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Radnorshire Churches Survey

Church of St Mary Magdalene , Bleddfa

Bleddfa Church is in the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon, in the community of Llangunllo in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SO2065368384.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16716 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Bleddfa Church, CPAT copyright photo CS955826.JPG

Summary

Bleddfa church is dedicated to St Mary Magdalene and lies within a raised sub-rectangular churchyard on a slight spur, towards the head of a U-shaped valley that feeds into the River Lugg about 12km west-north-west of Presteigne. The earliest architecture dates from the 13thC, but there was considerable reconstruction work in the post-medieval era. Other than the font there is little in the way of medieval fittings in the building.

Lancet window in south wall of nave suggests earlier 13thC date for western part of nave; three other 13thC lancets in nave and chancel are later; all other windows inserted.

Tower difficult to date on architectural grounds but considered to be no later than the 14thC, on the evidence of excavation.

West end of nave may have been rebuilt and extended slightly around 1711, porch built at same time. Large parts of chancel and north side of nave rebuilt conceivably in 1907, but much more likely to be at some time early in 18thC.

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

History

Traditionally Bleddfa is an ancient site, founded by the Irish saint Brendan in 6thC. No evidence exists to substantiate this, and the location apart there is nothing to indicate an early medieval origin.

Bleddfa appears as 'Ecclesia de Blethevath' in 1291 Taxatio with a value of 5 6s 8d.

Present church building pre-dates Taxatio record. Western part of nave first featured in early 13thC, extended to east in late 13thC. Tower destroyed by fire, reputedly by Owain Glyndwr's troops before the Battle of Pilleth in 1402.

Building re-roofed in 15thC; bellcote added about 1711, together with porch.

In 1818 box pews replaced by benches, with flagstones and boards instead of the earth floor.

Glynne visited Bleddfa, sometime in the middle of the 19thC. The whitewashed church had original lancets in both the nave and chancel but other windows were classed as modern. He thought the interior was dreary but in a better state that many of the other churches in the county.

Restoration by Ernest Collier of Carmarthen in 1907, included buttressing to north and south walls, replacement of wooden windows with new ones in stone, external walls coated with rough-cast render.

Tower excavated by L Butler in 1960/63.

Church repairs in 1959 and 1983. Further repairs by Capps and Capps in 1987 to roof timbers: arcade work introduced as strengthening device between tie beams and collars of two trusses at west end. Redecorating and pointing in 1991 and 1992.

Architecture

Bleddfa church consists of a nave and chancel, a ruined west tower attached to nave, and south porch centrally placed on south side of nave. It is oriented slightly south of grid east but for and for descriptive purposes 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted here.

Fabrics: 'A' is medium-sized grey, tabular shale intermittently coursed. 'B' is a variation of 'A' incorporating large slabs of shale up to 1m long. 'C' is also grey tabular shale, of essentially post-medieval use, though perhaps incorporating earlier stone. 'D' includes blocks of other sedimentary rock (?sandstone and micaceous mudstone) with shale. 'E' is of slabs and blocks of olive-coloured micaceous mudstone.

Fabrics A, B and D are thought to be medieval, C is post-medieval or modern and E is probably modern.

Roofs: stone tiles on nave, bellcote and porch, slate on chancel; ceramic ridge tiles. Finial on porch roof.

Drainage: drain obvious around south side, and on east and west sides of porch; not visible on north.

Exterior

Tower. General. Ruined tower excavated in 1960-63, standing to height of c.3.0m, with walls 2m thick. All Fabric 'A'. Wider than nave. Base slightly battered. Wall tops badly overgrown, interior inaccessible with no obvious entrance.

North wall: string-course at height of c.1.4m; massive sandstone quoins at north-east angle; recent heavy pointing.

East wall: see west wall of nave.

South wall: battered but no obvious string-course, c.2.5m maximum height. Large sandstone quoins at south-east angle. Wall overlaps with that of nave for more than 3m.

West wall: maximum height of 2m, string-course at c.1.0m; poor pointing.

Nave. General. Internally there is no division between nave and chancel, simply an altar at east end. However, both internally and externally there is a change in form half way along building, with what would conventionally be termed the chancel marginally wider than the nave and the roof apex c.0.4m higher and with a slightly different pitch. To facilitate description the two units are here termed nave and chancel even though they do not conform to the liturgical usage within.

Simple low nave. Walls on north and south run behind low walls of tower. Masonry consists of Fabrics 'B' and 'C' on north with addition of 'D' on south. Some render and limewash survival. Recent development = ground level of north excavated down to foundation level and gravel path introduced.

North wall: largely Fabric 'B', particularly along lower wall face. Foundations newly exposed and pointed; remnant limewash above. One lancet window towards western end is 20thC insertion with Fabric 'C' around and above; where this runs behind the tower stub, difficult to determine whether it is 'C'. East from lancet window is bulging wall face in Fabric 'B'. Then another larger, inserted patch of Fabric 'C' as far as chancel wall, with the ghost of a window embrasure on its western edge.

East wall: none.

South wall: much of wall in Fabric 'D'. From east to west: i) single 13thC lancet window with sandstone dressings (original); render remnants on wall face, with traces of limewash beneath; ii) fabric change to 'B', probably just to east of: iii) porch; iv) 'B' continues to south-west corner, except for inserted lancet window set in surround of Fabric 'C', as on north wall.

