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Montgomeryshire Churches Survey

Church of St Tysilio and St Mary , Meifod

Meifod Church is in the Diocese of St Asaph, in the community of Meifod in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SJ1553613184.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 75 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Meifod Church, CPAT copyright photo 2416-03.JPG

Summary

Meifod lies in the valley of the Vyrnwy in central Montgomeryshire, nearly 6 miles north-west of Welshpool. The site originated as an early medieval clas with unsubstantiated links to the early princes of Powys. There remain traces of a Romanesque successor as ell as what may be a 12th-century tombstone, but much of the present structure is of 14th/15thC date with some Victorian restoration. It is set in a large semi-circular churchyard, now encroached on by secular buildings, and it contained, outside its present perimeter, a medieval chapel site.

The church was originally Romanesque and probably of cruciform plan; the western end of a 12thC aisled church survives in part in nave. On the basis of the tower arch it has been argued that prior to the 14thC, the transepts and central tower had fallen into disuse and been demolished.

The Romanesque church replaced by a church of different plan, without a north aisle, but with a south aisle alongside the chancel, their east walls aligned. The main doorway and two windows and doorway of the south aisle are 14thC. The tower is of 15thC date on basis of all external detail, though conceivably the upper part of the tower was rebuilt and the stair turret added to an earlier structure at this date. There was some window replacement - east window in chancel - at this time.

The north aisle existed as a lean-to in 1795, and a small section of its east wall survives. It had a wooden arcade in 1837, and was rebuilt by Benjamin Ferrey in 1871-2. During this work the Romanesque arches were found in the south nave wall.

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

History

Three dedications are recorded within the original churchyard: a chapel to St Gwyddfarch; and churches to St Tysilio and St Mary. The earliest church is said to have been built here by St Gwyddfarch, son of Amalarus of Brittany, in c.AD 550; the site became a cult centre of his pupil, St Tysilio. Meifod developed as mother church with a clas community in the early medieval period -from here churches at Llanfair Caereinion, Guilsfield, Welshpool and Alberbury (Salop) were founded. Traditionally, it was the burial place of the princes of Powys (their court supposedly functioned at Mathrafal, 3km to south-west), but this is only reliably authenticated for the 12thC.

St Mary's Church is stated (in the Brut y Tywysogion) to have been consecrated in 1156 after its construction by Madoc ap Meredydd, Prince of Powys, though it may have been started as a result of a bequest by Gruffydd ap Cynon in 1137. Subsequently, it belonged to Strata Marcella Abbey. Possibly there was a dedication change from St Tysilio to St Mary perhaps in the 12thC, but it has also been argued that two churches existed in the churchyard with distinct dedications, the original one of cruciform shape.

Cynddilu, a 12thC poet, in his 'Song of St Tysilio' referred to the beauty of Meifod and the magnificence of its church and priests. A relic, related to a miracle wrought by St Credifael, disappeared at the Reformation but is referred to in records of Court of Augmentations.

The 1254 Taxatio refers to 'Ecclesia de Meyvod' with a value of 2 13s 4d and that of 1291 to 'Ecclesia de Meynot' at 15 6s 8d. And in 1265 Meifod was acknowledged as a mother church.

In 1631 a terrier recorded that two older churches were 'being occupied as houses and gardens'. In 1701 the compiler of another terrier wrote 'I myself have seen ruins of two others'. The chapel of St Gwyddfarch was certainly one of those visible in 1631. Its outline and glazed floor tiles were recovered when the Congregational Chapel was built in 1881x83. Part of an adjacent plot is reportedly still called Gwyddfarch's cemetery, and 17thC terriers claimed it had a small churchyard.

Glynne visited Meifod in 1855, noting that the north aisle was a modern addition. He remarked on the two Decorated windows in the south aisle and the Perpendicular window in the east wall of the chancel, and described the arcades in some detail. There was a west gallery with vine-leaf cornices.

Restoration in 1871 led to the removal of a gallery with 20 benches over the west end of nave. A marble tomb in the south aisle and box pews were removed, as was the ceiling, revealing original timbers. The Norman arch in the north wall of the nave was found at this time, and the wooden piers supporting the north arcade were replaced by stone columns. Thomas has a reference to foundations being discovered, though he is vague on the location and date of the discovery. The north aisle was enlarged.

