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Montgomeryshire Churches Survey

Church of St Aelhaiarn , Guilsfield

Guilsfield Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Guilsfield in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ2192411655. At one time it was dedicated to All Saints.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16786 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Guilsfield Church, CPAT copyright photo 426-27.JPG

Summary

The church of St Aelhaiarn in Guilsfield, less than 3 miles to the north of Welshpool, is a large medieval structure, with aisles, a two-storey porch and clerestory windows. Much of what is now visible is generally thought to be of 15thC origin, though it has been argued that there is an earlier core, 14thC if not before. Medieval doors and windows survive and inside there is a 15thC arch-braced roof, and in the chancel a Tudor panelled ceiling. The font is early, perhaps even 12thC, and there are fragments of the medieval rood screen and a fine chest, together with a good range of wall memorials of 18thC and 19thC origin. It is set in a level curvilinear churchyard.

Originally there was a long, single-chambered church of unknown date, though in its final form it is likely to have been 14thC. To this was added the large western tower with corner buttresses and spiral stone staircase, supposedly in the early 15thC but conceivably a little earlier. It has also been argued that an earlier tower was simply re-cased in new masonry. The south aisle and porch are 15thC, although the stonework suggests that the lower portion of the porch may be earlier, contemporary perhaps with the tower. The north aisle is supposed to be a little later than its southern counterpart and the roof of the nave was heightened to permit the introduction of clerestory windows, perhaps in the early 16thC. Also the chancel is believed to have been extended eastwards in the 15thC, though this view, too, cannot be substantiated. Overall, a Perpendicular building, though there is a doorway of 1737 in the north aisle. In passing it should be noted that the Cadw schedule attributes most elements to the 14thC rather than the 15thC. The interior of the church was restored in 1877-9.

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

History

The dedication to St Aelhaiarn, a late 6thC saint, the morphology of the churchyard and to some degree the siting, indicate an early medieval foundation here.

It is claimed, though on no good evidence, that a stone church was in existence here by the 12thC.

The church was recorded as 'Cap'lla de Kegidua', a chapel dependent on Llandrinio, in the Norwich Taxation of 1254, with a value of 2. But by the Lincoln Taxation of 1291 'Ecclia de Beygidia (Kegydia)' appears to have become independent, with a value of 20.

Later, in the late 14thC, the church was annexed to a mother church at Meifod. And sometime in this century or later it seems to have been re-dedicated to All Saints.

On the basis of the architecture the 15thC and 16thC saw considerable changes to the structure.

18thC modifications include a shed adjoining the porch which was added in 1739 to house the village hearse and an oak door in the west wall of the north aisle dating to 1737.

A model of the church before the Victorian restoration (located at the back of the church) shows the exterior, with seven dormers to light a south aisle gallery, and a west gallery as well.

Glynne visited Guilsfield in 1858. He found a late Perpendicular structure, and mentioned the possibility that there were internal indications of an earlier building but thought these dubious. The east window was late Perpendicular but the tracery had been altered and mutilated. The nave was wide and there was no division between it and the chancel. Portions of the lower part of the rood screen remained, there were several old pews with wood carvings of the 17thC and some screen work that once enclosed a chapel at the east end of the south aisle. There were pews of all shapes and sizes, and galleries, the insertion of which Glynne thought had necessitated the raising of both aisle roofs. The roofs were described in some detail, as was the porch and Richard Jones's yew (see section on Churchyard below). He finished: 'the interior much needs cleaning, and has at present the most absurd appearance'.

The interior of the church was considerably altered in the 1879 restoration by G.E.Street at a cost of 6000. The old pews were replaced by oak benches, the west end gallery and the gallery along the full length of the south aisle (both accessed by doors from the first floor of the south porch) were removed and the doors blocked up. The dormer windows, seven in number, which may have been 17thC, were removed from the roof of the south aisle, and the south aisle was reroofed at a lower pitch. The chancel and aisle floors were tiled; old plaster was removed and the interior was completely replastered. The font was restored and moved to the west end near the porch. The floor of the church was relaid. The chancel east window was completely restored and a new east window was placed in the south aisle. The screen was repaired and sedilia and a credence table made. Some of the monuments within the church were re-sited and heating was installed. The tower was also altered and the battlements restored.

