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Radnorshire Churches Survey

Church of St Cynllo , Llanbister

Llanbister Church is in the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon, in the community of Llanbister in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SO1099273307.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16816 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Llanbister Church, CPAT copyright photo 424-07.JPG

Summary

St Cynllo's church occupies a spur jutting towards the River Ithon, a short distance to the west. It functioned as a mother church in the early medieval era and in this context earthworks within its irregularly shaped churchyard could be significant. Most of its architecture can be attributed to the 14thC and 16thC, with considerable but generally sympathetic renovation in the early 20thC. It is unusual for having the tower at the east end, has an interesting range of fixtures and fittings, and contains more dated inscriptions in stone and wood than any other church in Radnorshire, and perhaps in Powys.

Nave may be c.1300 on basis of small lancets, though a church history claims there are older blocked windows in the north wall of the building (now rendered over).

Date of chancel unknown but could be as late as tower which was built in 16thC; features of the latter include south door and blocked windows, at least two stair turret windows,and re-used architectural stonework from Cwmhir Abbey; its height was reduced, probably in 1701. Bells added at this time but frame has date 1752.

South, east and perhaps part of north walls of chancel and part of south wall of nave rebuilt, probably in 1732, on evidence of window inscription in nave.

West wall reconstructed at some unspecified time, but probably precedes 1908 restoration which was responsible for new windows, a door towards west end of nave and the south porch.

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

History

Llanbister was a mother church for the cantref of Maelienydd, the churches of Llanbadarn Fynydd, Llananno, Llanddewi Ystradenni and Llanfihangel Rhydithon being dependent on it. This in itself should indicate an early medieval origin, a contention reinforced by both the dedication and the location.

Giraldus Cambrensis reputedly spent a night in the church on one of his ecclesiastical expeditions c.1176.

It is recorded as 'Ecclesia de Lanbyst' in the Taxatio of 1291 with a particularly high value of 30 13s 4d, the largest income of any church in the Archdeaconry of Brecon.

Williams (in 1818), recorded that the church was repaired in 1701, and the tower reduced to its present height. Two of the bells carry this date, as does a stone set into south-east buttress.

Further work was undertaken in 1716 when the gallery was erected, and in 1732 when at least one new window was added. Woodwork in the ringing loft has the date 1752.

Glynne visited the church in 1851, observing that the chancel was raised up, that the west end was partitioned off for a school, and that on the north side was a closed window that had a Romanesque look.

A report of 1874 refers to a 16-bay roof with alternate trusses.

It was restored in 1908 by W.D.Caroe and H.Passmore, who retained the internal woodwork which is such a feature of the building, but remodelled the roof.

Architecture

Llanbister church has a nave and chancel in one, a tower at the east end abutting chancel and set deep into the side of the slope, and a south porch. The church is oriented north-west/south-east, but 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted here for descriptive purposes.

Fabrics: 'A' consists of small to medium grey slabs and blocks of shale, irregularly coursed. 'B' consists of small and occasionally medium blocks of brown and grey shale, randomly coursed. 'C' is a mixture of generally small grey blocks and slabs of shale, much of it lichen covered. 'D' is grey shale and fine sedimentary (?mudstone) with rare blocks of yellow sandstone; random coursing but generally a regular appearance; render traces survive on some stone. 'E' consists of small through to large blocks of grey and iron stained shale, the largest blocks reserved for quoins and for foundations, the whole uncoursed. 'F' is similar to 'D' but cleaner and no render.

Fabric 'B' is original medieval, but in places may have been rebuilt using original material. 'E' is probably 16thC and 'D' possibly so. 'A' at west end thought to be post-medieval, perhaps 18thC or 19thC. 'C' results from 20thC restoration and construction.

Roofs: slate tiles with reconstituted clay ridge tiles; no finials. Nave and chancel roofed in one.

Drainage: a drainage gully with downpipes along north side with battered inner face; at least 0.3m deep at west end but further east, the gully merges into the increasingly deep terrace created in the hillside for the church, at least 1.5m lower than adjacent ground surface. No recognisable drainage on south or west.

Exterior

Nave. General. Nave and chancel appear as one on north side and on roof line, but chancel wider on south. Nave of the 13thC on basis of small lancets in north and south walls.

North wall: completely rendered but one for patch where masonry exposed. Four windows, from west: i) two-light with cinquefoil tracery under round heads, in flat-topped frame; all in red and olive sandstone; early 20thC insertion; ii) and iii) small, simple 13thC lancets lacking chamfers, arched heads fashioned from single blocks, sills replaced; more westerly window in flaking grey sandstone which may be replacement; that to east in original sandstone. Both have leaded lights; iv) a broader lancet to light the rood, chamfered to create external splay; one of jambs could be replaced but rest in red sandstone is probably original.

East wall: none.

South wall: largely rendered with at least four different toned coatings. From east: i) wall leans outwards; 14thC priest's door with two-centred arch, chamfered dressings all in red sandstone, though the arch completely replaced; all dressings have traces of whitewash; the basal stops replaced, one in brick, one in broken yellow sandstone; innermost part of reveal of brick or plastered over; simple wooden door approached by four steps; ii) c.1.5m west of priest's door, next section of wall is plumb; contains one four-light flat-headed window, all the lights with simple two-centred arched heads with what appears to be modern tracery in light coloured sandstone; one jambstone has an inverted inscription incorporating initials and the date 1657, another has an inscription containing the words 'W:Mason 1732'; above the window there is no render, and the masonry consists largely of sandstone blocks; iii) 3m east of porch, wall resumes its original plane with outwards lean. The base of the wall is battered to height of c.0.7m; there is a single lancet window with a modern sill and the rest of its dressings covered in render; above the window there is no render exposing masonry of Fabric 'B' type; curiously the stone has been laid to tip down towards the head of the lancet; above this is a possible slit window, partly blocked, but with the lintel stone and eastern side reasonably obvious; iv) in line with west side of the porch wall face is plumb, a mixture of Fabrics 'A' and 'C'. Set in matrix of 'C' is a three-centred arched doorway in brick-red and grey sandstone, chamfered, giving access to boiler room; above is a rectangular window with two rounded headed lights with cinquefoil tracery in comparable sandstone. Directly above is a second similar window and both are comparable with most westerly of the north nave windows. These windows and surrounding material appear to be inserted, the rest of the south wall being in Fabric 'A'.

