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Montgomeryshire Churches Survey

Church of St Mary , Welshpool

Welshpool Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Welshpool in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ2255607659.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16973 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Welshpool Church, CPAT copyright photo CS860001.JPG

Summary

The large parish church of St Mary occupies naturally steep sloping ground overlooking the town of Welshpool. It consists of a 13thC tower with nave, north and south aisles, a chancel and organ chamber together representing several building phases from the 14thC to 19thC. Among other furnishings it has a large ornamented communion table, a 17thC Royal Arms, a late 16thC wall monument and several later brasses and marble memorials. The churchyard has chest tombs from the 17thC and an 18thC sundial.

Large church of medieval character mainly constructed in local stone and red sandstone. The present church results from several phases of rebuilding from the 13thC onwards. There is a four-stage tower showing several phases of construction: the lower stages have been claimed as 13thC, the belfry stage and windows were perhaps added in the 15thC or 16thC; the crenellated top came in the 19thC.

The original 13thC nave wall was on the line of the present south arcade: portions of this early wall form the column bases at the west and east ends. And a supposedly 13thC window is now re-sited in the organ chamber.

The lack of symmetry to the chancel and nave remains to be satisfactorily explained. The chancel has been dated to the earlier 14thC (on the basis of the window tracery) and its north and south walls survive. The west wall of the porch may be of this period but could be a century later, when it is argued, the south aisle and perhaps the porch were added.

The present north and south aisles are of the 18thC but are fitted with large 19thC windows.

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

History

Traditionally the church was founded in the 6thC by St Cynfelyn, and later re-dedicated to St Mary.

However, it has recently been suggested (in Brown 1998) that the earliest documentary record in the Norwich Taxation of 1254, refers to the nearby chapel of St Llywelyn, a chapelry linked to Llandrinio, and that the new church of St Mary was linked to the establishment of the planned settlement of Welshpool around the middle of the 13thC. By 1291 it had become a parish church.

The present church dates back to the 13thC with subsequent phases of rebuilding. This early church appears to have been a simple rectangle with a west tower. In the early 14thC a new chancel was added to the old nave, but on an asymmetric alignment.

It has been suggested that a major phase of rebuilding was initiated as a result of the destruction wrought during the Glyndwr rebellion in 1401. Works, attributed to the 1440s by Brown, may have included the addition of a south aisle and a south porch with a first floor room over. A guild chapel (the Trinity Chapel) existed in the south aisle during the 16thC. The arcades are of 16thC date, and possibly even post-Reformation in origin. Indeed, it seems that the north aisle may have come into being at this time. A date of c.1500 has also been attributed to the raising of the tower.

Some work of uncertain nature may have occurred in 1610, for recent work on the south aisle roof found a re-used inscription of that date. In 1665 the church was damaged by fire, as was much of the town.

In 1588 a gallery had been added at the east end of the nave, incorporating part of the existing rood loft, and an organ was placed in it. The organ was destroyed in 1644 by Puritan forces, but the gallery was still in situ in 1737 when it 'was alleged that a great number of the very common sort of people sit in it (under the pretence of psalm singing) who run up and down there; some of them spitting upon the people's heads below'.

In 1772 a vault was created beneath the chancel for the Earl of Powys; the crown of this vault was lowered in 1839. In a ten-year period between 1769 and 1779 thirteen burials were recorded in the chancel.

Between 1774 and 1777 the nave and aisles were rebuilt. A schoolroom was accommodated in the upper part of the porch, round-headed windows and plastered ceilings were introduced, a new gallery built at the east end of the nave, the tower repaired and a new door constructed (on the north side?). The total cost may have been more than 1500.

Several new works took place during the 19thC. A western gallery was built for an organ in 1813 and galleries were built in the north and south aisles in 1821-2. The south aisle had a staircase entrance from the porch and the singer's gallery at the east end was removed. About 1825 the tower was battlemented and re-roofed with a pyramidal slate roof, and the bells were recast.

In 1846 pews in the chancel were replaced with benches; and the present parish clock was an 1849 gift.

Restoration work by Thomas Billing took place in 1856: the present chancel arch was erected and a pulpit window inserted. The original 13thC east window in the chancel was moved to the north side of the building when the east wall of the chancel was rebuilt and a larger east window added; the tower battlements were removed and a new, high pitched roof constructed; stone flags replaced slate ones; brass altar rails replaced wooden ones; and a form of hot water heating was installed.

