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Montgomeryshire Churches Survey

Church of St Garmon , Llanfechain

Llanfechain Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Llanfechain in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ1889720431.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16408 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Llanfechain Church, CPAT copyright photo CS955636.JPG

Summary

St Garmon's church sits in the centre of Llanfechain about 8 miles to the north of Welshpool. A single-chambered church with a 19thC bell turret at the west end, the core of the building is 12thC and it retains Norman windows in the east wall and two round-headed doorways on the south side. Inside there is a 15thC arched-braced roof. It is sited within a raised circular churchyard that also contains a 'preaching mound' and a sundial.

A small church with Norman architectural features dated to the mid-12thC, though partly renewed. Much of the masonry shell is probably original, though the west wall has been reconstructed, and there are hints of localised rebuilding elsewhere. There are also unexplained anomalies internally at the west end. The east wall has retained three small windows at the expense of the customary large, east window; two of these at least are original. There are also two Norman doorways, the main south door and a priest's door. The remaining fenestration is 19thC, as is the bell turret. The porch is 17thC, restored in the 19thC.

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

History

The dedication, location and morphology all point to an early medieval foundation. St Garmon was reputedly a 9thC saint, and his 'preaching mound', Twmpath Garmon, remains on the north side of the church, and a holy well, Ffynnon Garmon, lies to the south-east of the village.

The earliest reference to a church on this site is in the Norwich Taxation of 1254, where 'Capella de Llanvechthyn' was valued at 1. In the later Lincoln Taxation of 1291 'Ecclia de Llannetheyn' was valued at 6.

Surviving features attest changes during the later medieval and early post-medieval era: the present roof was inserted in the 15thC, the south porch was added in the 17thC, and at some date a vestry was annexed to the old west wall. Thomas refers, too, to a blocked south window that lit the rood loft, and an aumbry or piscina associated with the rood altar - these disappeared in one of the 19thC restorations.

Glynne went to Llanfechain in 1855. The south porch had vine-leaf decoration, the walls of the building leaned outwards, the north wall of the chancel had a small square-headed window, and mention was also made of the piscina, the roof, the Jacobean altar table, the pulpit, a dug-out chest, and a pew with the date 1649.

Some work took place in 1852 at a cost of 100, but more significant changes occurred in the 1859 restoration under the aegis of R.K. Penson. The old vestry was replaced by one against the north wall, the gallery was restored but to a smaller scale, the west gable was rebuilt losing a small round-headed Norman window of similar type to those in the east wall, a dormer window above the porch was removed, round-headed windows were inserted in the nave and chancel, and a shingled spire was constructed on the belfry. The interior was tiled, the pulpit and reading desk were re-sited and the font was placed on a raised pedestal near the south door. A source of 1872 refers to the removal of the north chancel window which had tracery that was supposedly brought from the abbey of Strata Marcella. The cost was 416.

Further restoration occurred in 1883 when Douglas and Fordham of Chester stripped the inside of plaster, removed the ceiling to expose the roof trusses, laid woodblock floors, and replaced the pews with open seats. A wagon roof was inserted in the chancel and the church was re-roofed with red tiles. Douglas also appears to have altered the structure of the spire, and it was probably at this time that the piscina, referred to by Glynne and in 1872 as 'perfect' though 'concealed' was removed.

The bells were rehung in 1920.

Architecture

The church consists of a single chamber, with a north vestry near the west corner, and a south porch opposite it. A bell turret with its spire is located near the west end of the nave. The church is aligned north-east to south-west but for the purpose of description 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted.

Fabrics: 'A' is of small to medium blocks of grey and brown shale, irregularly shaped, and with random coursing. Heavy pointing and traces of limewash. 'B' is of regular blocks of a greyish-green stone, probably Criggion dolerite; random coursing.

'A' is 12thC. 'B' is of 1859.

Roofs: slates with red ceramic ridge tiles; metal cross finials to chancel end and porch.

The 19thC bell turret has three tiers, with the north and south faces having pairs of small six-paned apertures. Above these at the base of the broach spire are clock faces, the clock a gift of 1885. Slated spire topped by a weathercock.

Drainage: a trench edged by gravestones on the south and south-west and filled with gravel chippings around all sides of the church.

