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Montgomeryshire Churches Survey

Church of St Silin , Llansilin

Llansilin Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Llansilin in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ2096428184. At one time it was dedicated to St Giles.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 101080 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Llansilin Church, CPAT copyright photo CS971801.JPG

Summary

Llansilin is a double-naved church dedicated to St Silin, and originally a clas foundation. Remains of a 13thC cruciform building are still visible, and the complicated sequence evidenced by masonry changes has been unravelled by Ralegh Radford. Most of the architectural features are Perpendicular, but there are two blocked doorways of earlier date and a 13thC lancet. Its tower is much later, constructed in 1832. Perhaps the only medieval fittings are an early cross-incised altar stone and some of the roof beams, but there is a good range of 17thC and 18thC wooden furnishings including a dug-out chest, a pillar poorbox, an altar table, a font cover, as well as the west gallery. The early 18thC plaster Royal Arms, and several interesting memorials should also be mentioned. The churchyard is large and sub-oval, perhaps with an earlier or inner circuit still discernible. There is a sundial of 1717 and a few 18thC ledgers.

A complicated church which has the Perpendicular as its dominant style but with earlier features.

North aisle shows some differences in masonry between its west wall and those on the north and east. The former has an earlier doorway, thought to be Early English, the latter pair a batter which is not present in the chancel to the south. The windows are Perpendicular though much renewed.

The south nave and chancel show several phases of walling in the south front. That at the extreme east is obviously the earliest, that next to it has a re-set lancet, the only pre-Perpendicular window in this south cell. The rest of the wall could be 15thC, but the angles appear to have been rebuilt, as does the gable at the east end.

The tower dates to 1832.

In 1966 C.A.R. Radford defined a sequence which in simplified form is as follows:

i) cruciform church of first quarter of the 13thC, the date in keeping with clas status. Surviving features include fragments of a doorway and the wall in which it was set, namely the present west wall of the north aisle; a now blocked doorway reconstructed in the south wall; a lancet now re-set in the south wall; the western respond of the arcade between aisle and nave, and a fragment of the capital on the east respond.

Radford adduced that the west wall of the north aisle was originally the west wall of the 13thC nave, and that the extreme east of the south wall was part of the south transept of a cruciform church. The south transept originally extended further east, the original chancel lay some metres further east, the north transept and north wall have disappeared completely, the present north wall is on the line of the north arcade of the cruciform church and the present arcade is on the line of the south arcade.

ii) chapel added in the angle between the south transept and south aisle of the cruciform church. Evidenced by masonry change, and by chamfered inset of its west wall. Date of addition is uncertain but might bear some relationship to the decorated capital of the eastern respond of the present arcade which is thought to be early 14thC.

iii) church laid waste probably in time of Owain Glyndwr at the beginning of 15thC. Remodelled in Perpendicular style. Much of east and north of church levelled and new double-naved structure constructed using some old masonry and some earlier architectural features. Building completed soon after 1500.

iv) tower added in 19thC.

While there is little to fault in this sequence, some aspects still need to be explained. The putative cruciform church was a much larger structure than the present building, with its eastern arm projecting well beyond the present east wall. However, a few metres east of the present chancel, the ground drops away noticeably - the absence of any sign of a building platform, and the fact that the chancel would have been constructed on a slope yet has left no signs is surprising. Secondly, the north aisle has a battered base and its east wall has a different alignment to that of the chancel. Both features suggest that the two naves were not built at the same time (contra Radford). Thirdly, the re-use of only a short section of the south wall of the south transept (though to almost its full height) is surprising. Why was the east wall not utilised? Fourthly, the proposed round-headed archway subsequently converted to a Gothic arch in the south wall implies Norman architectural detail, but this merits no comment in Radford's analysis.

Parts of the following description are quoted from the 1986 publication The Buildings of Wales: Clwyd by Edward Hubbard

History

Llansilin is known to have been a clas establishment in the early medieval era. The foundation charter of St John's Hospital at Oswestry which is attributed to the period 1210-1215 refers to the clergy of Llansilin, confirming its collegiate status.

In the Taxatio of 1254 it is referred to as 'Ecclesia de Llansilyn' with a value of 3 6s 8d, while in its 1291 successor it is 'Ecclia de Lanfylyn' with a value of 20 6s 8d, the chief church in the commote of Cynllaith.

In keeping with its mother church status, Ralegh Radford posited an early 13thC cruciform church, with aisled nave, comparable with the somewhat earlier example at Tywyn, Meirioneth.

In the past the north chancel was dedicated to St Silin, but this was superseded by the Lady Chapel on the south as the main chancel. However, there are indications, too, that during the Middle Ages the church was re-dedicated to St Giles.

