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Brecknockshire Churches Survey

Church of St Gwendoline , Talgarth

Talgarth Church is in the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon, in the community of Talgarth in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SO1572733816.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16959 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Talgarth Church, CPAT copyright photo 1037-25.JPG

Summary

A large church dedicated to St Gwendoline, sited at highest end of the town. It is set eccentrically in a sub-rectilinear churchyard and may have originated as 'clas' church, though the basis for this conjecture is restricted to architectural criteria.

Tower is 15thC, while the body of the church dates from around 1400 but some re-use of earlier fenestration.

The nave and chancel (with a new aisle) were apparently rebuilt c. 1400 with a four-bay nave arcade and a single-bay chancel arcade, though some of the fenestration of c.1300 was re-used. Presumably the south transept was removed at this time.

Bottom part of north nave wall may be original (e.g. late 13thC/early 14thC?), upper part rebuilt, either in early 15thC or later when doorway put in place. Victorian rebuilding also on north side of nave, and north transept. More recent reconstruction work on west side of north transept for its conversion to meeting room. Chancel and south aisle presumed to be early 15thC, but east wall of former partially reconstructed. Porch also 15thC.

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 Gwendoline (as also at Llyswen), a (grand)daughter of Brychan, and reputedly buried here. An early medieval origin remains unproven, though the 'clas' identification is relevant here (see below).

Between 1093 and 1095 Bernard de Neufmarche granted the church to Brecon Priory.

In the Taxatio of 1254 it was referred to as 'Ecclesia de Talgarth'.

The earliest discernible building plan suggests a 13thC cruciform church on basis of surviving north transept. This in turn might indicate the former existence of an early medieval 'clas' foundation for which there is no other evidence.

In 1851 Glynne stated that the church tower had "a battlement absurdly whitewashed", the nave also whitewashed, and the transept had been entirely modernized and was used as a school. A low arch upon square piers, apparently original, opened from it into the chancel. Remains of a rood screen survived in the chancel and part of the corner of the rood loft could still be seen. The north transept was used as a school until 1873, and subsequently adapted as a vestry.

The church was extensively restored at cost of 2000 in 1873 by Thomas Nicholson. The tower was renovated in 1898.

Architecture

Church consists of nave and chancel in one, west tower attached to nave, a north transept attached to nave and chancel, a vestry on east side of transept, and a south aisle with a south porch attached. The building is aligned east/west.

Fabrics: 'A' of primarily red sandstone slabs, small to large, irregularly coursed. Quoins of grey and red sandstone. 'B' of grey sandstone slabs with some red, small to medium in size, some blocks, irregularly coursed. 'C' of small, roughly laid slabs of red and grey sandstone. 'D' of grey and red slabs better laid than 'C' but with more colour heterogeneity than 'B'. 'E' consists of medium sized blocks of grey, red and brown sandstone.

'A' and 'D' are medieval, 'B' is medieval or 16thC, 'C' is Victorian and 'E' is 19thC or probably 20thC.

Roofs: slates with simple ceramic ridge tiles, and cross finials at east end of chancel and of south aisle, and on porch.

Drainage: slab-lined gully, estimated at up to 0.7m deep, around whole of body of church except tower and north transept where signs of infilled drain.

Exterior

Tower. General. Fabric A. Consistent features are: double, chamfered plinth to a height of c.1.0m; simple string-courses at top of 1st and 2nd stages; a complex moulded string course above 3rd, belfry stage; and battlemented parapet above. Window dressings generally in yellow sandstone. Tower surmounted by weathervane and excessive weathercock. Tower stair built into north wall. Of 15thC build.

North wall: slit low down in 1st stage, hollow chamfered dressings, weathered below, but replaced higher up; towards north-east corner a second slit to light stair, with flat chamfer, probably indicating some replacement; at top of 1st stage in centre another chamfered slit with string-course acting as label. 2nd stage has standard slit but dressings in red sandstone apart from one replacement jamb in cream sandstone. Belfry has two-light window with foiled ogee-heads in Y-tracery, louvre boards and the arch almost four-centred.

East wall: apex of nave roof reaches to just above 1st stage string course. 2nd stage slit as on north wall but some jamb replacement. Belfry window as on north side, its yellow dressings apparently original.