Architecture

The church consists of a nave and chancel as one unit, a west tower, and north and south aisles. It is aligned south-west/north-east, but 'ecclesiastical east' is used throughout this report.

Fabrics: 'A' is largely of brown and grey shale of random size with occasional pebblestones, re-used red sandstone and ashlar quoins. Relative quantities of the constituents vary. Limewash residue. 'B' is of large, squared quarried blocks of shale (or perhaps dolerite), coursed, with quoins of the same material; smaller stone in west gable end. 'C' is sandstone, surviving only in early arches and some of these replaced. 'D' is similar to 'A' but also includes slabs of a black sedimentary rock that tends to laminate; the stone is small to medium in size.

Roofs: slated; plain grey ceramic ridge tiles. Cross finials to nave only.

Drainage: no convincing evidence of a continuous drain around external wall faces, though there is perhaps the hint of a trench along the north side.

Exterior

Tower. General. Fabric 'A'. Battered base with a concave, ashlar capping, 1m above ground level; another string-course, with impressive gargoyles, below crenellated parapet. Pyramidal slate roof with weathercock. There is a possibility that the upper walls of the tower and the protruding stair turret at the south-west angle represent a secondary phase of development.

North wall: in an apparently uniform fabric but at a height of 6m-7m (at the same height as the eaves of the north aisle) there appears to be some variation with more medium-sized blocks of stone and more coursing. The significance of this (if any) is not clear, and there is no change in the quoins at the north-west angle, while the absence of quoinstones for the first 5m at the north-east corner is consistent with the tower being built against an earlier wall, in this case the remnants of the Norman structure. At belfry level is a two-centred window with two louvred lights that have trefoiled, two-centred heads at belfry level; above these a quatrefoil. The heads appear to be original but some of the chamfered jambstones may be renewed. A clock face below the window; a war memorial plaque is set into the wall at ground-floor level.

East wall: standard two-light window at belfry level, the heads of the lights original but some uncertainty about the jambs.

South wall: this does not have a masonry change comparable with the north wall but there is a greater degree of coursing, giving the effect of a tighter fabric. A lancet with chamfered jambs low in the wall and at belfry level a standard window with largely original dressings. Protruding stair turret at angle (see below).

West wall: windows in the belfry and a second stage as the south wall; also a square-headed, two-light ground floor window with depressed spandrels, chamfered dressings and traces of limewash. All the dressings look original. It has a relieving arch of red sandstone and grey shale voussoirs. Protruding stair turret at south-west angle is rather like a clasping buttress. It lacks the battered base of the tower but contains much re-used red sandstone. It has three simple slit windows.

Nave. General. Fabric 'A'. Externally, only a small part of the nave is visible, on the south.

South wall: west end visible adjacent to tower; one and a half round-headed arches and one cylindrical pier immured in wall, partly in red sandstone. There are suspicions that not much of this is original, but is reconstructed (or rebuilt?), with some of the arch defined by shale voussoirs. Red sandstone quoins feature at the south-west angle of the wall, but only for the lower part of the wall. A Victorian lancet window to the east of the arches. The main doorway into the church is 14thC or 15thC with an original two-centred arch of two orders, both chamfered though the inner one hollowed.

North aisle. General. Fabric 'B', but some of the smaller stonework shows traces of limewash and this may be re-used material; a pitched lean-to roof. Victorian construction.

North wall: three, two-centred, two-light windows, the lights with trefoiled heads and a trefoil above; hoodmoulds with head stops that show some variation from window to window. Four stepped buttresses (contra guidebook plan), and an arched doorway into the vestry, now blocked. This has an arch of alternate red and buff sandstone voussoirs, grey sandstone for the jambs which are chamfered with bar stops, and a hoodmould with stops.

East wall: though primarily in 'B' (with irregular lumps of the stone, not the regular material seen elsewhere), the bottom 1m of the southern two-thirds of this wall is different and could be a variation on 'A', and probably original. Furthermore it is outset from the line of the east wall of the chancel. Intermittent butt joint with nave. A two-centred window with three trefoiled lights and three quatrefoil lights above, wholly Victorian.

West wall: no windows. There is a butt joint with some sandstone at the extreme south end of wall. This might represent the corner of the Norman building but if so it is not clear how it ties in with contemporary features on the inside.