Architecture

The church consists of a nave and chancel, a tower attached to the west end of the nave though not central to it, a two-storey south porch with a bier house on its west side, and north and south aisles. The church is aligned north-east to south-west, but for the purpose of description 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted for the church though not for the churchyard.

Fabrics: 'A' is of small to medium blocks of mixed sandstone and more finely grained freestone, grey, pink and some mustard yellow, with mixed red and yellow sandstone dressings; some coursing. 'B' is of small to medium blocks of regular, pale red sandstone, roughly coursed. 'C' is of small to medium blocks of mustard yellow sandstone, with occasional red and grey sandstone; irregular coursing. 'D' is not dissimilar to 'C' but has rather more regular blocks of the mustard yellow sandstone, mixed with regular blocks of grey sandstone that exhibit pecked faces; some coursing. 'E' is similar to 'A', but the stonework is smaller and there is more red sandstone, the occasional pebblestone and also some lumps of very coarse-grained sandstone. 'F' consists of blocks of grey-green shaley sandstone; irregular coursing.

The 1877-9 restoration work was completed with the same local materials.

'A' is used for the 15thC tower, 'C' and 'E' are also from the 15thC; 'B' and 'D' are 19thC, 'F' is 18thC.

Roofs: slates and red crested ridge tiles from the 1879 restoration. A sandstone cross finial on the chancel gable, another above the porch.

Drainage: 19thC guttering and downspouts with decorated cisterns lead to soakaways. Sandstone slabs have been laid on the ground around the main body of the church on the north, east and south, along the line of drains; flower beds around the tower.

Exterior

Tower. General. Square western tower claimed to be of c.12thC build, subsequently re-cased in masonry, raised and crenellated, with corner pinnacles, at the beginning of the 15thC - the earlier work cannot be confirmed. Slightly battered at base, with integral stepped, diagonal buttresses at north-west and south-west corners. Plain walls without divisions until just below the battlements, then a worn sandstone string course, hollowed on the underside, which has the remains of gargoyles on each corner, and more recent waterspouts just above its line; the parapet in 'B'. Tower is surmounted by an octagonal spire.

North wall: belfry window with a flat four-centred head and a pair of louvred lights with trefoiled two-centred heads and open foiled tracery above, in original grey freestone. North-east angle of tower accommodates staircase, and this required a slight projection in the wall as high as the base of the belfry window; proper quoin stones to this projection on the west corner, and on the east corner above nave roof level. Four small, very worn red sandstone staircase apertures comprise a slit window to the ground floor, a quatrefoil in a sandstone square, above, and two further irregularly-shaped lights at high levels, the lower also fashioned from a solid block.

East wall: bellchamber window largely hidden by apex of nave roof, but probably as north side.

South wall: sandstone-capped plinth at c.0.5m around this and the west side, and taking in the intervening buttress. At about first floor level, a small window with a two-centred head in worn red sandstone, its keystone protruding as a mask. Above this a slate clock inscribed 'Be Dilligent, Night Cometh' and dating to 1820. It partially masks a trefoiled, almost round-headed light set in a rectangular window frame with sunken spandrels; this has its original stonework. Bellchamber window as north side.

West wall: plinth as described for south wall. A single slit with a two-centred head in original grey sandstone illuminates the ground floor. Belfry window as north side, though its small top light has been blocked off in wood.

North aisle. General. In 'E', with some limewash residue occasionally.

North wall: three square-headed windows with three trefoiled two-centred lights, the dressings mainly original, though some obvious replacement particularly to the heads; 15thC perhaps, but more likely to be early 16thC on the basis of the similarity with the clerestory windows.