During the Civil War in 1646 initial attempts were made to fortify the church; the east window is said to have been destroyed at this time together with an image of St Silin in the chancel and figures on the rood loft.

The south porch was added in 1771, the gallery repaired in 1777-1778.

In 1813 it is recorded that the Lord's Prayer was painted on the walls of the chancel over the pews.

A tower was built at the west end in 1832, replacing a timber-framed spire that had burned down in 1813.

Glynne visited Llansilin in 1853. His notes indicate that the building was Perpendicular except for the one lancet in the south wall. At the time there was still a west gallery and pews.

The south porch taken down in 1864, the south doorway restored and a window inserted above it; north window perhaps added at this time?

Restoration in 1890 at a cost of 1700 was by Arthur Baker and included repairs to walls necessitating underpinning, the windows including raising the east window sill in the chancel by two feet, and the doors; church re-floored and re-seated. The plaster ceiling was taken down exposing the 15thC arched-braced roof of the south nave, and the wagon ceiling at its east end; a fragment of the carved rood beam also came to light. Drainage works were also undertaken.

Architecture

Llansilin church comprises a nave and chancel, a north aisle of similar length but narrower, and a west tower attached to the nave. It is oriented fractionally south of west.

Fabrics: 'A' is of multi-coloured masonry (buff, grey, brown etc) including small and medium-sized lumps of sandstone of different degrees of coarseness, shale, occasional lumps of quartz and slabs of slate; many rounded pebblestones; uncoursed. 'B' of pink and brown blocks and slabs of sandstone; some slabs used in levelling courses; more uniform than 'A'. 'C' of regular blocks of pinkish shaley sandstone; regular coursing. 'D' of blocks of varied coloured sandstone, less regular in appearance than 'C'. 'E' is of irregular shale and sandstone lumps of variegated colour, medium and occasionally smaller sized stone with little coursing. 'F' is of thin slabs of iron-stained shale plus blocks and rounded lumps of grey, brown and buff shale and sandstone; one slab of limestone.

Roof: slates with red clay ridge tiles. Stone cross finials at east end of chancel and at ends of aisle.

Drainage: concrete drain around north side including tower. Nothing obvious on other sides.

Exterior

Tower. General. In 'D'. Chamfered plinth on north and south side, not west; angle buttresses that give way to diagonal buttresses in second stage. This second stage is inset from a chamfer rather than a string course. Battlemented parapet with string course below and ornamented pinnacles at the corners. Weathercock on roof.

North wall: plain, two-centred, louved window for belfry.

East wall: in 'D', but perhaps recently cleaned and re-pointed; plain and uncrenellated parapet. Standard belfry window.

South wall: as north side but high up in the first stage are two projecting corbels, not now supporting anything.

West wall: two-centred doorway, the hoodmould with head-stops; outer, 18thC decorative iron gates in front of the wooden doors. Above the doorway a two-centred window with simple hoodmould. Second stage of tower has a clock face, the clock by Thomas Benjamin and Co. dated 1848. Then a string course and finally a standard belfry window.

North Aisle. General. In 'A' and 'B', with the base slightly battered. Remnant plaster on the walls.

North wall: battered base below the current ground level but revealed in drainage trench; bottom 1m or so including batter in 'B', the rest of wall in 'A'. Also at north-west angle are protruding foundation stones beneath batter - most in evidence at the angle itself but extending for 4m+ eastwards. From the west end: i) quoins at the north-west angle in dressed pink sandstone. ii) two-light Victorian window, cusped lancet lights and continuous hoodmould with foliate stops, the dressings of yellow freestone; perhaps added in 1864. A few signs of being inset. iii) rectangular window of two, two-centred cinquefoiled lights with sunken spandrels, hollow chamfers to jambs, in grey and sandy yellow freestone. None of this is entirely convincing as medieval stonework, except perhaps for a couple of jamb stones, and an earlier sill, slightly narrower, is left in situ beneath. iv) lean-to with chimney, slit windows of bricks, and wide doors on the east with a re-used wooden lintel.

East wall: as north wall, with the batter in 'B', and 'A' above; batter stops abruptly before aisle gives way to chancel. Two-centred window with three cinquefoiled lights and panels above, hollow chamfers but no hoodmould; mullions replaced, but rest may be original though not particularly weathered.