Chancel. General. Fabric 'A' or at least 'A'-type for it is weathered and lichen covered in places.

East wall: the only complete visible wall. North-east corner marked by quoins, the south-east corner tied in with the east wall of south aisle, but a ?juncture visible in places. Three-light, Perpendicular window in east wall: a two-centred arch with cinquefoil tracery, five trefoiled panel lights, and most of the dressings are original. There is an unexplained linear anomaly in the stonework above the window.

South Aisle. General. A variation on Fabric 'A', but varying bands of different stone used, particularly on east wall; formerly limewashed. The south wall in 'D'.

East wall: three-light window in Decorated style with reticulated tracery, the model for the east window in the north aisle. This one,however, is in red sandstone and some of the tracery could be original, though some has clearly been replaced. Ashlar quoins at south-east corner. Clear evidence that the gable end has been raised by about 0.4m, and possible, too, that the gable from the apex of the window arch has been rebuilt.

South wall: in fabric 'D'. Three, two-light windows, the most easterly could be original, though not wholly convincing: tall and with cusped Y-tracery and a quatrefoil above. The other windows are Victorian inserts, similar in design to those in the north aisle north wall; the more easterly of the two shows signs of insertion. An original doorway, of the 14thC (but the listed building report claims it as a 17thC priest's door); of two orders, the archstones renewed but the jambs in pink and grey sandstone are original and disappear below the external ground surface level; voussoir slabs form a relieving arch. Four buttresses (contra guidebook plan), of Victorian date. A slab of rock in the wall face is inscribed with small crosses in circles (4 or 5) and other incisions, and is set in the extreme east end of wall at height of c.3m; it is considered to be early medieval. Sandstone tomb slab of ?1676 against wall.

West wall: most of this wall has been rebuilt except for the 2m immediately below the window which is a three-light Victorian feature with a two-centred arch, three two-centred, trefoiled lights and broad panel lights above. Fragment of a decorated stone, perhaps from a graveslab, built into wall to south of window at height of c.3m.

Interior

Tower. General. Stone slab floor. Walls plastered and whitewashed except for stonework of window embrasures and the archway. Tower built into the last nave bay, and on its east big half piers (from responds of earlier crossing arches?) are re-used for the tower arch, though the moulded capitals are in pale yellow sandstone and chamfered and like the arch itself are in Decorated style. Stone-vaulted ceiling.

West wall: window is off centre. Stair turret door at south-west angle has sandstone jambs in worn red sandstone and an ogee-headed arch.

Nave. General. Tiled floor except at west end where stone slabs (only one obviously a gravestone, from 1723), while the benches are raised on wooden planking. Cast iron heating vents in floor. Walls plastered and whitewashed, except for stonework of the arches and window embrasures. A fifteen-bay roof extending over chancel and nave, divided by arch-braced collar trusses with raking struts; plain wallplates and two tiers of cusped windbraces of 15thC date, but much restored.

North wall: the west end has a free-standing arcade of one and a half Romanesque arches (in Fabric 'C'), comparable but not corresponding to those in external south wall; pier and the respond to the east have chamfered capitals; the plain base of the pier is 0.3m below present floor level, and is now covered by wooden boards. Round arches of two orders; renewal (in the 1871/72 restoration?) of the springers and all the arch stones and one capital. Also the whole of the eastern respond is rebuilt for there is only one piece of original red sandstone. East of this the wall is considered to be a surviving remnant of the 12thC church; it supports a memorial of 1685. Further east the Victorian arcade in buff-coloured freestone is narrower and inset at both east and west ends; its four bays (extending into the chancel) have steep and deeply moulded arches of three orders on cylindrical columns.

East wall: no division between nave and chancel.

South wall: arcade of three, broad, two-centred arches of two orders, perhaps broken through an earlier wall. The western arch springs from a respond which then merges into the wall. The eastern side of this arch also finishes in a respond for there is a short stretch of wall punctured by a simple gap with a two-centred head (supposedly either the original south entrance before the addition of the south aisle, or perhaps more reasonably a priest's entrance). Beyond is the second bay springing, on the far side, from an octagonal pier with a moulded octagonal capital and collar, but set on a square plinth. None of the responds has a capital. Traces of (?medieval) painting on arches, with more towards the east end in the chancel bay. West of the arcade the main south doorway has a reveal in red sandstone, yet of irregular appearance: part of one angle is chamfered while some other jambs have a curved profile, suggesting that the whole doorway may have been refashioned. One 19thC marble memorial on the wall above the 'priest's door', one stone tablet of 1780 further west and below it the coffin plate of Gwalter Mechain.