South side: fenestration as on north side, and two waterspouts. Part way up 1st stage, quoin stones indicate a sudden inset of tower wall at south-east angle, the change matched by presence of large blocks of off-white sandstone in coursing of south face. Gap between inset quoinstones and nave wall filled with masonry to nave eaves level. Similar inset discernible on north face of tower. Conceivably, tower has been rebuilt from this point upwards, but more likely that inset was designed to accommodate pre-existing overhang of former roof of nave.

West wall: standard fenestration as north wall, all in yellow sandstone, with slits all having hollow chamfers; degree of replacement impossible to gauge. Two waterspouts.

Nave. General. Only one wall - on north - visible externally. Thought to have been rebuilt c.1400.

North wall: mixture of fabrics with lowest courses in 'D', most of wall incorporating upper part of doorway and central window in 'B', and inserts at both ends in 'C'. Buttress at west end in 'A'-type fabric; three windows all of consistent appearance, with two lights with cinquefoil heads and Y-tracery and chamfered dressings under two-centred arch; outer two windows in olive-green sandstone are Victorian or later and are set in the inserted Fabric C; the central window in pink sandstone shows some replacement of arch and tracery and even remaining dressings may not be original. Between central and westerly window is a blocked late 16thC doorway in yellow sandstone with complex moulded chamfers and a flattish triangular arch with decoration: one knot visible in the spandrel below flat-topped head of doorway. Beneath this doorway are steps down to boiler room.

North transept. General. All sides show signs of having been plastered in past.

North wall: in Fabric 'B' with weathered grey sandstone quoins; upper part of this gable end, above eaves level, has been rebuilt in coarser fashion. Simple lancet window with chamfered dressings in cream sandstone. High up the wall, a blocked slit window, the blocking perhaps fairly recent. Chimney at apex.

East wall: largely disguised by vestry and by curious angled wall which defines diagonal passage way (see below) from transept to chancel; that part of transept wall that is visible above the angled wall looks rebuilt.

South wall: joins nave/chancel.

West wall: text-book sections of 'B' walling remain, while upper parts in Fabric 'C'. Additionally, remnants of two blocked?doors, with some jamb stones in position; now modern rectangular wooden windows with large wooden lintels have been inserted, the masonry in the blocked doorways and above one of the windows being classed as Fabric 'E'. South end of wall has been rebuilt adjacent to nave - the rebuild appears to be later than the basal (Fabric 'D') walling of nave, but earlier than the Victorian rebuild (Fabric 'C'), though in similar masonry.

Vestry. General. Small unit abutting northern half of east side of north transept. Reportedly built in 19thC. Has a wide wooden window on east, a blocked brick doorway on south, and a simple wooden door on north.

Walkway. General. Runs diagonally from east side of north transept to north side of chancel. Its masonry appears to be of reasonably well-laid Fabric 'D', and traces of plaster remain. Its north end abuts transept wall.

Chancel. General. Base of wall slightly battered.

North wall: Fabric 'D', exhibiting irregular surface, with traces of plaster remaining. One two-light window with cinquefoil head, complex moulded chamfers and a flat-headed window frame; dressings reveal a mixture of sandstones, and it is impossible to say how much is original.

East wall: a Victorian three-light window with panel tracery in a two-centred arch with hood moulding over - Perpendicular style; its insertion lines can just be seen suggesting most of top of gable rebuilt in 19thC.

South wall: short length only because of adjoining south aisle. One cinquefoiled window in rectangular, chamfered frame, though ogee head of the light is different from window in north wall; some of dressings are original. Wall possibly rebuilt?

South aisle. General. Thought to have been added c.1400 when nave rebuilt, though some re-use of Y-tracery fenestration from?south wall of nave. Three external walls; the south aisle is almost as long as nave and chancel combined, its west wall aligned with that of nave. No obvious difference between south aisle and chancel in masonry terms: all Fabric 'D' with random coursing and occasional residual plaster traces.

East wall: fine 15thC window of three lights with cinquefoil tracery, with six panels above, all under two-centred arch; generally dressings in yellow sandstone comparable with belfry windows. Mural tablet of 1779 set on wall.