A further restoration in 1870-71 by G E Street included the removal of the flat ceiling in the nave and its replacement with a pitch pine roof with richly arcaded trusses. The rafters and principals were cased and the remaining timberwork remodelled, but the gallery ceilings were left untouched. However, the west gallery in the nave was removed. The floor was lowered to the level of the old church and new bases were provided for all arcade piers as a result of lowering the floor. The north wall was underbuilt, a new arcade was added to the west end, and the nave and chancel laid with encaustic tiles. A low screen divided the chancel from the nave, a triple sedilia, piscina and credence table were inserted in the south wall of the chancel and an alabaster and marble reredos with Caen stone wings inlaid with tiles, a gift of the Countess of Powys, was added. The chancel was fitted with carved oak benches, and decorated headings on the choir stalls and a new pulpit and font introduced.

At this time, too, the internal porch wall was removed and a new entrance with massive stone steps was built. The 18thC round-headed windows were replaced with large two-centred arched windows with stained glass on the south side, and a few years later those on the north side was similarly changed.

The organ was sited in a new organ chamber on the north side of the chancel to which a double arcade was added. The restoration work took twelve months, during which a number of monuments were removed from the church. The cost was 4155.

20thC restoration work included replacing the masonry in some of the windows and the insertion of stained glass in 1919, the removal of the north aisle gallery in 1926 and the south aisle gallery in 1946. A new chimney was added to the northern vestry in 1925, when a new boiler was installed. In 1924 fire had damaged the roof of the organ chamber, and also the main timbers of the chancel roof. The church roof was repaired and reslated in 1937.

Restoration work on the tower and the bells was undertaken between 1957 and 1967. The tower was leaning badly to the south-west and cracks were appearing in the stonework. The plinth on the west side of the tower and the short buttresses presumably date to this period. The complete renewal of the dressings of the south aisle windows also took place during this time.

Architecture

The church comprises a west tower, a nave with off-centre chancel, north and south aisles, a south porch and an organ chamber off the north side of the chancel. The church is aligned north-east to south-west but for the purposes of description 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted here.

Fabrics: 'A' consists of small to medium blocks of brown, orange and grey shale mixed with occasional blocks of red sandstone; dressings and quoins of red sandstone; irregular coursing. 'B' is of medium, squared blocks of greenish-grey local quarry-cut stone, probably dolerite from Criggion, with dressings of the same material. 'C' is a mixture of blocks and slabs of brown, buff and grey shaley stone, some pink sandstone; quoins of dressed grey-green sedimentary stone; irregular coursing; some limewash residue. 'D' of small to medium blocks and slabs of grey sedimentary stone (perhaps shale), with occasional sandstone blocks; irregular coursing. Differentiated from 'A' primarily by colour. 'E' is of squared blocks of brown and grey sedimentary stone. 'F' consists of brown and pink sandstone. 'G' consists of blocks of irregular grey and some brown shale with some coursing; associated with worn sandstone quoins displaying sharpening marks.

'A' is of the 13thC and 14thC; 'D' and 'F' are undated but perhaps late medieval; 'C' is 18thC; 'B' is of the 19thC and 'E' probably represents Victorian re-use.

Roofs: slates with black ceramic ridge tiles. Cross finial to the chancel.

Drainage: guttering and downspouts, where visible, lead directly underground below the modern paths. There is a deep cutting around the north side of the church and the organ chamber, and it is reported that recent groundwork has been carried out all around the church.

Exterior

Tower. General. Large, square, three-stage tower. The base of the tower is plinthed with a sharply sloping chamfer, rising to a height of c.0.4m, and is an obviously modern addition. However, the lower stages of the tower are of original (?)13thC build, in fabric 'A', though there are modern red sandstone quoins except at the south-east angle. Then various masonry types - 'D', some 'F' and 'E' - up to the 19thC battlements in 'B', with a projecting string course beneath them, heavily moulded to create a cavetto soffit. Finally, a low pyramidal slate roof, which is not visible behind the battlements, a weathervane and a flag pole in the south-west corner.

North wall: in the lowest stage is a round-headed 19thC doorway, the arch turned in pink sandstone voussoirs. The second stage contains a single, wide, trefoiled light with a two-centred arch, and the third, belfry, stage has a pair of louvred, cusped ogee-headed lights and open tracery beneath a two-centred arch in Victorian pink sandstone. A modern string course on this wall alone separates the ringing chamber and belfry. Two tie-rod plates.

East wall: adjoins nave. Belfry window as north wall and the wall exhibits the same patter of 'D', 'E' and 'B' masonry.

