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Montgomeryshire Churches Survey

Church of St Mary , Llanfair Caereinion

Llanfair Caereinion Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Llanfair Caereinion in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ1039406468.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 32637 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Llanfair Caereinion Church, CPAT copyright photo CS962110.JPG

Summary

St Mary's church in the heart of Llanfair Caereinion was completely rebuilt in 1868 to the plan of the earlier church. Amongst the features that survived the Victorianisation are some of the 15thC roof timbers, a fine south doorway of the early 13thC, a 13thC font and a recumbent medieval effigy. The church occupies a large churchyard on raised ground above the River Banwy and just to the north-west of the church is St Mary's Well.

The church was completely rebuilt in 1868, though the south doorway from the early 13thC church was retained.

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

History

The first record of the church of St Mary dates from 1239 when a portion of it was granted by the Bishop of St Asaph to the Cistercian nunnery at Llanllugan. However its riverside location and large curvilinear churchyard point to an early medieval foundation and it was reputedly founded from the clas at Meifod.

The church was recorded in the Norwich Taxation of 1254 as 'Ecclesia de Llanveyr' woth a value of 20s, and under the same name in the Lincoln Taxation in 1291 at 17.

Glynne visited the church in 1858. It was large but 'much out of condition'. There was an undivided nave and chancel, an Elizabethan south porch and a western bell tower of stone below and timber above. Inside the porch was a very good Early English doorway of two orders with clustered shafts and foliated capitals which he illustrated. There was a north aisle which extended to the east end but not quite to the west, and this was divided from the nave by timbers which he felt did not warrant the term arcade. Most of the windows were modern, though there were also some square-headed ones which might have been medieval. There were remnants of the screen including a carved beam across the aisle, two brasses of 1712, a gallery at the west end dated to 1725, and a damaged octagonal font. Part of the floor was still of bare earth. A photograph taken prior to the demolition of the old building also shows the square-headed windows with trefoiled lights, as well as a dormer window lighting the gallery, a flight of external steps leading to a door to the gallery, and a two-stage bell tower with pyramidal roof and pinnacles at the corners and apex.

The old church was demolished in 1866-7 due to its poor state of repair. A later report (from 1883) indicates that 'the walls showed that they had been patched up at different times, without skill or architectural taste; for ancient carved stones were thrown into the masonry in several places as common stone'.

The new church, built to the design of Edward Haycock of Shrewsbury at a cost of 1900, was consecrated in 1868, following closely to the ground plan of the earlier structure, except for the north aisle. The citation stated that it was 'proposed to take down and build on the same site but more commodious' and also 'to take in new ground on the north side not covered by the present structure'; this new ground presumably referred to a chancel extension since the present chancel is more to the north than the east. The old wooden steeple in characteristic Montgomeryshire style and the south doorway of the old church with carved sandstone capitals in Early English style were retained when the rest of the church was demolished and the oak roof was refitted.

The old bell tower was retained until 1887 when the present stone tower was constructed by A.E. Lloyd Oswell.

Trial excavations in 1993 located the walls of the original north aisle.

Architecture

The church comprises a continuous nave and chancel with a north aisle incorporating a vestry, a south porch and a square western tower. It 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 fine grained, quarry-cut sandstone, greyish-buff in colour and irregularly coursed. Dressings in pink and yellow sandstone.

Roofs: slates, black ceramic ridge tiles, and cross finials at the east end of the chancel and over the porch.

Drainage: renewed 19thC guttering and downspouts lead to soakaways. No obvious drainage trenches.

Note: as the church is a wholly 19thC structure, only an outline description is provided here.

Exterior

Tower. General. Square western tower surmounted by low pyramidal slate roof and a weathervane. Plinth with pink sandstone coping at c.0.8m above ground level; then four string courses, the highest and most elaborate immediately below the battlemented parapet. Diagonal stepped buttresses at the north-west and south-west corners, and straight buttresses at the south-east and north-east corners integrated with the walls of the nave; all rise to belfry level. A staircase turret integrated with the south-west buttress, rising to the middle of the third stage; there is a doorway at the base of the turret and two small square-headed slits facing west, three to the south.

North wall: three single-light windows, all with trefoiled heads but of slightly different form, and relieving arches over the lower two; and a belfry window consisting of two foiled, louvred lights and a quatrefoil under a two-centred arch with a hoodmould.

East wall: the nave roof rises to near the top of the second stage; a standard belfry window.

