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Montgomeryshire Churches Survey

Church of St Ffraid , Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain

Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Llansantffraid in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ2204620398.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16890 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain Church, CPAT copyright photo 2410-24.JPG

Summary

The church of St Ffraid lies on the northern edge of the village of Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain about 8 miles to the north of Welshpool. At its core supposedly lies a 12thC building, extended in the 14thC. A south porch and western bell-turret were added in the 17thC and a north transept in the 18thC. It is a complex building revealing various stages of reconstruction, and is interesting for the series of dated windows in the south wall. Inside is a medieval font and piscina, 17thC and 18thC wooden furnishings, and a few pre-19thC monuments. It stands in a sub-rectangular churchyard that has been extended in the last hundred years and this retains an early 19thC sundial and several interesting grave markers.

The conventional view as expressed by Haslam and others is that, on the basis of a single window in the north wall, a single-chamber church originating in the Norman period was extended eastwards probably in the early 14thC. Against this is the evidence of a quoin line which seems to indicate that the eastern part of the nave and the chancel are the earlier and that the western half of the nave is added on.

The sequence is however unclear. The survival of Norman masonry is unproven, though the blocky sandstone of the chancel could be that early, and the tidiness of the zoned masonry in the south wall of the chancel could indicate this is the earliest of all. The small Norman window in the north wall does not appear to be in its original position, and may even by reconstructed. The blocked priest's doorway could be an original south doorway which would then give an alternative date of the 13thC or 14thC for the east end.

The present south doorway, in its present form almost round-headed, is not convincingly Norman, but nor is it of the 14thC or 15thC. Its eccentricity and slightly skewed reveal suggests it might be reset.

The west window of the nave is of early 14thC origin, but until the late 19thC it was in the east wall.

Later modifications are more tangible: in the 17thC and 18thC new windows were inserted into the south wall, the bell turret was erected, probably around 1618, and during this century the long porch was constructed. A gallery may have been added after the Restoration, hence the dormer window dated to 1669. A north transept was added in 1727 when the rood loft together with its supporting pillars was taken down to provide timber for the transept. Earlier, on the evidence of a quoinstone, some work was done at the west end in 1704. The west wall was re-faced, probably at the time of restoration in 1891-3, and at the same time the east window was moved to the west wall. Other work at this time included the restoration of the spire.

One possible sequence for the medieval period is: i) earliest part of the structure is the east end of the building with zoned masonry. ii) church extended westwards with new quoins at the south-west angle, the original west wall taken down and its stone re-used in haphazard fashion in the south wall, a new south doorway put in place, and perhaps a new east window. Therefore early 14thC iii) church extended westwards, another south door added, but probably re-used and re-set eccentrically. Conceivably this could be a 17thC addition to the building. iv) the small north window re-set, possibly as late as the 18thC when the building of the north transept will have led to demolition of parts of the north chancel wall.

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

History

The church's dedication to St Ffraid (otherwise known as St Bride or St Bridget), together with its location on the edge of the Cain valley, point to an early medieval foundation, though there is no surviving trace of any early structure. A small Norman window indicates the age of the first building survivals.

The church is first recorded in the Norwich Taxation of 1254 as 'Cap'lla de Llansanfret' at a value of 2, and appears again in the Lincoln Taxation of 1291 as 'Ecc'lia de Lansanfreit' at 12.

Much damage to the building occurred at the beginning of the 15thC during the Glyndwr rebellion.

Some alterations took place in the 17thC. The south porch was added and the priest's door blocked up. The south wall windows were inserted at this time, possibly around 1618: the bells date from this period and a 1618 beam was found in the bell turret during 19thC alterations.

In 1727, a north transept was added in Georgian style, the vestry minutes recording the removal of the north wall. The roodloft and screen seem to have been moved at this time.

A new gallery was erected in 1830 and some restoration took place in 1866.

Glynne visited Llansantffraid in 1858. He noted the basic details and the fact that the church had been partly modernised, including 'several bad windows'. The half piscina in the chancel was recorded as were some of the dated 17thC windows, and also pews of 1624 and 1630.

Considerable repairs and restoration work were carried out in 1893, to the design of John Oldrid Scott of London. The former east window was moved to the west wall of the nave which was rebuilt (or at least refaced) at this time, galleries were removed from the nave and north transept, the chancel was re-roofed and refurnished, new seats replaced the pews, and the floors were relaid in woodblocks. The framework of the bell turret was repaired and the spire was covered in oak shingles; the porch was also repaired.

There have been recent restoration works.

