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Montgomeryshire Churches Survey

Church of St Melangell , Pennant Melangell

Pennant Melangell Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Llangynog in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ0241926549.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 19470 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Pennant Melangell Church, CPAT copyright photo 2421-02.JPG

Summary

St Melangell's church is a simple single-chamber structure with an eastern apse and western tower at the head of the Tanat Valley where, according to legend a nunnery was possibly founded in the late 8thC. The body of the church is medieval, with a 19thC tower and 18thC porch. It contains many objects of interest including a 12thC font, a 15thC rood screen with carvings of the legend of St Melangell, and the restored shrine to St Melangell, which is reputedly the earliest surviving Romanesque shrine in Northern Europe. It is without doubt the most thoroughly studied church in Montgomeryshire, and much further information can be gleaned from Montgomeryshire Collections for 1994.

Main body of the church is probably originally of 12thC build, with many periods of rebuilding work including the 1876-7 restoration when the new tower was constructed. Subsequent restoration work in 1958 and rebuilding of the Cell-y-bedd to 12thC style during a thorough restoration of 1989-92.

12thC stonework survives at the south-east corner of the nave (between the porch and the narrower chancel), in the north wall west of the l9thC window, and the south doorway with in situ walling to either side of it is also thought to be 12thC.

15th to mid-17thC building work appears in the west wall of the nave, north wall of the chancel and parts of south wall of the nave around the chancel/nave divide and the east side of the porch.

Late 17th to 19thC rebuilding work shows in the south wall and the north-east corner of the chancel. The porch probably dates to 1737.

19thC stonework is visible where the windows were inserted in the north and south walls during the 1876-7 restoration and also throighout the tower.

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

History

The church is dedicated to St Melangell, an early female saint possibly of the 8thC, who reputedly founded a nunnery on the site. Certainly the dedication, location and the morphology of the churchyard all point to an early medieval origin, and this has been confirmed by recent archaeological excavation.

It has been suggested that the church and shrine were perhaps built in stone on the earlier site by Rhirid Flaidd, who died in 1189. Excavation has revealed an earlier graveyard (and adjacent Bronze Age burials), together with some surviving elements of the 12thC structure and the font and shrine. This early church was constructed with water-worn local stone originally bonded with a weak mix of sandy clay with little or no lime. Sandstone dressings were used for the window and door openings. The eastern apse was constructed to house a prominent grave, reputedly that of Melangell. The apse was retained after the entrance from the chancel was blocked up, and was entered through a new door cut through the north wall of the apse though this too was subsequently blocked. It eventually fell into disrepair and was replaced in 1751 by a square schoolroom and vestry.

The first written record of the church is in the Norwich Taxation of 1254, where, as 'Ecclesia de Pennant', it was valued at 1 6s 8d. Subsequently in the Lincoln Taxation of 1291, the combined value of the rectory and a vicarage was 14 3s 4d.

By the 13thC, the east wall of the chancel and the archway leading into the apse were decorated with wall paintings.

The church and shrine of St Melangell became a centre of pilgrimage and this was well established by the 15thC. Considerable rebuilding took place during that century. The arch-braced roof trusses with cusped struts in the nave, the three-light window with trefoiled heads later reset in the south wall and the rood screen all date to this period.

St Melangell's shrine was presumably demolished during the Reformation. Parts of the shrine were built into the lychgate and in the west and south walls of the church, which were restored before the end of the 17thC. Other fragments were later utilised in the south porch and the south side of the chancel.

The church appears to have been plastered in the late 16thC, when inscribed texts were painted on the north wall of the nave. The inscriptions were added to the east wall of the chancel and the lychgate by the mid-17thC.

At some point, perhaps in the 15thC, a new tower with a newel stair at its south-east corner and a timber belfry was added in typical Montgomeryshire style.