South wall: above the plinth is a further string course not present on the other faces. The ground floor has a window with a two-centred arch, two lancet lights with a quatrefoil above, and a hoodmould with plain block stops; then a single trefoiled light, a clock face by Benson of London, and finally a standard belfry window. A brass plate on this wall records the refitting of the old bells and the addition of three new bells in 1946.

West wall: a single trefoiled light in the third storey and a standard belfry window above.

North aisle. General. The masonry, though 'A', is not quite as regular as that in the tower, as a clear division in the west wall shows. The west wall is featureless, the north wall has pairs of foiled, two-centred windows. A third window now forms the entrance to the church room built in 1993.

Vestry. General. Adjoins chancel north wall and is an integral part of the north aisle. The north wall has a shoulder-arched doorway and two windows comparable with those further west in the north aisle, as well as a low angle buttress at the north-east corner. The east wall is set slightly back from the east wall of the chancel and has a basal plinth. In the east wall a two-centred window with a pair of foiled, angular lights and a trefoil and quatrefoil above. Voussoirs in red, grey and buff stone form a relieving arch.

Churchroom. General. Constructed in 1993 on the north-west side of the church. Pebbledashed walls and architectural features with pink sandstone dressings.

Nave and chancel. General. Treated as one as no external differentiation.

East wall: basal plinth with round-moulded coping at 0.3m. Two moulded string courses, the lowest at 0.7m; a third at window springer level insets the wall face. The main east window has a two-centred arch and three lights, the central one trefoiled, those flanking it cinquefoiled, and above is a hexafoil rose. Alternate pink and grey voussoirs form a relieving arch. Small quatrefoil light in apex of gable. A gabled angle buttress at the south-east corner.

South wall: a red sandstone plinth initially at c.0.8m above ground level runs from the tower around the south porch and along the south wall; at the most easterly buttress it stops and is replaced by the lowest of the round-moulded string courses visible on the east wall. Six windows in all; four to the nave including one west of the porch have two-centred pink sandstone arches over pairs of trefoiled lights with open tracery of varying form above, and hoodmoulds and head stops; each has alternating voussoirs in its relieving arch. Two single trefoil-headed lights separated by a buttress which is one of four on this wall, illuminate the chancel, and a band of red sandstone runs between these two windows. Two moulded string courses are continuations of those on the east wall, and a third of different design also acts as a continuous hoodmould over the three nave windows.

Porch - General. In the south wall is a two-centred entrance arch of two orders with a hoodmould and head stops; the inner order is recessed with a two-centred trefoil-headed arch and a relieving arch of red and grey stone voussoirs. Low buttresses at the south-west and south-east corners. East and west walls each have two small trefoiled lights.

Interior

Porch. General. Tiled floor, walls plastered and painted with all stonework exposed. Short wooden benches set in red sandstone. Shouldered arches to recesses on the east and west sides. Ceiling painted blue above the exposed rafters.

North wall: south doorway to the church has 'two orders of triple shafts, the outer with a filleted middle shaft and rings above cushion bases. Capitals carved with rings and inverted fleurs-de-lys with bands passing from shaft to shaft under billets. Above square thin abaci the order is continued as roll-mouldings to a pointed [two-centred] arch. The capitals are transitional from Norman to Early English' (Haslam). Almost all of the stonework is original and in excellent condition.

Tower. General. Ground floor has a stone floor, plastered walls, and a wooden ceiling with a hatch to the ringing chamber. Now used as a vestry and not normally accessible.

Nave. One step up from the porch and then an internal porch. 19thC tiled floor with benches on raised planked floor; the north side benches continue through to the north aisle; carpet down the central aisle towards the chancel and there are heating grilles at the front. Walls plastered and painted with dressed stonework exposed. Nave and chancel have a continuous roof line of 15thC construction; nine arch-braced collar trusses with foiled raking struts form eight bays; some of the early trusses have small carvings at the centres of their soffits.. Exposed rafters and through purlins with ceiling painted blue; plain wall plates. Some of the arch braces of the 15thC church were replaced during the 1868 rebuilding.

North wall: divided from north aisle by four bays of the five-bay arcade. Four round pillars on circular bases which are painted, as are the moulded capitals; two-centred arches with continuous hoodmould and floriated stop at the west respond.

East wall: two steps up with a low stone chancel wall to either side.

South wall: two eastern windows contain stained glass. An old photo and a sketch of the earlier church hanging on the wall.