Architecture

The church comprises a single main chamber with a short north aisle and north transept, a vestry on the north side of the chancel, and a south porch. A bell-turret with broach spire rises above 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' comprises small to medium blocks and thinnish slabs of grey shale with occasional pink and mustard yellow sandstone; random coursing except for sandstone. Red sandstone quoins. 'B' consists of small slabs and lumps of black and grey shale; uncoursed. 'C' is a mix of small blocks, used for infilling around windows. 'D' is irregularly cut red sandstone with blocks of grey shale, though the former is the more distinctive; yellow sandstone dressings. 'E' is of medium-sized blocks of distinctive brown sandstone, sometimes quite well shaped. 'F' is of small blocks of limestone. 'G' is of medium to large blocks of shaped grey (?)sandstone with some slabs of limestone and some re-used material including red sandstone with some limewash residue, and even two lumps of brick. 'H' is of regular blocks of stone, perhaps limestone, but larger than 'F'.

'A' is undated, but perhaps later medieval, 'B' and 'E' are early; possibly even Norman. 'C' seems to be 17thC and 18thC. 'D' and 'G' are 19thC, more specifically 1891-3. 'F' and 'H' are undated, although a date in the 17thC/18thC is possible.

Note: the 1727 north transept is completely rendered over.

Roofs: slates with red ceramic ridge tiles; these are more highly decorated above the chancel. A wrought iron cross finial is located on the ridge a little to the west of the nave/chancel juncture. There is a stone cross finial at the east end of the chancel.

Drainage: highly decorated cast-iron cisterns, guttering and downspouts lead to soakaways. Along the south side of the church the ground has been cleared and dug-out around the walls, revealing the foundations, so almost certainly a trench on the south and also on the east, perhaps too on the north side of the north chapel/transept.

Exterior

Bell turret. General. Western bell turret protrudes from the nave roof. It is believed to have been constructed during the early 17thC, on the basis of the bells' dates. A square shingled turret rises to an octagonal broach spire with a weathervane.

North face: turret has three louvred apertures with trefoiled heads set in rectangular wooden frame.

East and west faces: plain except for wooden frieze with trefoils at top of the turret stage.

South face: clock face.

Nave. General. Although there is no differentiation between the nave and chancel externally, except for the change in the ridge tiles on the roof, the end of the nave can be gauged from the eastern edge of the pulpit that lights the window. A second change, this time in the height of the roof is visible in line with the quoinstones immured in the south wall.

North wall: in 'A', but considerably patched with worn sandstone, particularly at higher levels, and this might indicate that there has been some rebuilding of the higher levels, for the lower parts of the walls are largely of shale alone (as seen in that part of the wall now hidden in the boiler house). A 19thC diagonal buttress to the north-west wall corner pre-dates the restoration, appearing on an earlier engraving. Next a wooden lintel immured in the wall but there is no evidence of a blocked embrasure. No sign of the blocked window which is depicted on Salter's plan. Then a single round-headed window supposedly of the 12thC - this is in red sandstone, but the jambs are in slightly different stone from the head and, showing little wear for such an old feature, are probably not original. Underneath the window is the modern boiler house.

South wall: a patchwork of different stone, not all of it intelligible. Features from the west are: i) masonry in 'A' with a foundation course (to c.0.1m), projecting slightly at the base which is largely buried further to the east; higher up there is more sandstone in the masonry, some certainly shaped and some lumps might be re-used dressings. Thus the upper part of the wall rebuilt (perhaps in the 17thC?). Church noticeboard. ii) porch. iii) east of the porch the mixed masonry continues with 'A' at the base and more heterogeneous stonework above; an irregular zone of red sandstone, more obvious than on the west side of the porch can be seen as a band below a dormer window. This window has four rectangular leaded lights in an oak frame sited above and to the east of the porch; 'E T O 1669' is carved on it. iv) a square-headed window with three foiled, round-headed lights with raised mouldings; small blank shields in the central spandrels; the lights are recessed and have a dated inscription immediately above: 'John Edwards Anno Domini 1619'; a second, Latin inscription runs around the head of the window immediately below the label. It cannot be shown that this window is inserted, so the wall may be of this date. v) original red sandstone quoins of the early church visible as a continuous line in the upper part of wall, and intermittently to ground level. East of this divide are three or perhaps four fabrics; at the base of the wall is 'B', much more obvious and distinctively zoned in the chancel. But in the eastern part of the nave 'B' is still visible, though there is some 'E' mixed with it. 'E' forms a second band above the shale and up to window sill level; again it is much more distinctively zoned in the chancel. Above this is 'A'. vi) window with rectangular stone frame containing two segmental-headed lights with smaller lights above; inscribed 'John Davies 1703 Thomas Morris' on the sill; this appears to have been inserted into the 'A'. vii) a two-centred arch of a blocked doorway; sandstone dressings, chamfered with broach stops which are just visible about 0.2m below ground level. The blocking is interesting for it mimics the zoning of the wall on either side though there is a subtle difference in the appearance of the masonry that was used. viii) a single light with a cusped head, set in square-headed frame. ix) a two-light window comparable with vi) and presumably of 1703, though with a renewed sill.