East wall: a three-light window similar to, but slightly larger than, the windows in the north wall, except for the canted head of the frame which allows the mullions to be carried up to create small subsidiary lights and blocked spandrels; original except for one archstone, though the jambs look extraordinarily fresh.

South wall: not present.

West wall: basket-headed (or three-centred) doorway with hollow-chamfered dressings within a segmental-headed recess contains a heavy planked door that bears a studded inscription 'RP HP CW 1737'; the jambs have mason's marks on them.

Adjacent is a 20thC lean-to covering stairs leading down to a subterranean boiler room The room and stairs probably date to the 19thC restoration, when a 'heating chamber' was added; further modifications to the heating system were made in 1909 and 1950.

Nave. General. High-pitched roof which is continuous across the chancel. Masonry is 'C'.

North wall: the clerestory fenestration consists of four square-headed windows each having three lights with trefoiled two-centred heads and sunken spandrels, paralleling those in the nave aisle. The fourth window lights the chancel. All of them reveal a fair amount of renewal, particularly the heads and mullions and even the occasional jambstone.

South wall: the masonry looks to be 'C' but eastwards it is mixed in with what could be 'E'. Three windows as the north clerestory. Tracery heads and lintels are renewed, and perhaps too the mullions, though at an earlier date.

No east and west walls.

Chancel. General. In 'E'.

North wall: no features other than a downpipe

East wall: the east window has a two-centred arch with five cinquefoiled, two-centred lights, a transom, two sub-arches and 23 panel lights. Perpendicular, but completely renewed at the time of the 1877 restoration. The gable was raised in the early 16thC and this is reflected in a chamfered plinth which runs at the level of the window transom and a little lower than the base of the clerestory windows, and is also obvious in the less regular quoins in the upper part of the wall. This lower part is in 'E', the upper part rebuilt in 'D'.

South wall: a Perpendicular window, very similar to those in the belfry, lights the sanctuary (though this is inexplicably given a 14thC date in the Cadw schedule). Pair of cinquefoiled, two-centred lights with tracery above, set in a two-centred arch of red sandstone which has probably been renewed. From existing records this is an insertion, perhaps originally the east window of the south aisle before the 1877 restoration.

South aisle. General. In 'E'.

East wall: four-centred window of three cinquefoiled lights with panels above. Inserted at the time of the 1877 restoration.

South wall: varied fenestration. Immediately to the east of the porch is a single trefoil-headed light of 19thC date. Next a square-headed window with three trefoiled lights with one renewed head/lintel stone; and finally a square-headed window holding two trefoiled lights separated by a broad mullion that has two foiled recesses in it. Probably 15thC (or even 14thC), but shortened to fit into this wall - note the truncated lower recess. Original dressings except for one replaced lintel stone.

West wall: abuts porch.

South Porch. General. Two storied structure. The lower part is in 'A', but then a zone of 'C', and then mixed 'C' and 'E'.

East wall: no features; in 'E'.

South wall: a broad two-centred entrance arch, with octagonal engaged capitals, one renewed, and the inner door jambs with wave mouldings that are echoed in the aisles; a second outer order in worn pink sandstone matches the quoins at the south corners of the wall which rise only as high as the springers of the doorway, before being superseded by grey sandstone. This indicates that the masonry together with its associated quoins, and the jambs of the doorway are earlier than the rest of the porch. A pair of iron gates in an ironwork screen. Above is a first floor window with a square head and two lights, paralleling the easternmost window in the south wall of the south aisle: two trefoiled panels ( or recesses) in the mullions; but all but the sill and a few jambs have been replaced.

West wall: high up in the wall above the line of the sloping roof of the bier house is the head of a basket arch; its role is uncertain but it may have been an early doorway, accessed from an outside stairway, which was blocked up when the bier house was constructed in 1739. Its similarity to the west door in the north aisle suggests it may have had a particularly short life.