West wall: the masonry does not appear to be exactly as that in the north wall with more blocks and some coursing, and no recognisable distinction between lowest masonry and that above; but classed as 'A'. Blocked doorway with pinkish sandstone dressings for the jambs, not unlike the nearby quoins; base of doorway higher than present ground level. The arch has been removed during the insertion of a rectangular window in grey and buff sandstone which has two, two-centred lights with trefoil tracery: original. Above the window is a block of sandstone with worn decoration.

Nave and Chancel. General. Not differentiated externally. There are indications that the roof has been raised; originally it was the same height as the north aisle.

East wall: on a fractionally different alignment to east wall of north aisle. Dominated by large east window with two-centred arch with simple hoodmould; four cusped lights with transom, sub-arches and panels above. The freestone dressings do not look original. Masonry to south and above window is 'E' with only sparse remnants of plaster, but to the north the plaster is much more in evidence, suggesting that there may have been rebuilding and cleaning, perhaps at the time that the window was renewed; south-east angle rebuilt with chamfered concrete foundation at base. This is carried on as unchamfered concrete along the whole length of the chancel east wall. High up, in gable, the wall is inset also suggesting rebuilding, and clear indications, too, that the roof raised by 0.5m or so.

South wall: reveals a complex of features including five windows, a blocked doorway and at least four constructional phases. Features from the east end are: i) south-east angle with some stonework of modern appearance, mixed with older material. ii) a short length of wall to a butt joint. Quoins at its western extremity show it to be earlier than the adjacent walling to west; quoins of pink, grey and buff sandstone. Masonry is similar to 'A' but with some slightly larger blocks. Evidence of heightening about 0.5m below eaves. Set in this wall is a rectangular window with two, two-centred cusped lights, sunken spandrels: a Perpendicular window in grey freestone except for its renewed mullion. iii) the next stretch of wall is in 'F' with some courses giving a zoned effect to the wall face; quoins of well-dressed grey sandstone. At its juncture with the next section of walling, there is an inset at window sill level, but this appears only on what would have been the west face of the cell whose south face is incorporated into the south wall of present structure. In the wall one lancet window with slightly hollowed chamfers, grey dressings. Note that this window is not central to this section of the wall and is thought to be reset. iv) a section of walling in what is probably 'A'. First comes a rectangular window with two, two-centred, cinquefoiled lights; the spandrels have lights in them and only the occasional jamb stone looks original. Next a blocked two-centred doorway of two orders with 'heavy fully-engaged column(s) worked on the angle' (Ralegh Radford), all in brown sandstone - inconsistencies in the setting of some of the archstones demonstrate that this was not its original form and Ralegh Radford argued that it was formerly a wider, round-headed arch. Above this is a rectangular three-light window with foiled ogees, entirely renewed, perhaps even a new build. v) to the west of the door by c.0.5m is what may be a butt joint running as high as the window top. Conversely this could mark the edge of the porch erected in 1771. vi) new section of walling is in 'A' but with some larger blocks and more rounded stones than iv). In this a rectangular window, the two lights with round heads, and angular chamfers to the jambs and lintel; some replacement of the dressings. vii) possible rebuilding of the south-west angle, a vertical joint line visible on the south wall and linking with a horizontal masonry change below the eaves.

Interior

Porch. General. Set beneath the tower. Floor of stone slabs; walls plastered and painted; flat ceiling with joists painted over.

North wall: flight of stone stairs to the west gallery; otherwise plain.

East wall: simple two-centred arch with chamfered jambs.

South wall: notice boards and bench.

North Aisle. General. Stone flag floors, mainly new but at least three graveslabs used at west end of aisle and several others in front of vestry partition (see below); benches on wooden block flooring, flush with aisle stones on south side, raised on north side. In line with the third column the east end is partitioned off with a low screen and curtains to form a vestry and organ chamber; this has wooden block floor. Walls plastered and painted but dressed stone of windows and arcade is bare; heating pipes and radiators along north wall. Roof of seven bays with arch-braced collar trusses springing from walls (though a wall plate is visible beneath the paint of the north wall), with cusped raking struts and rafters. The three western trusses are different: the westernmost is a cambered tie-beam with large raking struts all set into the wall; the next two lack struts and cusping. Furthermore, while the bays generally have two tiers of cusped windbraces and two sets of purlins, the western two bays have only a single tier of larger windbraces and a single purlin. Easternmost bay has three heavily ornamented purlins (one a ridge purlin) which presumably once supported a wagon roof over the altar.

North wall: two splayed windows, and near east end a grating in the wall now hidden behind a cupboard; its purpose unknown. Several 18thC and later memorials, plaster coat-of-arms and a fine benefaction board, recently restored.

East wall: splayed window with stained glass of 19thC date.