West wall: in fabric 'G', with large quoins in light-grey sandstone. Contains a re-inserted three-light window with intersecting tracery, in a two-centred arch with a slim hoodmould and corbel-like stops, but the grey freestone is unweathered and has sharp arrises, and is almost certainly totally renewed; stone voussoirs form a decorative relieving arch; transferred from the east end of the church in 1893. Above it is a rose window in red sandstone and of 19thC date. The width of this wall suggests that the original wall was clad externally in the 19thC. However, it should be noted that the topmost quoin at the north-west angle bears the initials J P and C W with the date 1704.

North chapel. General. On the north side of the nave. 19thC addition on west side of 18thC transept. In fabric 'D', North wall contains windows with two and three trefoiled lights with reticulated tracery in red sandstone with hoodmoulds and voussoir arches. West wall has a two-light window, as does the north wall.

North transept. General. Georgian-style addition of 1727, heavily rendered with signs of modern replastering; exposed yellow sandstone quoins to east and west angles.

North wall: semi-circular headed arch with projecting keystone, capitals, and sill, the last supported on corbels. Below this is a square-headed doorway, the lintel having a central projection like the keystone above; a heavy studded door in a timber frame.

East and west walls: plain.

Vestry. General. 19thC addition to the north-east corner of church in fabric 'D'. Set back fractionally from the line of the chancel east wall. Long trefoiled light in the north wall and two lights in the east wall.

Chancel. General. East and south walls only. The only division between nave and chancel is provided by a downpipe and subtle changes in the masonry.

East wall: a remarkable mix of fabrics. 'B' is just visible towards the base, then rising up to window sill level is 'E' incorporating a couple of large blocks of red sandstone. Next a band of 'F' and then some 'A'-type material. Then another band of limestone ('H'). Finally, blocks of grey and grey-black shale with iron staining form the apex of the gable and also a band dropping down beneath both roof edges; this is almost certainly Victorian and may indicate some rebuilding. The east window is also Victorian, of three foiled lights with intersecting tracery in and above the lights, all in red sandstone; hoodmould with corbel-like stops, and a voussoir relieving arch. Put in place in 1893. Victorian sandstone quoins at angles.

South wall: 'B' forms a distinctive foundation about 0.4m high, much of which would have been buried before the drainage trench was dug. Above this is a clear zone of 'E' up to a height of around 2m. The sanctuary is lit by a single light with a foiled, ogee head, 19thC. East of this is a patch of limestone blocks, 'F', with patching in an 'A'-type material above it, suggestive of rebuilding. To the west of the sanctuary window is a square-headed window of four lights which are identical to the window of 1619 in the south wall of the nave.

Porch. General. 17thC oak-framed porch which has seen extensive restoration. The open timberwork superstructure with fretwork balusters is supported on shale dwarf walls with red sandstone dressings, and these must be 19thC. On the south is an arch-braced, two-centred arched entrance way with cusped barge boards above

Interior

Porch. General. Stone slabbed floor of early gravestones, one of 1816, but most too worn to be legible. Roof of three arch-braced tie-beam trusses, including that at the front of the porch (above); fluted mouldings on the two inner ones and raking struts above the peaked tie-beam of the middle truss; through purlins. Some original timbers remain, amongst them the inner two arch-braced trusses.

North wall: a doorway that is almost round-headed, not pointed, but is not symmetrical; the chamfer has sharp arrises but no stops, the sides narrow towards the floor. It does not give the impression of being an authentic early doorway. Haslam puts a 15thC date on the wooden door itself.

Nave. General. Floor of black and red Victorian tiles, partly carpetted; woodblock floors beneath benches, some heating grilles. Walls plastered and painted, and plain pew panels form a dado around the west end; higher panelling beside the seats. Roof in three sections. At the west end below the bell turret the ceiling is lowered and has tongue and groove panelling, supported by a single tie beam with short arch braces from stone corbels, formerly for the gallery. Over the western half of the nave and corresponding with the slightly lower roof line externally, there is a panelled ceiling of three large square bays, with exposed ribs, decorated bosses, and wallplates. Finally, the eastern part of the nave which is slightly higher is ceiled with fifteen panels of irregular size, decorated bosses and moulded cornices. The change from one level to another is marked by a braced collar truss bearing a painted inscription. Despite the difference in level, the nave ceiling is all of one design and presumably of one date, which could be 18thC on the basis of similarities with the north transept ceiling.