Bier House. General. In 'F'. Adjoins the west wall of the porch and north wall of the tower. Square-headed double doorway, all in wood, and adjacent to porch entrance. A pair of wooden planked doors, with a datestone above inscribed 'Thomas Foulkes, Hugh Morris Jones, Wardens 1739'.

West wall contains a rectangular window of the 20thC.

Interior

Porch. General. Red and black 19thC tiled floor, plastered walls. A single bench along the west side. Renewed wooden ceiling.

North wall: = south wall of the nave. Two-centred arched doorway of 15thC date, with plain and hollow-chamfered mouldings; a heavy panelled, studded oak door with inset, wrought iron fleur-de-lys hinges, considered to be 15thC by Haslam and rehung in 1879. Part of the worn bowl of a stoup, nearly half of which has been broken off, is set in a square-headed recess with hollow mouldings which contains a small trefoiled arch, to the east of door; the back of the recess has a damaged trefoiled arch. Inserted in the wall above the door are four 18thC inscribed square stones, commemorating church wardens: 'I.I., I.K., CW 1736', 'L.O., W.D., CW 1750', 'E.F., H.P., CW 1753' and 'L.I., T.D., CW 1759'. The model of the pre-restoration church suggests that similar stones were located above the south aisle windows when the roof line was higher. On the model the 1750 stone is shown above the outer door of the porch.

East wall: 17thC access stairway to the first floor, with turned balusters. Large oak chest against wall.

South wall: entrance arch has sharpening grooves on the interior jambs.

1st floor. General. Formerly a schoolroom. Planked flooring and plastered walls above a dado of round headed arches, presumably from old pews. Three arch-braced trusses, and exposed rafters and windbraces, though some of the timberwork looks relatively modern. The room has been restored and there in no evidence of the earlier access to the galleries.

Tower. General. Ground floor used as a vestry. Tiled floor; plastered walls above oak panelled dado, probably from old pews; wood panelled ceiling.

North wall: low round-headed entrance arch to a spiral staircase.

East wall: worn red and yellow sandstone arch with sharpening marks on jambs; modern oak door to nave.

South wall: plain. A churchwardens' chest of 1821 set against south wall.

West wall: deeply splayed embrasure to slit window.

Nave. General. Continuous with chancel and divided only by the rood screen. The floor of 19thC tiles with raised wooden boarding under benches; heating vent grilles at rear. Plastered walls. The piers of the two arcades are not aligned nor of identical design. The original roof of the 15thC building remains over the nave, although with replacement timbers including the decorated wall plates with open foiled panels above which were renewed in 1877. Four cambered tie beams (including that against the end of the overlapping chancel roof) with arch-braced collars and struts, displaying cusping on the collars, struts and principals, alternating with ordinary arch-braced collars. Together these effectively create seven bays including one that can be seen above the extended chancel roof, and intermediate trusses in the three western bays. There are also three tiers of quatrefoil windbraces. The chancel roof which is lower (see below) extends under the last nave bay. In the 19thC there was a tradition that this roof had been brought from the abbey of Strata Marcella.

North wall: a three-bay arcade. Piers have wave mouldings. Resting on the impost of one pier - the second to the east - is what might be a head corbel in pale yellow sandstone to match the pier dressings, though it looks more like a hoodmould stop; and beyond the respond at the east end is a short section of wall which encloses the stairway to the rood loft.

East wall: screen and one step up from nave to chancel.

South wall: at the west end is the splayed entrance doorway from the south porch. Then a two-bay arcade, apparently on the line of the earlier south wall of the church. The piers are to the same design as those on the north side, though they are not quite in line; there is also a head corbel to match the one of the north side though this is in red sandstone. Also at west end, memorials of 1742, 1772 and 1854.

West wall: splayed two-centred archway with hollow mouldings to tower. Four memorials, one of 1772, the others 19thC.