South wall: features from east end are: i) three-light window with complex moulded chamfer and cinquefoil tracery, set in square-headed frame; original yellow sandstone but one jamb and perhaps sill replaced; comparable with window in north wall of chancel though that has simpler moulding; ii) priest's door with stopped chamfers, four-centred arch, with original dressings; door itself more recent and has ornate hinges; iii) second window as first but has red sandstone jambs; iv) buttress; v) two-light window with multi-foil tracery, a mixture of red and yellow but difficult to determine what has been replaced; vi) window of two lights with multi-foil heads, Y-tracery under two-centred arch, pink and red sandstone dressings, the former probably replacements, and the window with its Gothic arch looks out of place; vii) porch. The last two windows appear to have had the masonry above them re-set.

West wall: Fabric 'D' with grey sandstone quoins at south-west corner; wall contains window of three, stepped lights with foiled heads under a four-centred arch; yellow sandstone dressings with some red sandstone; wall base appears to abut tower, but phasing higher up not clear.

Porch. General. Masonry is Fabric 'D', but regularity of masonry higher up south wall suggests either rebuilt or raised. Abuts south aisle and considered by Haslam to be Perpendicular addition.

East wall: contains one simple slit window, its headstone replaced. Broken grave slabs leant against wall.

South wall: fine four-centred arch, with stopped, double roll-mouldings; red sandstone jambs and light yellow arch stones. Archway blocked by double iron gates; notice board on gable.

West wall: slit window as on east.

Interior

Generally plastered and whitewashed throughout, the exceptions being the porch, the ground floor of the tower and many of the window, door and arcade dressings.

Porch. General. On same level as external churchyard. Flagged floor; roof of five arch-braced collars of modern date resting on decorated wall plates.

North wall: main doorway to church is broad, with a four-centred arch, the stopped, moulded chamfers in brown sandstone. Victorian double doors with ornamental hinges as on priest's door. Ribbed stoup under four-centred arched niche to east of doorway, thought by Haslam to be earlier than porch itself. 1873 Incorporated Church Building Society notice above door, also a blocked recess for a statuette.

East wall: largely covered by noticeboard with, beneath, a stone bench with slab seat.

South wall: internally chamfered two-centred arch, but replacement jambs not chamfered.

West wall: small splayed window with stone bench below.

Tower. General. Now used as a vestry. Ceiling arched in stone with holes for bell ropes. Tiled floor with heating grill.

North wall: deeply splayed window with sloping sill; small doorway to tower stair has chamfered dressings and a triangular head.

East wall: two-centred tower arch constructed of large blocks of off-yellow sandstone, a stopped chamfer for outer moulding, the inner one fading into wall; glazed door in wooden frame closes off vestry; grave slab of 1631 on south side of reveal, and mural slabs of 1782 and of uncertain date on east wall.

South wall: window as on north wall; eight mural tablets ranging from 1727 to 1810 and one not dated.

West wall: window as north wall with one tablet, undated and in Welsh, resting in embrasure.

Nave. General. Tiled floor with carpet over; wooden planked floor under benches. 19thC roof has braced collars, similar to that in south aisle but with double collars, wooden panelling above rafters and ornamented wall plates; three large twisted metal rods act as tie bars just below eaves level. Rebuilt around 1400 incorporating four-bay arcade (in nave) together with single-bay chancel arcade.

North wall: wall leans outwards, a deliberate batter. Windows treated consistently with grey sandstone dressings, all splayed. No indication of blocked door visible externally. Transept partly blocked by inserted wall which incorporates large crudely turned segmental chancel arch with chamfered slab capitals now mostly blocked by organ - every appearance of being a more recent modification.

East wall: dominated by a two-centred wooden arch on heavy decorated corbels, inserted in restoration of 1873.

South wall: arcade of four bays (with one more in chancel), double chamfered, two-centred arches resting on moulded capitals and octagonal piers; arch on east fades into wall, that at west end is a respond.

West wall: tower arch is two-centred with its springing points higher and less convincing than those of arcade, and wave mouldings with curious stops. Above is a four-centred chamfered doorway, now blocked, to former gallery.

North transept. General. Organ sunk at least 0.6m below floor level. Wooden board floor surrounds organ. Panelled partition divides this organ 'chamber' from meeting room occupying northern half of transept. Meeting room has painted walls.

North wall: angular splay to window.