South wall: four-bay Perpendicular arcade with thick octagonal pillars and capitals, on bases of similar size. Broad two-centred arches of two orders, but many of the voussoirs are thought to have been re-used from higher, narrower arches. The western respond rests on large irregular basal foundation stone; the others appear to be similar. The western respond has decorated capital with roughly carved stiff-leaf foliage. The capital of the most easterly pillar is decorated with fleurons. Eastern respond has a fragment of its original capital with stiff-leaf foliage decoration.

West wall: splayed window only.

Nave. General. Flagged floors, with one graveslab near the font, but no others noticed. Benches on flush wooden block flooring, except for a few at rear which are raised. Walls as the north aisle. Roof of four bays, higher and wider but generally similar to those in north aisle; note mortice holes in the southern arch bracing of the three most westerly trusses. At the western end a gallery is supported on chamfered and stopped wooden columns, and at its north and south ends pillars with cusped raking supports.

North wall: three bays of the arcade as noted in north aisle.

East wall: step up to chancel and also large tie-beam set forward of chancel.

South wall: wall face has outward lean almost as far east as the chancel step where the face is stepped in from window sill level upwards, and becomes near vertical; matches the similar offset externally. Three splayed windows and a simple cambered reveal to the embrasure of former south doorway; two 19thC marble memorials.

West wall: gallery. Above this but currently inaccessible is a commandments board with painted figures.

Chancel. General. One step up from nave, two steps to sanctuary and altar. Floor tiled with regular encaustic patterns, and carpet over; at least one vault beneath floor. Walls as nave. Roof has three chamfered tie-beams the westernmost one higher than the others and representing the rood beam which supported the rood. From each, vertical cusped struts run up to support a highly ornate wagon ceiling with purlins decorated with bands of vine trail, and cusped and traceried panels; original. At the east end the purlins are supported on two long wall posts which run down on either side of the east window.

North wall: two bays of the arcade as described under north aisle, plus a marble memorial of 1810. In the sanctuary pew panelling around wall, and this runs round the east wall as a backdrop to altar.

East wall: large stained glass window, the embrasure splayed.

South wall: two splayed windows, the sill of that lighting the sanctuary a massive worked block of stone which is reported to be the old altar slab discovered in 1890. Also a 18thC memorial and a 20thC brass.

Churchyard

Llansilin churchyard is a large sub-oval enclosure. It has clearly been encroached upon on the north side by the former National School building of 1823 and its associated plot. There is also a possibility of an earlier, smaller enclosure, eccentric to the present yard (see below: Earthworks). The ground drops gently from north to south and also beyond the church falls away to the east.

It is well kept and is used for contemporary burial.

Boundary: mortared stone wall on west and south, and on south-east and east a retaining wall. On north is the encroachment and then a stone wall and on the north-west, the stone wall lies inside a hedge; and it is beyond this, perhaps the original line(?), that there is a drop (see below).

Monuments: fairly well packed on south and south-west, less dense to north; some including modern burials to east yet the outer part of the eastern sector is apparently devoid of marked burials. There are early 18thC ledgers (or perhaps earlier) near east wall of chancel but many of these are too worn to be clearly legible.

Furniture: sundial with square plate, worn inscription indicating the gift of John Lloyd in 1717, and gnomon; set on pillar with chamfered edges and stops at the base, the surviving part of the medieval churchyard cross.

Earthworks: raised on most sides with drops to the outer ground surface ranging from c.0.4m on the south-west to around 1.5m on south. Surrounding the church is a curvilinear scarp bank much less than 1m high on the south, east and north-east, probably an earlier boundary.

Ancillary features: double and single iron gates on the west; double iron gates at north-west corner. Tarmac paths.

Vegetation: ancient yews around east and north sides, about ten in all. Pines, conifers and deciduous trees throughout the churchyard.

Sources consulted

CPAT Field Visit: 22 April 1997
Crossley 1946, 39
Faculty 1889 St Asaph (NLW) -- restoration of church
Glynne 1884, 190
Hubbard 1986, 241
Jones 1990
Lloyd Williams and Underhill 1872. pl 46
NMR Aberyswyth
Quinquennial Review 1987
Radford 1966
Thomas 1913, 17
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 Llansilin Church may also be found on the St Asaph Diocese website.


The CPAT Montgomeryshire 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 ( 22:02:05 ).
Further information about this and other churches surveyed is available from the Regional Historic Environment Record, Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust, Curatorial Section, 41 Broad Street, Welshpool, Powys, SY21 7RR tel - (01938) 553670, fax - (01938) 552179, email - chrismartin@cpat.org.uk, website - www.cpat.org.uk.

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