The north wall of the chancel bears a 1635 datestone with the initials 'T V W P' on the reverse side. The eastern end of the north wall appears to have been rebuilt at this date and the north-east corner repaired subsequently. A vertical break in the fabric midway along this wall suggests it was built in two stages. The dividing line ties in with the original position of the rood screen.

18thC restoration work is fairly well-documented in the vestry books. Work on the gallery in the 1720s suggests that the rood loft was removed from the screen, and the balustrade reused as the upper element of a partition across the west end of the nave. In 1720 a window was put into the north wall; this was opened up for a larger window in 1876-7. 1721 accounts refer to the making of a gallery window; this was probably the small window to the west of the porch, blocked up during the 1876-7 restoration. Restoration in the interior included the ceiling of the roof in 1730.

The north wall was used for ball games until the late 18thC/early 19thC and windows were presumably kept to a minimum.

Before the 1876-7 restoration work, the only other windows appear to have been the 15thC square-headed three-light window in the chancel south wall, the 1721 small gallery window west of the porch, and a larger window east of the porch replaced in 1876-7.

The 18thC porch bears a 1737 datestone with the names of Edward Madocks and David Thomas, churchwardens in that year. The south door may also have been replaced at this time; certainly the wooden lock is inscribed 'Given by E Madocks Esq 1737'. The wooden gates on the outer opening of the porch are inscribed 'S O' and 'E M' and bear the date 1763. The south wall of the chancel incorporates a stone inscribed 'E M D T' and was presumably built in the period, 1737-8. The wall included a priest's door to which a porch was later added. The door was replaced by a window during the 1876-7 restoration.

In 1751 the Cell-y-bedd was built, replacing the earlier apse. The fabric was new apart from a short stretch of walling on the north side which incorporated the blocked doorway. The large unhewn slate slab, traditionally marking the grave of St Melangell, was set in a cobbled floor above a stone-edged grave. The building was used as a vestry room until the 1830s and also as a schoolroom until the restoration of 1876-7.

Glynne visited Pennant in 1848 and noted the 'curious wooden gallery at the west end', briefly describing the carved woodwork.

Major restoration work took place in 1876-7, including the total rebuilding of the tower in similar style to the old one but taller and slightly larger in plan. A new window for the pulpit replaced the priest's door and new windows were inserted east and west of the porch with another in the north wall. The interior was refitted; open pitch pine benches replaced the old oak pews, the removal of the ceiling revealed 15thC timbers and several old wall paintings were uncovered but not preserved. The rood screen was left in its original place and the oak carving of St Melangell was placed in front of the west gallery. The 1791 reredos was replaced by a replica painted on wooden boards in 1886 and the north, east and south walls were decorated with stencil designs. Mural tablets were removed from the church, though some were subsequently replaced. The architect was Benjamin Lay of Welshpool.

Further restoration took place in 1958; the Cell-y-bedd was repaired and strengthened and excavations, prior to the new concrete floor being laid, revealed the foundations of an earlier apse and the large grave slab set in the cobbled floor with a stone-edged grave beneath it. The shrine was reconstructed and re-sited in the Cell-y-bedd. Minor restoration work took place in the interior.

Despite 1958 repairs, the church deteriorated and a major restoration programme was subsequently carried out from 1989. Plans included the re-ordering of the nave and chancel and rebuilding of the Cell-y-bedd in 12thC style.

Excavations by CPAT at this time included removal of ground build-up on the north side of church revealing graves, some of which underlay the church foundations; some were capped with quartz pebbles. There was evidence of seven building phases. Fragments of the 12thC wall were located north-west of the nave and eastern apse. The Cell-y-bedd was recorded and demolished. A doorway was revealed in the chancel wall and six or seven medieval floor layers were recorded in the apse. The large stone-covered grave, impossible to relate stratigraphically to the apse was assumed to be the grave of St Melangell. A second stone-covered grave was identified below the apse footings.