East wall: beside organ a large flattish arch turned in slabs and supported on a square pier as on south side of chancel, with a capital simpler than but modelled on those of arcade, gives access to passage to chancel. Further north a simple doorway into vestry.

West wall: at southern end, a blocked square-headed aperture represents earlier doorway into transept. Two new windows (as outside) have recesses beneath them to ground level.

Chancel. General. Two steps up from nave into chancel with two more to altar. Floor tiled, carpet covered; choir stalls raised on wooden platforms. Wagon roof of twenty-four panels with decorated bosses and decorated wall plates - all Victorian.

North wall: large arch in dark grey sandstone gives onto diagonal passage (is this connected with the broad squint referred to by Haslam and earlier by Dawson?; the history of this feature is obscure!); its supporting pillar mirrors that on the opposite side of the chancel but it is in different masonry and is clearly Victorian. Chancel wall slopes outwards as nave, and contains deeply splayed window.

East wall: modern reredos.

South wall: splayed window, its internal dressings as those in nave. Most easterly bay of arcade gives onto south aisle, but its arch is broader than its counterparts in nave, and has a respond to east and a large square chamfered pillar to west; the chamfers have stops though at least one broken off; the capital has been replaced as have two stones in the pillar immediately below it.

South aisle. General. Victorian tiled floor with benches set on flush wooden boarding; at least one heating grill near south door. Roof has arch-braced collars, ornamented wall plates, and panelling above rafters. At east end, two steps up to an altar. In earlier times the east end was divided off as the Francis Chapel.

North wall: arcade (see above).

East wall: splayed window with standard finish; rectangular recess (aumbry) in wall, north of window, marble mural tablet of 1790 to south.

South wall: wall leans outwards; splayed windows finished in standard form; priest's door has segmental head and grey sandstone used for stonework of internal reveal. Ten mural tablets at eastern end, on either side of priest's door, ranging from 1675 to 1863. Inner porch of wooden panelling disguises main south door.

West wall: standard finish to splayed window.

Churchyard

Talgarth has a large churchyard of irregular rectilinear shape. It is established on relatively level ground at the head of this small town, the ground sloping away to the River Ennig on the west; Church Street edges the churchyard on the south and beyond this the ground falls away sharply into a tributary valley, while to the north the ground also falls away though more gently. The position is thus effectively an interfluvial spur.

The churchyard is generally tidy and well-maintained, shows no sign of having been extended in the past, and is still used for burials.

Boundary: stone wall forms boundary for whole yard. Above Church Street on south the internal drop is around 0.5m, the external drop about 1.5m or more; on the east, there is no difference in ground levels, the wall being c.1.3m high, but on this side from opposite the church and then around the north and west perimeter, the churchyard is again raised with height differentials of about 1.0m.

Monuments: these are well spread and reasonably dense throughout the churchyard. On the north side, gravestones are predominantly of 20thC date; elsewhere most are 19thC and 20thC, but there are a scatter of 18thC examples, not only immediately to the south of the church but throughout the rest of yard as well. The earliest noted was of 1730 leaning against churchyard wall near south-east corner. Also of note is the chest tomb of Howell Harris (d.1730), father of Howell Harris, the preacher and reformer.

Furniture: octagonal sandstone shaft supports undated sundial without gnomon - certainly pre-dates 1909. Situated beside path less than 20m to south of porch.

Earthworks: southern part of churchyard raised, and some banking beneath mature yew trees just to north of Church Street boundary, but the significance of this cannot be ascertained.

Ancillary Features: church served by tarmac paths with iron gates at all entrances. Main entrance at south-west corner has double ornamental gates, a kissing gate at south-east corner, and a third gate immediately west of church. Standard farm gate gives access to burial areas from north-west corner. Wooden shed set in angle formed by north transept and chancel.

Vegetation: mature yews (6) form horseshoe shape south of church. one or two other, smaller trees.

Sources consulted

Cadw Schedule of Listed Buildings: Talgarth Community 1995
Church Guide book: nd
CPAT Field Visit: 27 October 1995
Crossley and Ridgway 1952, 82
Dawson 1909, 227
Glynne 1887, 285
Haslam 1979, 371
Jones and Bailey 1911 iii, 51ff
NMR Aberyswyth
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 Talgarth 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 ( 22:01:08 ).
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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