West wall: incorporates east wall of tower. However, present nave wall has been rebuilt to west of former inner face of tower's east wall, and the quoins re-set. This occurred c.1711.

Bell turret: square with horizontal timber boarding, pyramidal roof surmounted by weather vane and arrow. North face has what appears to be small shuttered window, west face likewise.

Chancel. General. Fabric 'D' predominates, and shows frequent traces of render over limewash.

North wall: some limewash residue and flecks of render over 'D' masonry. From west to east: i) inserted double-light Decorated window of 20thC date, with Fabric 'C' above; ii) single inserted lancet window, also within 'C'; iii) stepped buttress of 20thC date; iv)+v) original lancet windows with moulded dressings set in 'D'; vi) north-east angle in Fabric 'C'.

East wall: whole wall in Fabric 'C' with occasional sandstone quoins; modern east window of three stepped lancets.

South wall: from east to west i) first section of wall in 'C'; ii) wall in 'D' containing original lancet window and 20thC stepped buttress; iii) west of buttress top of wall face has intrusive patch of Fabric 'E'; then replacement two-light Decorated window under two-centred arch, coinciding with change from 'D' to 'C', though edge difficult to detect.

West wall: not present.

Porch. General. Appears to be in Fabric 'C', with occasional limewash fragments. Thought to be early 18thC.

North wall: not present.

East wall: plain.

South wall: simple wooden upright jambs support segmental-headed tie beam, the gable above has queen struts and plaster infill.

West wall: most of wall obviously rebuilt, for foundation stones project beyond wall face and projecting sandstone at north end.

Interior

Porch. General. Flagged floor; modern roof with collared trusses, except the outermost ones which lack collars. Bare walls.

North wall: doorway with two-centred arched head of voussoirs, no chamfers and roughly dressed stone. Early heavily studded boarded door with long wrought hinges.

East and west walls: plain; plank benches on stone supports.

Tower. General. Not accessible. In west wall a mural stair visible, descending to a doorway with a monolithic arched head.

Nave. General. West end partitioned off (east of south door) and used for exhibition, formerly a schoolroom; Stone flagged floor throughout, but carpeted down centre. 15thC roof trusses in nave, supposedly earlier than those in chancel; three arched-brace trusses with chamfered tie beams and purlins and in one bay two quadruple cusped windbraces. Further to the west is a plain tie-beam truss with raking struts, but also some replacement for another tie-beam sawn off and the stubs painted over; some re-use of older timber at this end. Early 20thC report that most of roof timbers originally had simple painted designs. Walls plastered and limewashed.

North wall: one splayed window; position of another further east still visible - see nave (exterior).

East wall: not present.

South wall: splayed windows.

West wall: only partially visible because of exhibition display. Triangular-headed entrance to tower, now blocked; thought to be early 14thC.

Chancel. General. Same level as nave, carpeted. Later 15thC roof, of eight bays formed by alternate queen post and arch-braced trusses, the latter all chamfered. Three sets of trenched purlins and two tiers of chamfered quatrefoil windbraces. Members were clearly at one time painted, fragments of red and white paint survive. Former rood beam tying one of the queen post trusses rests on modern corbels and has painted floral decoration. The paint is interrupted below the queen post and there are slots cut out of the tie beam indicating the position of various fixings for the rood and/or canopy. Walls plastered and limewashed.

North wall: four splayed window embrasures; piscina set in wall with two-centred arch over, completely whitewashed. Mural tablet of 1778.

East wall: splayed window.

South wall: mural tablet of 1867/1884.

West wall: none.

Churchyard

Bleddfa churchyard is sub-rectangular though exhibiting a curved eastern side. It occupies a gentle spur and within the yard the ground rises slightly from east to west.

It is well-maintained, still used for burials and shows no obvious indication of having been extended.

On south the boundary consists of a stone revetted bank with a hedge on top, the external ground surface more than 0.5m below that inside. This gives way to a stone wall on the west where the internal level is similarly about 0.5m higher, while on the north the ground drops away progressively eastwards beyond a stone faced bank. Again on the east the ground level inside the stone wall is significantly higher inside.

Monuments: gravestones are spread on the west, south and east sides, with one dense group to north-west of tower, another south-east of chancel. Earliest recognisable stone is of 1808. Nine chest tombs.

Furniture: none.

Earthworks: recent work on north side of church has left piles of earth (temporary?). Almost all of the mound that once enveloped tower ruins has been removed.

Ancillary features: ornamental iron gates give access from east. Wooden door in wall to north gives access from rectory. Also old gate in south-west corner. Gravel paths.

Vegetation: three yews in south-east corner; otherwise miscellaneous collection of deciduous and coniferous trees and bushes.

Sources consulted

Butler 1962
Cadw Listed Building Schedule 1992
CPAT Field Visit: 10 October 1995
Faculty: 1905 NLW/SD/39
Glynne 1897, 54
Haslam 1979, 221
Howse, 1949, 257
NMR Aberystwyth
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 Bleddfa Church may also be found on the Swansea and Brecon Diocese website.


The CPAT Radnorshire 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 ( 22:02:45 ).
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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