A programme of thorough restoration followed the excavation programme. New foundations were laid for the apse and the structure was built with three new sandstone lancets. The original opening from the chancel to the apse was made stable with a new sandstone arch and a completely rebuilt north jamb. The interior of the church was replastered in places and limewashed and a completely new concrete base was laid down throughout the nave, chancel and tower. The chancel ceiling was reconstructed to the design of the original. Concrete floors were laid throughout the building with new slat slabs for walkways and in the chancel. The screen was moved to the west to a position beneath the easternmost surviving 15thC roof truss and set on a low plinth. The beam and the traceried balustrade from the west gallery were moved in one piece and set between the walls in front of the chancel screen. Moving the gallery revealed the dressings of a 12thC lancet in the north wall. A new floor was laid in the loft. The shrine was rebuilt in the centre of the chancel using original fragments of carved stone. The 18thC altar rails were altered to facilitate access around the shrine. 19thC pews were fixed on new platforms, and the 18thC pulpit repaired. The 12thC font was re-sited near south door and set on a new stone plinth and 18thC panelling presumably from box pews was refixed in the nave. The small door set in the arch to the tower was removed and the ground floor of the tower refitted as a shop area. A new first floor was constructed for display purposes, with access by a new staircase on the north side. Finally the building was re-roofed.

The south side of the church was repointed in 1994.

Architecture

The church consists of a nave and chancel in one, an eastern apse, and at the west end a tower. The building is oriented slightly north of true east.

Fabrics: 'A' is of waterworn pebblestones, small to medium in size and irregularly coursed. 'B' is of medium to large grey and red slabs of sedimentary rock, often showing laminations; irregular coursing. 'C' is of slabs and some blocks of grey shale with occasional pebblestones, the size ranging from small to large; irregular coursing; the stone work cleaned but still showing some traces of limewash residue. 'D' is of irregularly sized grey shale with some pebblestones; well-dressed quoins; some coursing. 'E' is a modern version of 'A', i.e. pebblestones. 'F' is of large blocks of laminating (?)shale, with occasional pebblestones.

'A' is of the 12thC though subsequent restorations used similar material. 'B' is of 15thC to mid-17thC date. 'C' dates to the period from the late 17thC to the 19thC, and 'F' from 1737. 'D' dates to the restoration of 1876-7. 'E' is from 1989.

Roofs: slates with stone ridge tiles and the base of a cross finial at the east end. Black ceramic ridge tiles to the porch.

Drainage: modern guttering and downspouts. A trench is known to have been dug alongside the north wall in 1989, and two drainage trenches and sumps were dug in the churchyard to the north of the church.

Exterior

Tower. General. Square two-storey tower constructed in the 19thC in 'D'; pyramidal roof is topped by a squat timber belfry with three louvred apertures on each side and an iron weathervane. There is a continuous basal plinth with a slate top about 0.05m above ground level. No external entrance.

North wall: no apertures; the stonework appears to be largely of one build with stone at the base perhaps reflecting differential weathering or cleaning.

East wall: apex of nave roof reaches almost to eaves level; no apertures.

South wall: at ground floor level is a square-headed slit window with sandstone dressings, and there is another in the second stage. Both have chamfered dressings of 19thC date. In the angle between the tower and nave is what is best described as a dwarf 'pyramidal buttress'.

West wall: the quoins at the base of the wall for 2-2.5m are different from those higher in the wall. Could this be indicative of some degree of masonry survival from the earlier tower? No apertures.

Nave and chancel. General. No external differentiation. The north and south walls of the church are misaligned.

North wall: the masonry is 'A' at the west end and contains a small, single light with a round head and chamfered dressings: an original 12thC feature. Further east a new stretch of wall, outset by c.0.1m is in 'B' and is considered to be 17thC. High up in the wall near the juncture is a slab bearing the letters 'T V W P'. Heavy foundation slabs protrude at ground level, but beneath the chancel these give way to a battered base to be replaced at the north-east corner by a projecting foundation plinth. Lighting the east end of the nave is an 1876 restoration window of two trefoil-headed lights set in a square-headed frame. About 1.6m west of the north-east angle is a disconformity in the masonry, the wall beyond being set on a fractionally different alignment, though the whole face is classified as 'B'.