Exterior

Nave and chancel. General. Dealt with as one unit because of the lack of external differentiation. The early walls are battered and of considerable thickness.

North wall: in 'A'; a projecting foundation course at the north-west corner. Two pairs of nave windows each comprising two round-headed lights of pale freestone, without a frame, the dressings chamfered with stops, all in pale sandstone; relieving arches of shale slabs. Also a single round-headed recessed window to the chancel - all were inserted in 1859. Some masonry replacement visible over the more easterly pair only. Quoins at the north-east corner of the building in eroded red and pink sandstone to a height of c.1.7m; above replacement in less weathered grey and red sandstone, though still traces of limewash on these higher quoins. Set in the roof is a dormer window for the pulpit, having two rectangular windows with leaded lights.

East wall: in 'A'. It has three narrow slit windows, the two lower ones with round heads, that above with a flat head; the chamfered dressings are in sandstone that has weathered to grey, and may be original, though a couple of jambstones in red are less convincing; the top slit does not have chamfered dressings. Two short angle buttresses, presumably 19thC additions, in a grey stone that looks almost like limestone; red sandstone coping stones.

South wall: partly in 'A', but around inserted windows the masonry is 'B', and towards the east end, and also west of the porch, there are occasional inclusions of sandstone; the quoins at south-east corner are badly eroded at low levels, those higher up in better condition, though this cannot be taken as an indication that they have been renewed. Nevertheless the south-eastern corner has been rebuilt for the top 0.4m of the wall for a length of about 2m. Furthermore the stonework at the east end of the wall is clear of limewash, but from i) as far as iv) considerable residual limewash on the stonework - but it is not evident whether this simply indicates differential cleaning of the stonework during later re-pointing. Features from the east: i) a pair of round-headed lights to the chancel with both inner and outer relieving arches. ii) a priest's doorway, with a round-headed arch and simple chamfered dressings, and a semicircular hoodmould. Except for two stones the jambs are original, but most if not all of the arch has been replaced. Conceivably, the hoodmould has been added at a later date. A tie-rod plate is in place just above the doorway and it is possible that there has been some reconstruction here. iii) traces of a butt joint in the masonry where a window might be anticipated, but only one vertical joint and the evidence is equivocal. iv) three-light restoration window of standard form. v) a large buttress. vi) south porch. Within this is the south doorway - a Norman round-headed arch in pink and buff sandstone with 'rounded jambs and a roll-moulding on the arch, flat, chamfered capitals but no bases, sharpening grooves on the jambs, the whole original. Chamfered dripmould and stops' (Haslam); a heavy planked door with wrought iron fittings. vii) two-light, round-headed window below the gallery, of standard form.

West wall: in fabric 'B', completely rebuilt in 1859. Two stepped buttresses with yellow sandstone cappings; and at a higher level a wheel window of six leaded lights and a central roundel, all in red sandstone.

South porch. General. The east and west walls have open timber framing, each with two panels of four round-headed arches, set on low stone plinths. The south entrance arch shows an arch-braced tie-beam construction, with curving struts and a collar, but the panels above the tie-beam are filled in, as are the narrower panels between the doorway and the wall posts. A pair of short wooden entrance gates.

Vestry. General. In 'B'. Round-headed windows; the east wall has an abutting chimney, and concrete steps lead down to boiler house below ground level.

Interior

Porch. General. Tiled floor; panelling below open timberwork on the sides; roof of three tie-beams with substantial arch bracing particularly to the two inner ones, and a collar above the central tie-beam. Plastered ceiling above one tier of cusped windbraces.

Nave. General. Tiled floors, partly carpet-covered; flush woodblock flooring beneath benches and at the west end of the nave, below the gallery; one grille over a void that carries heating pipes across the south entrance. Walls bare of plaster. Nave roof of 15thC construction with chamfered arch-braced collar trusses resting on plain wall plates, and foiled raking struts; two tiers of cusped wind-braces. The truss over the nave/chancel divide has plaster infill between the struts. Six bays but the three western bays are different. That at the west end has been widened at the expense of its neighbour to accommodate the housing of the bell turret; bays two and three have only one tier of cusped windbraces, no raking struts to the trusses and the wall beams are set a little higher than their counterparts further east. There is no compulsive evidence that this western end of the church was added at a later date or rebuilt, yet there are unexplained anomalies, notably distinctive blocks of sandstone high up in both the south and north walls immediately below the change in the wall beams.

