Brecknockshire Churches Survey
Church of St Mary , Ystradfellte
Ystradfellte Church is in the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon, in the community of Ystradfellte in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SN9305713446.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16978 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.
St Mary's church lies in the valley of the Mellte where it cuts through the less dramatic southern dip slope of the Brecon Beacons. The church may have an early origin, but most of its architecture is no earlier than the 16thC, though parts of the
structure could be earlier. Altogether it is undistinguished architecturally. Internally it is the 16thC font and the range of 18thC mural tablets that are of interest. The churchyard has a somewhat anonymous shape.
Nave of uncertain date, but contains two blocked doorways of medieval date. Chancel of same width but added onto nave in 16thC. Nave partially rebuilt in 19thC and all windows replaced except for one on south side which is 17thC/18thC. This window
represents the model for Victorian insertions.
Parts of the following description are quoted from the 1979 publication The Buildings of Wales: Powys by Richard Haslam
The origin of the church is unknown; an early medieval beginning is a possibility, but there is no substantive evidence to support this theory.
The church guide has the delightful but totally unsubstantiated statement that the much of the present church was built by Cistercian monks at the end of the 12thC.
No record of Ystradfellte appears to exist in the 13thC Taxatios or the 16thC Valor Ecclesiasticus.
The present church is thought to be 16thC on the basis of the absence of pre-1500 details. However, it has also been suggested that the irregular chancel arch might have been broken through an earlier east wall which could still be in place, and other
parts of the nave could also be earlier.
Jones, in 1809, records that the church then consisted of a nave and chancel only, the roof was unceiled, the floor uneven, windows frequently broken, seats decayed, the light but indifferent, and at the west end was a tower in which there was one bell.
Glynne's account of 1855 describes the body of the church as whitewashed, but not the tower, and the "usual deficiency of good architecture". The belfry windows were plain rectangles. Internally the chancel arch was a rude, pointed one, and on the south
side of the chancel was a square-headed, two-light window of Perpendicular character, and to the north a lancet of doubtful age. The east window appeared to be Decorated and of two lights with a diamond above them. Other windows had been modernised. The
interior was gloomy and contained pews. The south porch had been removed.
One restoration occurred in 1870, another in 1882 when pews installed, and the reredos and altar were added around 1900.
In 1970, a new tower door was put in place; in 1971, the sanctuary floor was dug up and re-laid, the chancel redecorated and the lychgate restored.
Ystradfellte church consists of a nave and chancel in one, though the roof line of the latter is lower, and a west tower. It is oriented slightly north of true east.
Fabrics: 'A' consists of small to medium slabs and blocks of brown and grey sandstone, some cleaving cleanly others with rougher surfaces, and a few larger ones incorporated; all are irregularly coursed; better dressed blocks as quoins.
'B' consists of small to medium slabs and lumps of red sandstone, intermittently visible because plastered over in past; masonry appears to be somewhat haphazardly laid.
'C' appears similar to 'B' but more regular and no plaster cover disguises it.
'A' and 'B' are original late medieval fabrics, 'C' is Victorian.
Roofs: body of church covered with slates, the chancel re-slated more recently than the nave, except for some replacement on south side of nave; toothed ridge tiles to nave, more ornamental ones to chancel; no finials.
Drainage: on north side downpipes lead to partially buried horizontal pipe suggesting some excavation beside walls; nothing obvious on east and south, but old cast iron drainpipes on latter could indicate totally infilled/overgrown drainage gully.
Tower. General. In Fabric 'A'. Battered base to height of 2m where string-course of slabs. Second stage has tapering walls up to corbel table which supports overhanging battlemented parapet considered to be of modern date. Above is a pyramid roof with
weathercock and vane.
North wall: string-course at base of 2nd stage broken; just below corbel table is rectangular window lacking proper jambstones but with large lintel and broken louvre boards; aperture above corbel table feeds water into plastic downpipe.
East wall: apex of nave abuts tower wall about half way up 2nd stage. Immediately above is slit window with large unchamfered blocks for jambs. Above this is a belfry window as on north side, but half-louvred. There is differential grime on the masonry
surface of this wall, but for no obvious reason.
South wall: about 3m from ground, a small square window, unglazed, no proper jambs. Belfry window as north side, but intact louvre boards.
West wall: string-course interrupted and modified for insertion of west door, not centrally placed in wall. Doorway has two-centred arch, stopped chamfers, the stops stepped. Of grey sandstone and of Victorian date; above doorway is a lamp. At height of
c.4.5m is a small rectangular louvred window, and half way up 2nd stage and off-centre is even smaller rectangular window with broken louvre boards. Standard belfry window above. None of the windows have proper jambstones but all have lintels.
Nave. General. Fabric 'B' is original. Residual plaster effectively disguises some wall faces.
North wall: Fabric 'B', except for masonry in 'C' over tops of, and in two cases below, windows. Three two-light windows with round heads and chamfered dressings in mixture of red and grey sandstone, all Victorian and all inserted. Between the two more
westerly windows is a blocked doorway, with a two-centred arch formed of stones on edge and blocks for jambstones. It is largely plastered over and quite low, the underside of the arch being c.1.6m above ground level. Blocking clearly pre-dates Victorian
restoration and the wall plastering.