South wall: the first stage contains a square-headed slit window with dressings only slightly worn. The second stage has a single trefoil-headed light as in the north wall. Above this is a clock with a black face and gold Roman numerals and then a standard belfry window. Again a sequence of 'D', 'E' and 'B' but above the foiled window is a band of 'F', suggesting another zone of construction. The clock is set in 'E', and beneath it a wedge of more 'E' intrudes into the 'F' zone. A tie rod plate is visible near the south-west angle.

West wall: low clasping buttresses at the north-west and south-west corners. In the first stage is a buff-yellow sandstone four-centred window containing a pair of four centred lights; all the dressings are modern. Above is a square-headed slit window. The next stage has a standard, single trefoiled light in a two-centred arch. Above this the clock and belfry window are as the south wall. The masonry sequence is as in the south wall.

Nave. General. The main body of church is formed by a nave with north and south aisles.

West wall: a short section in 'C' is visible between the tower and the north aisle, similar in appearance to the tower but there is a greater range of colour to the stone. The gable part of the wall is in 'E'. A long window in buff-grey freestone contains a single elongated, cusped light which must be inserted.

East wall: completely slated where it is visible above the chancel roof line. A short length of this wall also exists to the south of the chancel though externally it appears as part of the south aisle wall. It contains one window which is a Victorian feature, imitating those in the chancel (see below). The hoodmould has a Victorian head stop, but on its south side only, for on the north side the dressings of the window abut the wall of the chancel.

North aisle. General. In 'C', with bits of dressed red sandstone, re-used (one piece between the second and third windows on the north side appears to be fluted).

North wall: three large, two-centred windows each with three ogee-headed lights and reticulated tracery, with hoodmoulds (copying the earlier 14thC chancel windows), inserted in 1870/1, replacing the earlier round-headed openings. The sandstone frames have been repaired and patched. Each aperture contains three cusped lights with tracery above. At the east end near the organ chamber annex, a wall about 3m high and 0.3m wide, topped by coping stones, protrudes; built of good dressed blocks of grey stone. It is mostly below ground level (though exposed in the deep trench along the north side of the church) and encloses an alcove that holds the tomb and effigy of the Earl of Powys.

West wall: a square-headed doorway in mustard-yellow sandstone with sunken spandrels over a four-centred arch doorway with chamfered jambs; moulded label with out-turned stops, either 19thC or later.

Organ chamber. In 'B', from 1884.

North wall: plinthed and capped with chamfered freestone dressings but on this side only. A supposedly 13thC window was re-sited in 1884: in worn red sandstone it contains three stepped lancets with two roundels under a two-centred arch, and the hoodmould with a concave soffit has very worn head stops. But it is difficult to determine how much of the window is original: the tracery heads, the head stops and some of the jambs might be contenders. A chimney stack rises from the north-east corner, above the roof.

East wall: plain.

West wall: there are brick-edged apertures in the wall, undoubtedly relating to the heating system.

Chancel. General. Narrower and higher than the nave. Originally a 14thC addition to the nave, the present structure consists of north and south walls from this time and an east wall constructed during the Victorian restoration of 1856. Stepped buttresses reaching to just below the eaves are located at the eastern corners.

North wall: in 'A'. A stone projection is located below the window and drops well below ground level - it forms an alcove on the inside for a tomb and effigy. The window in this wall has a two-centred arch in worn red sandstone and contains three cusped, ogee-headed lights with reticulated tracery above, and a hoodmould with worn head stops. Of 14thC date but again it is difficult to determine how much is original; signs of insertion suggest considerable renewal. A plain string course runs above the window.

East wall: rebuilt in 1856 in 'C' on the 14thC foundations. A 1667 headstone is propped against the wall. The large 19thC east window has five lights, three with ogee heads, the others two-centred, and reticulated tracery, all under a two-centred arch with a hoodmould and damaged stops, and a relieving arch of grey and pink stone voussoirs. There is also a string course, buttresses just below sill level and, in the gable, a small quatrefoil.

South wall: most of the wall is in 'A, but there appears to be some masonry change in the upper part of the more easterly bay. An embossed string course runs the length of the chancel south wall below eaves level. A moulded string course, with gilded motifs projecting at regular intervals, runs the length of the chancel, and above this the stonework is 'C'. There are similar windows to those in the north wall, also 14thC, to either side of a stepped buttress which was added midway along the chancel wall during the 19thC restoration work. Again it is difficult to determine what if anything of the original window remains - some of the tracery and the head stops perhaps? But considerable renewal is suggested by the packing beneath the more westerly window. To the west of the buttress is a priest's door with a two-centred arch in Victorian buff sandstone with a relieving arch of alternating colours, a hoodmould with worn stops of foliate form, and approached by two steps. The only original features might be the stops?

