorway. Note too that the batter on the nave wall is gentler here than elsewhere, reinforcing the argument that much of this wall has been rebuilt.

East wall: plain. Stone bench with slab seats.

West wall: as east wall.

Tower. General. Flagged floor without any graveslabs. Wooden ceiling at about 6m. Unplastered walls, once limewashed, now very dirty. Used for storage.

North wall: splayed window with soffit of edge stones. Tudor doorway with stopped chamfers leads to stair turret.

East wall: doorway has slightly splayed reveal, with soffit of edge stones. Three putlog holes at c.3.5m, presumably for floor joists, with a ledge 0.4m above.

South wall: window as on north side. Ledge as on east but higher.

West wall: putlog holes and ledge as on east side.

Nave. General. Floor flagged with metal grille down centre of aisle. Benches on flush boarding. All walls including dressings are plastered and whitewashed (in yellow). Roof of twelve and a half bays includes chancel; arch-braced collar trusses with four simple collars between each; principal trusses supported on corbels projecting beyond wall plates. Impossible to ascertain how much of this timberwork is original.

North wall: leans outwards. Deeply splayed windows but otherwise plain.

East wall: divided from chancel by screen.

South wall: as north wall but not such an exaggerated lean. Stoup set in wall beside door. Door itself is heavy and may be of early date, while doorway has internal chamfers, crudely stopped.

West wall: broad two-centred arched doorway to tower.

Chancel. General. One step up to chancel, one to sanctuary, one to altar. Floor in choir of stone slabs with four graveslabs incorporated (one of the 17thC, 3 of the 18thC); stalls on wooden plinths. Sanctuary tiled in red and black, and encaustic tiles round altar; partially carpet covered. Walls plastered and whitewashed. Roof as nave.

North wall: two windows, otherwise plain.

East wall: window, otherwise plain.

South wall: windows plus segmental-headed door embrasure, and small arched niche for piscina.

Churchyard

Merthyr Cynog church has developed on a saddle of the ridge between two branches of the River Ysgir. It occupies a large and relatively flat sub-circular enclosure, which does however drop away on the west and south-west. The interior is raised on all sides except the north.

It is relatively well-maintained though overgrown on the east and continues to be used for burial.

Boundary: consists of a stone retaining wall, with material banked up internally to a height of 0.5m on the south. Both this bank which could be an early feature and the wall continue for the whole perimeter, the former varying in height. On the south-west the external drop must be nearly 4m.

A section through the churchyard wall in 1992 revealed underlying features and layers of charcoal and burnt bone. A section through the bank on the north side where a field gate gives access has now got a vegetation cover.

Monuments: these are frequent but quite well spread on the south side and go back to the earlier 18thC. Recent burials focus on the south-west quadrant, and on the east there is certainly 19thC and may be 18thC burials but the dense vegetation makes identification difficult. The north side of the yard is devoid of gravestones.

Furniture: just south of the porch beside the path is the socket stone for a sundial, now removed.

Earthworks: only the earlier churchyard bank around the perimeter. However, there is a hint of a scarp bank on the west and south-west closer to the present boundary than to the church. Its significance and indeed its integrity are unclear.

Ancillary features: on the south are small double iron gates supported on new stone pillars with four steps up into churchyard. On the west is a single iron gate from the former vicarage. On the north there is also a small metal gate and a few metres to the south is a field gate. Concrete paths from the west, south and north; elsewhere grass paths.

Vegetation: yews around south side, some pines close to the south edge, and mature trees of mixed type on the west.

Sources consulted

CPAT Field Visit: 21 November 1995
Crossley and Ridgway 1952, 77
Dawson 1909, 207
Glynne 1886, 272
Haslam 1979, 362
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 Merthyr Cynog 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 ( 22:01:05 ).
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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