North wall: a red sandstone arcade of three bays, on the line of the pre-18thC north wall, separates the nave from the north chapel and transept. Two-centred arches of two orders resting on moulded capitals and octagonal pillars. Four benefaction boards are sited beneath the bell turret. One 19thC marble memorial and a brass of 1770.

East wall: one step up to the chancel, the Victorian screen and a change in the appearance of the ceiling separate the nave from the chancel.

South wall: the wall is slightly battered and the alignment of the western end is faintly differently from the more easterly part. At the west end the dormer window would have lit the gallery which was removed in 1893. The embrasure for the south door is almost round-headed with large blocks of stone for the soffit, but the whole is eccentric to the doorway itself. The blocked priest's door has a slightly splayed reveal with a segmental head, and the quoins are painted over. Some memorials: three stone tablets of 1784, 1798 and 1812, a brass of 1800; several marble tablets of the 19thC, and two benefaction boards of 1876 and 1879.

West wall: windows only.

North chapel. General. Tiled floor, with woodblocks under seats; walls plastered above the dado of pew panels. Ceiling of wooden panels with moulded ribs and decorated bosses. South wall consists of two bays of the arcade. West wall contains a large heating grille.

North Transept. General. Tiled floor; walls plastered above dado in places. Benches continue from the nave. A panelled wooden screen divides the aisle leading to the north entrance from an area to the east now used for storage. Ceiling is plastered with fifteen panels of chamfered ribs and bosses. North wall has Georgian entrance. West wall has two arches to the north chapel dating from the 1893 restoration. Memorial tablets of 1712 and 1801 on west wall. On the east wall, a stone tablet of 1796, a wooden panel of 1729 and three later marble memorials.

Vestry. General. Of 19thC date. Contains the organ, and there is a fireplace in the north-east corner. Woodblock floor; plastered walls; vaulted ceiling with exposed ribs and wallplates. Wooden memorial of 1756 on west wall.

North wall: stone sill of window has partial inscription 'Obiit 1847'; the remainder of the sill is plastered.

West wall: wooden memorial board of 1756/1768.

Chancel. General. One step up from nave, one to sanctuary, and one to altar. Floors of black and white marble date from 1893. Walls plastered above plain panelled wainscotting. Vaulted ceiling of twenty decorated panels, subdivided; crenellated wallplates with blind trefoiled panels to the cornice. 19thC if not later.

North wall: two-bay arcade to vestry and north transept. Two brasses, one of 1696, the other of 1803; four marble tablets, one of 1760, one illegible, the others 19thC.

South wall: half of a foiled piscina arch, probably 14thC, in the sanctuary. Four 19thC marble memorials (though one is blank and another illegible) and a fifth of 1798.

West wall: screen to nave dating from 1893 restoration.

Churchyard

The sub-rectangular churchyard, was extended to the north in 1903 and again in the 1970s. It is well-maintained and there are modern cremations just to the east of the chancel.

Boundary: a stone revetment wall follows the original boundary on the south and west sides; a modern wooden fence on the north-west with modern housing beyond; and an iron railed boundary to the vicarage on the north-east.

Monuments: memorials throughout the churchyard though work in the 1970s included the removal of some and also the railings enclosing older graves. Gravemarkers have also been removed from the immediate south side of the church within the last century. The earliest slab noted is of 1679. Two carved stones, perhaps late 17thC or 18thC grave markers, are now free-standing against the north wall of the church; one shows a skull and cross bones surmounted by a Latin memorial inscription, the second has a rectangle enclosing an hour glass with a spade underneath.

Furniture: sundial of 1810 with brass gnomon, on a baluster pillar with a square plinth on a circular base; opposite the south porch among 18thC memorials.

Earthworks: raised churchyard. There is a scarp bank, 1m or more high to the north-west of the church marking the original extent of the churchyard before the extensions. There is another scarp along the south-east, perhaps also an earlier boundary, and a considerable drop to the south-west.

Ancillary features: the original entrance appears to be the single gate at the south corner, where the oldest yew tree is sited. A pair of modern iron gates now forms the main west entrance, set between two Irish yews. Tarmac paths lead to the south porch and the later north entrance. A stone-built grave-diggers' hut, now covered in ivy, is sited alongside the north path to the graveyard extension.

Vegetation: mature yew trees are located around the original churchyard perimeter, particularly on the south and south-west sides. Broad-leaved species around the south-east perimeter.

Sources consulted

Cadw Schedule of Listed Buildings 1988
CPAT Field Visit 8 November 1995 and 4 March 1998
Crossley and Ridgway 1947, 197
Eisel 1986, 186
Glynne 1885, 46
Haslam 1979, 149
Jones 1871
NLW St. Asaph Parish Records
NMR Aberystwyth
Powys SMR
Salter 1991, 18
Thomas 1911, 247
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 Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain 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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