South aisle. General. In 'C'.

East wall: of the 18thC. The only light is a single window high up in the wall, its two-centred arch containing two trefoiled, ogee-headed lights. It is a reduced version of the windows in the chancel and is wholly Victorian in buff-yellow freestone.

South wall: three large, two-centred, 19thC windows as in the north aisle, but renewed in the 1960s; the tracery is slightly different in each window. Arches have hoodmoulds without stops. At the east end of the wall five steps lead up to a two-centred arched doorway.

West wall: shared with porch and abuts the tower. No apertures. A stone plinth, c.0.5m high and equally as wide, runs the length of the wall and is capped with large flat sandstone blocks. In its upper courses the wall is in 'C', but lower down it is in 'G' which could be a survival of the original porch - a patch of flat slabs separates these two masonry types.

South Porch. General. In 'C'. Now part of the south aisle, but extending about 1m further south than the aisle wall. Probably originally a two-storey porch from the 14thC.

South wall: a splayed stepped entrance leads up to the broad, two-centred entrance arch which is of two orders in red sandstone; a hoodmould and relieving arch of voussoirs. A pair of heavy planked doors with wrought iron fittings now fronted by a pair of wrought iron gates. The doorway was fashioned in 1856 to the design of the old doorway. The two-centred window above the entrance contains a pair of trefoiled, ogee-headed lights with small tracery lights above; a hoodmould. The window is similar in its size and its lights to the east wall window, but has different tracery lights.

Interior

Tower. General. Entrance from the west end of the nave but not generally accessible. Tiled floor with heating grilles, plastered and painted walls and a flat ceiling with exposed joists. A dog-leg staircase behind a panelled facade now leads up from the west end of the north aisle to provide access to the ringing chamber above. North wall: a round-headed alcove represents the former doorway.

East wall: a two-centred tower arch with chamfered jambs but of 19thC date.

Nave. General. Floor of 19thC encaustic and other tiles with grilles, loosely carpetted over. Walls are plastered and painted with only the dressed stone of the windows, the chancel arch and the arcading exposed. The roof consists of eight bays formed by nine embattled tie-beams, king-post and queen-post trusses with cusped struts, though the one against the east wall lacks the ornate detail of the others. Coving decorated with painted crosses runs along both sides at wall-plate level.

North wall: an arcade of the 16thC in pink sandstone with five four-centred arches which have moulded piers and embattled capitals. The westernmost bay was constructed to the same design as part of the 1870 restoration, while the remaining bays are the original late medieval features.

East wall: a two-centred chancel arch of three orders, the innermost with engaged wall posts and decorative capitals; there is also a hoodmould. In Victorian grey freestone. To the south of the arch a 19thC (or later) two-centred window with a splayed embrasure.

South wall: an arcade as the north wall.

West wall: wainscotting to either side of the wide, pointed arch to the tower, in red sandstone with three orders, the inner two springing from the reveal, and chamfered dressings. The arch is blocked off by wood panelling with a central doorway to the tower. Above the arch a highly painted 17thC Royal Arms. Also on this wall, a brass of 1779 and a 19thC marble memorial.

North aisle. Floor and walls as nave. The plastered ceiling is flat with coving on all sides. Wood panelling encloses a children's corner at the west end.

North wall: one brass of 1766, a War memorial, four 19thC and 20thC brasses and one 19thC marble. Also the tomb of the 3rd Earl of Powis (d.1891) in a recess.

East wall: a high two-centred arched entrance to the organ chamber has wood panelling with a central doorway. One 19thC marble.

Chancel. General. Narrower than the nave and off-set to the north. Four steps up from the nave through the chancel arch and a low stone screen with diaper carving. Four steps to the sanctuary. Encaustic tiles in the floor and plastered and painted walls. Roof is ceiled with four bays of wood panelling formed by five tie-beams which with the three main purlins and moulded ribs form square panels with embossed and coloured shields and motifs: 128 panels in total. Tradition has it that this came from Strata Marcella, but this perhaps is unlikely. The shields and bosses were restored in 1937?. The organ was placed in a recess in the two-centred arch on the north side of the chancel, part of the vestry, in 1959 after its restoration.

North wall: marble plaque of 1668 and a modern stone plaque to William Morgan. Tomb recess for the 2nd Earl of Powis.

South wall: piscina and?aumbry below paired trefoil-headed arches and also a triple sedilia below three trefoil-headed arches with alabaster ring shafts. Further to the west, the priest's door in the south wall of the chancel is blocked on the inside and remains as a recessed arch. Three 19thC stone memorials and three 20thC brasses.