North wall: faint batter to the wall. Wood panelling below the gallery at the west end and a round-headed entrance arch to the vestry. Splayed windows. Two 19thC and one 20thC brass.

East wall: modern screen.

South wall: wall face has a marked batter. Slightly splayed Norman doorway with sandstone jambs and a segmental head to the reveal. Two marble memorial tablets to the west of it. Two splayed window embrasures, and at the east end is a small recess with two stones forming an irregular pointed head, and a flat slab for the base. Is this simply a niche? The priest's doorway has sandstone dressings to the reveal, some with sharpening grooves.

West wall: dog-leg staircase leads up to gallery. This has a tiered wooden floor, but no seating, and a front of wooden panels with round-headed arches, those on either side of the benefaction boards being open. The gallery is supported on a beam set in the north and south walls and two central vertical posts with arch bracing. Brass plaques on the wall below the stairs.

Chancel. General. Two steps up from the nave, one to the sanctuary, one to the altar; tiled floors, some encaustic. Walls as chancel. Red sandstone blocks are built into the walls, mostly at one level (in line with the springers of the lower east windows); a line of six in the south wall is particularly distinctive, but they do not form a continuous zone and their significance is not clear. Wagon ceiling with blind traceried panels, from 1883.

North wall: a single splayed window, the embrasure with sandstone jambs indicative of an original opening, though the sill is replaced. A memorial to the east of it.

East wall: 1890 carved oak reredos below the three windows. The two lower windows have sandstone dressings but the top one has quoins of shale to the reveal, thus strengthening the contention that it is later than the other two.

South wall: splayed window with red sandstone dressings to the sides of the reveal but the arch and soffit have a mixture of masonry that includes brick; the sloping splay has also been added at a late date. A marble memorial tablet of 1862 above the choir stalls.

Vestry. Interior unseen.

Churchyard

The churchyard is sub-circular with no evidence of having been extended at any time. It is well-kept on the south side, where unmarked graves and slabs have been laid flat and grassed over.

Boundaries: a stone wall acts as a retaining barrier, and only to the east of the church does it rise above the internal banking.

Monuments: it has been suggested that there were no burials on the north and north-west sides of the church up to and beyond the early 19thC; the area was apparently in use as a common playing ground. 19thC slabs lie to the west of the porch and the nave. Late 18thC to mid-19thC slate slabs lean against the west boundary wall. The earliest stone is of 1671 under a yew on the west side of the church.

Furniture: 18thC sundial with sandstone baluster pillar and a square plinth stands on a raised circular base with graduated steps, on the west side of the path leading south-eastwards. The dial, now gone, was dated to 1770.

Earthworks: a raised but very spread mound on the north side of the church is reputedly St Garmon's preaching mound, 'Twmpath Garmon'. The mound is considerably overgrown and has graves dug in it. There are 19thC records of two cockpits here: one immediately to the east of the mound, the other outside the south-west gate.

The churchyard is raised, about 1m on the east, up to 3m on the north where there is also an inner embankment, and 0.6m or so on the south, but is virtually level on the west.

Ancillary features: main entrance is through a timber lych gate supported on stone walls, with a kissing gate adjacent. The concrete floor has a slate cross set in it, and there are benches to either side. Other entrances close to north and west corners. New gravel paths lead to the south door from these entrances. A public footpath crosses the churchyard north of the church.

Vegetation: several large yew trees surround the south-west and south-east perimeter of the churchyard; other smaller ones on the north-eastern edge. An Irish yew is sited near St Garmon's mound. Well-cut rhododendron bushes line the south path.

Sources consulted

Anon 1872
CPAT Field Visit 9 November 1995 and 4 March 1998
Eisel 1986, 183
Faculty St Asaph 1883 (NLW)
Glynne 1885, 44
Haslam 1979, 129
NMR Aberystwyth
Parish Records St Asaph (NLW)
Powys SMR
Ridgway 1997, 139
Silvester 1992, 88
Thomas 1911, 221
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 Llanfechain 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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