East wall (of the chancel): short sections of wall visible to either side of the apse. Large quoins at south-east corner, but no features. Masonry type uncertain.

South wall: in 'C'. Features from the east are: i) chancel wall has a plinth with coping of pinkish sandstone at a height of 0.3m above ground level and continuing as far west as v) below. ii) 15thC square-framed window with three trefoiled, two-centred lights in worn buff sandstone; repaired and re-set in 18thC 'C' masonry. iii) a two-light 1876-7 restoration window, square-headed in yellow-buff sandstone inserted into the 18thC wall in place of an earlier priest's door. A worn sandstone head is set in the wall above the 19thC window. iv) high up in the wall is a sandstone plaque with 'E M D T' inscribed on it. v) wall outset slightly marking the corner of an earlier building vi) a restoration-period window as iii) set in a stretch of walling in 'B'. vii) porch with evidence of masonry changes above it. viii) a further two-light window from 1876-7, this set in 'A'.

West wall: adjoins 19thC tower and only short lengths of it visible to north and south of the tower. In 'B' and mainly of late 16th to early 17thC build on 12thC foundations.

Apse. General. Constructed in 1989-92 restoration in 'E', local rounded rubblestone bonded with a lime mortar to match the 12thC build as closely as possible. Contains three modern round-headed windows in 12thC style.

South Porch. General. In fabric 'F'. Open porch with a datestone reading 'Edward Madocks. David Thomas 1737'.

East wall: the original small window in the wall was blocked in the 19thC.

South wall: has a round-headed entrance arch with freestone voussoirs and large quoins; original wooden gates. 1790 and 1876 slate slabs lean against the east wall.

West wall: as east wall.

Interior

Porch. General. Red and black tiled floor; whitewashed walls with rough wooden benches to either side supported on low stone plinths, and a panelled and painted ceiling.

North wall: contains the south doorway to the church, round-headed with chamfered jambs and abaci, and a chamfered arch with simple pyramidal stops, and a chamfered hoodmould that fades into wall on the west side. The wall to the east of the arch is thicker than that to the west and the eastern jamb rises from the thickness of this wall, creating a small plinth on the outer side of the doorway; all the stonework is whitewashed.

Tower. General. One step up from the nave, the ground floor now converted into a shop. Modern slate slabbed floor. Modern wood panelled walls with original stonework visible above. Single slit window in south wall. Door on north side leads to modern dog-leg staircase to first floor display room.

First floor room: all stonework exposed but whitewashed and a single rectangular slit in the south wall and a small rectangular light high up in the east wall that looks into the church. Four east/west beams support the belfry; the inner two are supported on stone corbels, the outer two built into the side walls rest partly on timbers cutting across the corner angles; two north/south timbers appear to have been cut away leaving the stubs in the walls. Ceiling is plastered above. On the north wall a panel from 1886 with the Ten Commandments, Creed and Lord's Prayer in Welsh, previously forming the reredos above the altar. Access to the belfry via ladder and loft door.

Nave. General. New red and black tiles laid in aisles and reused coloured mosaic tiles around the font by the south door; raised planked floors under the benches. Plain panelled dado on north and south walls, but pew panels reused on the south wall to the west of the doorway. Above the walls are plastered and painted. 15thC roof with four trusses forming four bays, rising from the wall tops; moulded arch-braced collar trusses with cusped raking struts and exposed rafters and through purlins. A modern figure of Christ is attached to the most easterly truss above the rood loft.

North wall: features from the west are i) Henry Hughes memorial of 1733; ii) splayed window embrasure, round headed, the aperture dressings painted over, those of the window left bare; iii) wall inset for c.0.1m and the more easterly shows more of a batter; iv) datestone inscribed 'TVWP 1635' and left unpainted; vi) memorial stone of 1727.