South aisle. Floor with grilles, walls and roof as north aisle. Wood panelling forms small interior porches around both south doors. Access to the first floor room in the porch was probably along the west wall of the present south aisle where the benefactions boards now hang (see below).

North wall: arcade as above.

East wall: five 19thC and 20thC brasses.

South wall: at the west end the lower part of the wall is thicker, creating a flat ledge at a height of c.4m. This could be to do with the gallery and/or stairs, but equally may be a result of the survival of the early walls of the porch. Brasses of 1693, 1697, 1756, 1772 and 1789, and three 19thC marble memorials. Also one benefaction board.

West wall: the lower part of the wall is thicker and has a chamfered top at c.4m. The upper part of wall covered with benefaction boards, a series of 23 panels altogether, and also a panel with the Royal Arms of 1775. Early drawings of the church from 1860s and 1920s.

Churchyard

A large sloping churchyard on high ground overlooking the town, the slope from the new burial ground on the north side towards Church Street, where it is c.8m above road level. Very well kept. Considerable ground work has been carried out on the churchyard in recent years, including clearance (in c.1967). The burial ground has been relaid and stepped and new paths constructed with old gravestones or laid with concrete. The highest level is the graveyard extension beyond the low stone wall and line of yews which mark the extent of the early boundary. A new burial ground was consecrated in 1834 and an addition was made to the graveyard on Red Bank road in 1902.

Boundary: the churchyard has stone revetment walls around much of its perimeter, and is demarcated on the south side (Church Street) by a high, buttressed revetment wall, constructed, so it seems, in the early 19thC.

Monuments: the upper level of the original graveyard has been mainly cleared of early graves; it contains a few marked burials to either side of a central path made up of early to mid-19thC large sandstone gravestones. The stepped lower level contains a large number of chest tombs, which have been made secure with concrete bases recently. On the south side of the nave, two worn 17thC sandstone chest tombs have skeletons carved on the sides, and an old headstone of 1667 has been re-sited against the chancel east wall.

Furniture: a baluster-shaped red sandstone sundial pedestal on a square base is set opposite the south porch; the plate is inscribed 1743, a gift of the churchwardens and made by Benjamin Radcliff of Welshpool, a clockmaker. The base of the sundial appears to be part of the churchyard cross which was in existence in 1608. The sundial itself appears in the parish records in 1764, when a dial was sold and replaced by a new one. A later record refers to Richard Edmunds, who gave the royal arms in 1803, donating a dial plate for the pedestal south of the church.

A stone, adjacent to the sundial, is a large rough-cut glacial boulder, presumed to be from Strata Marcella Abbey, where, reputedly, it was part of the Abbot's throne.

Earthworks: the ground rises in a series of terraces behind the church.

Ancillary features: Several entrances; two stepped entrances lead up from Church Street on the south side, one approaching the nave south door and one entering the churchyard at the chancel end. A sloping west entrance from Union Street has a cobbled surface leading up to a pair of wrought iron gates set in new stone posts and continuing towards the tower. The surface has 'E M 1846' set in the cobbles. The south paths have been recently tarmaced. At the west side of the church, a concrete area has been recently laid to form a turning circle for vehicles. A gravel drive leads uphill along the west side of the graveyard; the west side of the drive is lined with yew trees of no great age and the east side is formed by a revetment wall of large re-sited sandstone gravestones dating to the early to mid-19thC, which form a boundary with the burial ground. This drive continues around the perimeter of the old burial ground rising to the upper levels of the original graveyard before dropping downhill and northwards to Red Bank. On the upper level of the burial ground, the drive is lined on both sides by yew trees, which continue over to Red Bank on the east side.

Vegetation: Older yew trees surrounding the paths on all sides of the church are numerous, although none appear to be more than a couple of centuries old.

Sources consulted

Brown 1998
CPAT Field Visit: 26 January 1996 and 25 September 1998
Crossley and Ridgway 1947, 222
Eisel 1986, 195
Faculty St Asaph (NLW) 1834
Faculty St Asaph (NLW) 1834
Faculty St Asaph (NLW) 1869
Faculty St Asaph (NLW) 1902
Faculty St Asaph (NLW) 1919
Faculty St Asaph (NLW) 1926
Faculty St Asaph (NLW) 1927
Faculty St Asaph (NLW) 1946
Faculty St Asaph (NLW) 1967
Haslam 1979, 207
Millard 1936
NMR Aberystwyth
Powys SMR
Thomas 1893, 175
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 Welshpool 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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