East wall: chancel about 0.5m lower than the nave but exposed part of nave gable has protective cover of vertical slates.
South wall: much plaster survives, but appears to be all of one build. Two double-light windows with round heads, inserted as on north side (absence of plaster), but a third, the most easterly, has red sandstone jambs, the arches are plastered, and one
window has spandrel, suggesting?17thC or 18thC date. Filled in doorway, presumably the predecessor of the west entrance.
West wall: on north side of tower the wall may be partly rebuilt in roughly dressed masonry, plaster covered, but impossible to determine chronological relationship with tower. South of the tower the masonry is rough with surface irregularities but a
rebuild less likely and the chronological relationship with tower is not clear.
Chancel. General. Heavily plastered. On south side chancel has fractionally different alignment from nave (?deliberate).
North wall: wall battered inwards slightly to full height, in contrast to verticality of nave; join with nave disguised by plaster. One two-centred arched window with chamfered dressings, plastered over, but of no great age.
East wall: largely plastered though some flaking off at higher levels; insufficient to recognise fabric changes. One Victorian two-centred arched window in grey sandstone with a diamond light above, all inserted into existing wall.
South wall: the join with nave plastered over, but has the appearance of being added on. One two-light, late Perpendicular window, the lights with cusped heads set in rectangular frame, decorated spandrels, chamfered dressings, all in red sandstone and all
original; grooves for shutters. However the whole window stands out from the wall face and could be re-set.
Tower. General. Flagged floor. Ceiled at level below apex of tower arch, and supported by three large beams supported on corbels; one is missing, one is of red sandstone, the others whitewashed, as are all visible wall faces.
North wall: grave slabs of 1691 and 1812 lean against wall.
East wall: tower arch, may have a segmental head but top obscured by massive floor joist; no jambs. Much of the arch is now blocked in and has been succeeded by a smaller two-centred arched doorway with stopped-chamfers; presumably Victorian and comparable
with the outer door.
South wall: plain.
West wall: splayed window embrasure with edge stones forming soffit.
Nave. General. North-west corner partitioned off for locked vestry. Flagged floors covered by carpet down aisle. No obvious heating grilles and warmth provided by boiler at west end of nave, and piping running length of nave just below eaves; installed
after 1931. Roof of close-set arch-braced collars giving wagon-roof effect with moulded ribs creating 150 panels, but with the timberwork left open. Griffiths (RCAHMW) thought that the roof timbers did not look older than the 19thC. Walls whitewashed as
are all embrasures including dressings.
North wall: deeply splayed windows; rood loft doorway and a second at loft level: both are plain rectangular openings with relatively modern doors, and the stairs are still accessible. Mural tablets of 1751 and 1761 in most easterly window embrasure, and
one of 1837 near rood loft doorways.
East wall: a large and rather irregular two-centred chancel arch, with no chamfer. Heavy plaster obscures nature of jambs. Mural tablet of 1817.
South wall: deeply splayed windows. Mural tablet of 1785.
West wall: plain, but for segmental headed archway to tower. Small (?modern) doorway to south presumably gives access to upper levels of tower.
Chancel. General. Step up to chancel and another up to sanctuary. Floor of black and red tiles, partly carpeted. Choir stalls raised on wooden plinths. Roof as in nave, with 60 panels, but timbers original (Griffiths).
North wall: splayed window.
East wall: splayed window with reredos around it. Mural tablet of 1824, and benefaction tablet of 1733.
South wall: splayed window, the present (?Victorian) soffit set lower than the cusped heads of the window. Range of wall tablets from 1779, 1794, 1812 & 1814.
West wall: large, rather irregular two-centred arch. Mural tablet of 1793.
Ystradfellte churchyard forms an irregular polygon and occupies flat ground on the edge of the river terrace to the west of Afon Mellte, at a point where a tributary valley slips down from the hills to the west. This is reflected in the fact that the
ground to the north of the enclosure immediately rises to a higher terrace.
The churchyard is overgrown on the south, better maintained to the north and west. Modern burials are accommodated in an extension lying on slightly lower ground to the east.
Boundary: consists of a stone wall, internally banked on the west and south-west where the external ground level is >0.5m below the interior. On the east the extension is separated by a scarp at least 2m high. On the north is a drystone wall which because
of its slope siting has an internal level of around 1m and an external level of considerably less. North of the lychgate the stone wall is surmounted by iron railings.
Monuments: the churchyard is fairly densely packed, but, because of overgrowth, is difficult of access. On the south, most monuments are of 19thC and 20thC date but there are some of the 18thC, though many are weathering badly. On the north 19thC and later
Furniture: none recognised.
Earthworks: none of any note.
Ancillary Features: a stone lychgate of the 19thC, but without gate, forms the main entrance on the west. An iron kissing gate lies a little to the north. Another metal gate gives access to the village hall on the south. Both are linked by paths to the
Vegetation: half a dozen yews of reasonable size ring the perimeter, the largest, split, lying on the north.
Church guide (by H.Martin) n.d.
CPAT Field Visit: 23 November 1995
Dawson 1909, 237
Glynne 1886, 274
Jones and Bailey 1930, iv, 74
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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 Ystradfellte 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 ( 22:01:09 ).
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 - firstname.lastname@example.org, website - www.cpat.org.uk.
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