North aisle. General. The east end is given over to an organ chamber, separated by a wooden screen of 1879. Floor and walls as the nave, with a heating grille in the centre of the aisle. Lean-to roof of eight bays, supported by wall posts and cusped bracing set on plain corbels on the arcade columns, and on the north wall by short wall posts on stone corbels except where the trusses are directly over windows; two tiers of short, plain windbraces. How much of this is original timber is open to question.

North wall: memorials of 1748 and 1760, a brass of 1678, two 19thC marble tablets and two 19thC and one 20thC brass.

South wall: four-centred Tudor doorway to the roodloft stair, and four steep steps still visible.

West wall: a shouldered reveal to the 18thC door.

Chancel. General. One step up from the nave, and four further steps to the sanctuary. The original Tudor panelled ceiling over the chancel and the most easterly bay of the nave, is supported by four camber beams comparable with those in nave; ribbed ceiling of 240 panels and 312 bosses at intersections which are decorated with circles, quatrefoils and trefoils and painted red and white; decorated cornices.

North wall: a single-bay extension to arcade with parclose screen. Three 19thC marble memorials and a 20thC brass on the sanctuary wall. The doorway to the roodloft stair now blocked by the end of the screen.

East wall: window with stained glass.

South wall: arcade extension as on the north side, though not in line with it. In the sanctuary, a 19thC piscina and a credence in a double alcove.

West wall: screen.

South aisle. General. Overall more decorative than the north aisle. In 1928, a Lady Chapel was created at the east end by the introduction of a dividing screen and a single step up. Floor and walls as nave, with heating grille in floor at west end; two steps up to the altar. Lean-to roof as in north aisle; seven bays, but some of the bosses have carved human and animal heads at the intersections of trusses and purlins, and there are cusped windbraces.

East wall: dado.

South wall: dado. A 19thC marble tablet, and a 20thC marble memorial; and in the Lady Chapel, a war memorial.

West wall: one 19thC memorial.

Churchyard

A rectangular enclosure with distinctively rounded corners, fairly level, and well-maintained.

Boundary: stone wall, with roads on all sides.

Monuments: mainly 18th and 19thC graves, evenly distributed, and including a good range of 18thC slabs. The earliest grave beneath one of the oldest yew trees alongside the south entrance path: this table tomb records the death of Richard Jones, (d.1707 aged 90), who had planted the yew with his father. The slab is inscribed 'Momento Mori' on one side and 'Ut hora sic vita' on the other with a skull and cross-bones. Others graves from 1716, 1721 and 1721 to east and south-east of the chancel. The vaulted tomb of the Trevor family is located on the north side of the burial ground. The churchyard was closed for burials in 1906, although there are some recent cremation tablets on the north side.

Furniture: none noted.

Earthworks: the whole churchyard is raised, 1m and perhaps more in places.

Ancillary features: a pair of wrought iron gates form the main south entrance, a single south-west gate and a pair of wrought iron gates on the north side all lead up to the south porch via paths laid with chippings, and in the case of the main approach from the south with slabs as well. A path, too, to the 1737 north doorway and the boiler room stairs.

Vegetation: about 22 mature yews, almost all around the perimeter of the churchyard, the oldest around the south side. A record refers to yews being planted in the reign of William and Mary 1689-1702, and the evidence of the grave inscription is referred to above which might indicate a mid-17thC date.

Sources consulted

Cadw Schedule of Listed Buildings 1995
Church guide n.d.
CPAT Field Visit 28 February1995 and 12 March 1998
Crossley and Ridgway 1947, 184
Eisel 1986, 178
Faculty St Asaph 1877 (NLW): restoration
Faculty St Asaph 1966 (NLW): repair etc
Glynne 1885, 37
Haslam 1979, 105
Lloyd 1979, 16
NMR Aberystwyth
Powys SMR
Ramage 1871
Ridgway 1997, 86
Thomas, 1913, 144
Williams 1990, 59
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 Guilsfield 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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