East wall: rood screen and loft, now reconstructed, with modern wooden panelling rising up above the screen and behind the truss and figure of Christ.

South wall: a slight batter to the wall; the south-west angle is filled in (where there was a chimney in the former vestry) and this supports the 'giant's rib' (see below). Two splayed window embrasures, the south doorway and a Benefactions board of 1779 sited above the font and to the west of the doorway.

West wall: a rudely constructed round-headed arch to tower with slabs on edge as voussoirs and also as quoins, though dressed stone at lower levels suggests the reconstruction of an earlier arch; late 16th-early 17thC. Above the arch is an 18thC Royal Arms.

Chancel. General. One step up from the nave. Stone flagged floor, plastered walls and a wagon ceiling consisting of large plastered panels with moulded oak ribs; beneath this are two tie-beams with raking struts forming three bays; each bay contains two rows of six panels; the wagon ceiling is modern but the tie-beam trusses are earlier though certaily post-medieval. In the centre of the room is the reconstructed Romanesque shrine with an altar in front of it.

North wall: neo-classical monument of 1746. Stone effigy of early 14thC origin against wall.

East wall: giving access to the apse is a round-headed inner archway of modern dressed stone set into an outer archway of slabs set on edge. Fragment of wall paintings to south of the arch.

South wall: Stone effigy of late 14thC against wall.

West wall: screen as noted above, and above this a large, conserved wall painting of the Creed etc, removed from the original east wall of the chancel during the 1989-92 restoration.

Apse. General. Two steps down from the chancel. A large and rough grave slab laid flat and to one side with a new cobbled surface laid around. Walls plastered and painted with three deeply splayed round-headed embrasures. Coved ceiling.

Churchyard

The churchyard, sloping gently down from north to south, is roughly circular and lies within about 20 metres of Nant Ewyn.

Boundary: formed by a rough stone wall.

Monuments: there are no marked burials in the northern sector of the churchyard where the ground rises uphill, though excavations in 1989 revealed unmarked graves on this side. A detailed survey of the graves made in 1986 showed memorials from the 17th to the 20th century. The earliest marked grave date from 1619 and are located south and east of the chancel.

Furniture: the chamfered shaft of a medieval cross has broach stops at its base, and was used as the base for a sundial, though the gnomon has now been ripped off. The brass plate though inscribed is not obviously signed or dated, though there are graffiti on it. It is located amongst the graves on the south side of the church.

Earthworks: the church itself is set on a slight terrace, with the ground dropping away to the south. This might be a natural river terrace. The site of an earlier cockpit may be represented by a hollow depression to the north of the yew planted in 1978 (see below). A second cockpit was sited where there is now a parking area outside the lychgate.

Ancillary features: access to the churchyard via a lychgate and stile to the south-east with a gravel path to the church porch. The lychgate is probably late 16th/early 17thC, and the roof of purlins and rafters contains original timbers. It has monolithic stones supporting the corbelled arches on both sides, internal stone seats built into the side walls, and traces of a probably contemporary verse dating from the period 1550-1650 painted on the inner, south-east facing wall above the arch. Fragments of the shrine were removed from the lychgate in 1958. There is also a gate on the west side of the churchyard and the path to it was formerly known as Llwybr y Corph (corpse path).

Vegetation: six yews of considerable age encircle the church. The five trees on the south, east and west sides have girths of up to 4m and several are sited on raised mounds, perhaps resulting from clearance when grave digging. A low mound suggests the site of another yew in the north-western sector. The yew tree to the north of the church was planted in 1978 to commemorate the 1876-7 restoration work.

Sources consulted

CPAT Field Visit: 3 March 1996 and 4 September 1998
Crossley and Ridgway 1947, 218
Eisel 1986, 191
Faculty: St Asaph (NLW): 1875
Gresham 1968, 176; 244
Haslam 1979, 180
Montgomeryshire Collections1994
NMR Aberystwyth
Powys SMR
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 Pennant Melangell 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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