West wall: abuts tower. A large, high, two-centred Victorian arch to the tower, now filled by a wood panelled screen and a central doorway; panels incorporate coloured glass and a continuous castellated frieze; the pinkish sandstone of the arch is exposed. The west wall of the nave is painted a yellow ochre colour, and has two marble memorials of 1744 and 1813 attached to it.

Chancel. General. Two steps up from the nave and two further steps to the sanctuary and one to the altar. Partly floored with encaustic tiles in the sanctuary. Longitudinal choir stalls. For walls and roof see nave.

North wall: fifth bay of the arcade divides the chancel from the organ chamber, and has a hoodmould with floriate stops. In the sanctuary, an aumbry set in a double trefoil-headed recess in wood. Effigy set on the floor on the north side of sanctuary.

East wall: east window has an internal hoodmould and foliated stops, and the arch has alternating red and white stone blocks. Reredos is oak panelled with a decorative frieze.

South wall: sedile below easternmost window is lined with oak; the piscina is set in a cinquefoil-headed aperture in wood.

West wall: see nave above.

North aisle. General. Floor and walls as nave; a sloping, lean-to roof is supported on wall posts and angled struts rising from four stone corbels above the arcade; through purlins and exposed rafters, and the ceiling is painted blue. The north-east corner is set aside as a chapel with an altar on raised flooring.

North wall: three windows light the aisle, while a fourth window has been superseded by the entrance to the 1993 churchroom. One marble tablet of 1772.

West wall: monuments of 1767, 1790 and 1797.

Organ chamber. General. At east end of north aisle. Plastered walls and wooden floor. Pipe organ presented to church in 1895, and set in easternmost bay of the arcade.

East wall: Caernarvon-arched doorway leads to vestry. Two 19thC memorial tablets.

Vestry. General. At the extreme east end of the north aisle and separated from the sanctuary by a wall.

Churchyard

A large well-kept churchyard on raised ground above the River Banwy on its west side, and occupying a town centre position. There is an extension from 1902 on the north-west side which contains a holy well.

Boundary: a hedge on the north-west side above the river, and on the west there is also a hedge and property boundaries. A stone revetment wall on the south side, partly rebuilt in 1868; from the south-east corner along the east side there are adjoining properties, whether buildings or tenement boundaries.

Monuments: considerable clearance work in the 1970s, and the headstones were lined up in ranks on the east, south and west sides of the church; slate slabs laid flat line the south entrance path and date from 1812 to the -1890s, but one gravemarker of 1800 was noted. Steps lead up to the raised burial ground west of the lychgate and the path is lined with re-sited 19th and early 20thC slabs. The burials on the slope to the north-west of the church are the only ones apparently undisturbed.

Furniture: an old sundial, one of only three made by Samuel Robert, a local clockmaker, has been recently remounted. The worn inscription reads 'S. Roberts, Llanfair' with a 1755 date, and the plate is set on a tapering square white marble plinth. An inscription in Welsh and English is to the memory of Rev. Richard Jones of Llanfair who died in 1868. Located near the south porch.

Earthworks: interior of the churchyard is raised.

Ancillary features: stone and timber lychgate from 1903, restored in 1977. A large, modern iron gate with an adjoining single gate allow access from the south-west corner, and another entrance in the south-east corner is via a wrought iron gate. A stepped entrance at the north corner. Concrete paths including one to St Mary's Well.

Well: St Mary's Well is sited at the bottom of a flight of concrete step leading towards the river. The well has been claimed as pre-Christian and was resorted to as a cure for various disorders. Formerly a pump drew water for domestic use, but the well was disused by 1909. It was restored in 1990 and set in a small enclosed stone walled garden with stone seating. The rectangular well has a stepped entrance.

Vegetation: three older yew trees south-east of the church and one below the chancel; a clipped yew south of the tower and an Irish yew near lychgate.

Sources consulted

Church Notes. n.d.
CPAT Field Visit: 21 February 1995 and 30 July 1998
Crossley and Ridgway 1947, 192
Eisel 1986, 182
Faculty ST Asaph (NLW) 1867: demolition and rebuilding
Faculty ST Asaph (NLW) 1867: churchyard extension
Glynne 1885, 42
Gresham 1968, 202
Haslam 1979, 127
Hughes 1883
Lunt 1926, 469
NMR Aberystwyth
Powys SMR
Ridgway 1997, 135
Williams 1990, 45
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 Llanfair Caereinion 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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