West wall: as east wall of tower. Relationship of tower arch to Romanesque half bay in north wall is not clearly defined, and butt joint in external west face of north aisle confuses the picture. Near the south-west corner a stone plaque of 1737 leans against the wall.

North aisle. General. Tiled floor except at east end where there is a raised wooden floor for organ and the now removed benches. Walls plastered and whitewashed, except for stonework of arches and window embrasures. Internal wall on west separates aisle from a vestry raised above the general level of the church which also functions as a kitchen. Raised wooden dais at east end. Roof of five bays with collars, king and raking struts; through purlins.

North wall: splayed window embrasures, one late 19thC brass and a 20thC marble memorial.

East wall: splayed window and one 19thC marble tablet.

South wall: arcade as above.

West wall: internal division as noted above; plain.

Chancel. General. Arcades continue from nave, and the sanctuary occupies the eastern bay. Three steps up to altar. Victorian tiles. Roof as nave but the four most easterly trusses have no struts and the fifth, which is near the nave/chancel divide, has upright struts and a subsidiary collar.

East wall: splayed window embrasure and beneath it a carved wooden reredos.

South aisle. General. Tiled floor, partially extended with new tiles after removal of all the benches. Heating vents. Walls as nave and chancel. Ten-bay roof with arch-braced collar trusses, raking struts and two tiers of windbraces, all of 15thC date, and similar to that in nave.

North wall: arcade. Traces of black paint in most easterly arch.

East wall: window dressings show traces of red and black paint. One 19thC marble memorial and a 20thC brass.

South wall: doorway higher internally than externally. Painted decoration on soffit. Window to east has exposed dressings but these do not resolve the problem of date (see exterior description). One marble memorial of 1787 together with one of 19thC date, and 20thC stone and brass memorials.

West wall: splayed window and beneath it the carved cross slab of 9th/10th or 12thC date.

Churchyard

A large, semi-circular enclosure abutting stream on south, originally covering 2.2ha (5.44ac; contra other reports which claim it to be considerably larger). Flat, but slightly above the valley floor. Encroachments in north-east quadrant (Brook Cottages) and particularly on west where houses, chapel and yard adjacent to Church Walk all occupy earlier churchyard.

Boundary: stone wall around most of western, northern and eastern perimeter, disappearing in the vicinity of the scarped river terrace (see below) on east and west. Stone wall in reasonably good condition on north, where local report suggests it was taken down and rebuilt (in the same place?) during modern road improvements, but in poorer state of repair on east.

Monuments: tombs reasonably dense to south and east of a raised track cutting diagonally across churchyard; none to north and west. Few if any below the river terrace scarp. One gravemarker resting against the south wall of the church is dated 1676, and there are some 18thC chest tombs, though the inscriptions are generally worn. A skull and crossbones slab is set at the east end of the church.

Furniture: brass sundial on stone baluster pedestal, south of tower: inscribed 'Fran. Cleaton fecit 1710'.

Earthworks: the scarp bank just within the southern boundary is a natural river terrace, but it may have functioned as earlier boundary. Church sits on a low mound visible particularly on east and north, less so on west, and merges with river terrace on south. Raised track across churchyard from north-east to south-west. Reportedly kept dry during floods but original purpose not clear.

Ancillary features: stone stiles in north-east and south-west, iron gates on north. Possible demolished structure at south end of east churchyard wall - disturbed concrete plinth only. Also former school/hall, now used by builder for storage, within north-west sector.

Vegetation: some yew trees, mainly in southern half and at east end of the church. One mature example. Also a mixture of coniferous and deciduous trees, again on the south side.

Sources consulted

Cadw Schedule of Listed Buildings, 1995
Church Guide 1984
CPAT Field Visit: 2 May 1995 and 29 July 1998
Crossley and Ridgway 1947, 204
Glynne 1885, 47
Haslam 1979, 159
NADFAS Report (held in NMR)
Silvester 1992,129
Thomas 1908, 492


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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 Meifod 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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