West wall: all in Fabric 'A' but banded masonry inasmuch as lower levels of grey shale blocks with zone of narrow grey shale slabs above, the patterning repeated higher up. Whole wall is plain, except for three buttresses, all of different design. One buttress projects from centre of wall and may be a chimney for a chimney pot in brick-red sandstone above apex of wall, while two diagonal buttresses at angles. Unclear as to whether diagonal buttresses contemporary with wall face.

Chancel. North wall: continuous with nave - no obvious division. Two windows: both broad, squat single lancets with leaded lights, two-centred arched heads in brown sandstone - early 20thC? Between these windows is the renderless masonry which appears to be Fabric 'B'.

East wall: much of this disguised by tower, except on south. Here chancel wall in Fabric 'D', the lower portion projecting as a chamfered plinth. Above its apex, a buttress runs to full height of tower. Two mural tablets pinned to the main wall but both too badly flaked to be intelligible, a third clearly there until recently. However, at the base is a low wall stub perhaps >0.5m high and not extending as far south as east wall of chancel. This stub wall joins, in the same plane, what appears to be a buttress projecting from south wall of tower and constructed of similar fabric to tower. In fact it appears likely that both stub wall and buttress are remnants of former chancel wall, for above the point where the buttress terminates the tower wall is scarred as though a former wall broken off.

South wall: wall is plumb with chamfered plinth continuing rounds from east side. All in Fabric 'D' with well-dressed quoinstones, and towards west end curious 'herring-bone' pattern of masonry high up on wall. Rectangular window of five lights with two-centred arched heads and sunken spandrels, comparable with that in south wall of nave. Butt joint of nave and chancel implies that end wall of nave removed, as chancel wall has quoins in red sandstone higher up and in shale at lower levels where they project behind nave masonry. Wall supports a single mural tablet of 1813.

Tower. General. Walls of Fabric 'E', without any embellishments such as string courses. Diagonal buttresses at south-east and north-east angles. Basic structure is of 16thC, but has a slated two-stage pyramidal roof, dating to 1701, surmounted by weathercock and vane, and two louvred lights in each of the vertical timber faces that separate the stages.

North wall: plain. Date 1991 scratched on stone high up on wall indicating date of recent restoration. At north-west corner is a projecting stair turret exhibiting three rectangular slit windows; the upper two have unchamfered jambs in gold sandstone and leaded lights; the lowest has shale jambs, an unleaded light, and thus might be a later insertion (though this is not confirmed by internal splay details).

East wall: again in Fabric 'E' but more yellow sandstone, and one block has inscription. Just under eaves, a rectangular slot window with yellow sandstone jambs, now blocked.

South wall: south-east angle buttress has inscription with date of 1701 and may be an addition to the tower for bonded in with large blocks of red sandstone unlike anything on north side. Doorway has three-centred arch in yellow sandstone; only the head is chamfered. Arch is set into thickness of wall, and the exterior reveal, incorporating yellow and grey sandstone, has triangular head of edge set stones. About 2m higher up is relieving arch of shale blocks on edge. Just below eaves is another blocked rectangular window with yellow sandstone jambs.

Porch. General. Fabric 'F'. No porch existed when church photographed in 1905.

East wall: plain; one mural slab of 1819 pegged to it.

South wall: simple large rectangular entrance, the gable consisting of tie beam with raking struts infilled with plaster and supported on walls which include well-dressed brick-red sandstone quoins of early 20thC date.

West wall: plain.

Interior

Porch. General. From the path three external steps and seven internal steps lead to main south door of church. Steps consist of slate set on brick foundations. Simple roof of single bay with outer truss as described above, and inner of principal rafters linked by collar and resting on tie-beam stubs.

North wall: contains main south door to church, a two-centred arch in grey and light-brown sandstone, double chamfered without stops, thought to be of 14thC date. Underpinned with brick on east side, and also inner side of reveal has brick fill (as priest's door).

East wall: stoup formed from Early English capital set in wall next to door. Also a large rectangular, but shallow, alcove with wooden lintel, of no obvious function. Two grey sandstone architectural fragments set into wall above it.

South wall: nothing

West wall: also has alcove, as east wall, but on this side four architectural fragments fixed decoratively into wall.

Nave. General. Threshold stone at door is weathered 18thC grave slab with flags just inside; then 8 concrete steps up to interior. Beside this is a completely enclosed baptistry, sunk into floor. Nave floor of stone slabs and occasional gravestone, with carpet down the aisle. No heating vents visible but boiler room fashioned in 1908 (and entered through external door, west of porch) argues strongly for underfloor voids. Also at least one vault near chancel steps, sealed in the early 20thC. Roof is modern (but modelled on a 15thC predecessor) with four bays defined by five tie beams, and between each are two arch-braced collars with crown posts and raking struts; all rest on wooden corbels; four tiers of windbraces, the upper three quatrefoils, the lowest trefoils. At west end of nave, a gallery dated 7 July 1716, and beneath this in north-west corner, a panelled vestry from 1908, all lit by the cinquefoil windows on north and south sides of nave. Walls plastered and whitewashed.

North wall: battered slightly; features from west: i) vestry with 20thC window; ii) wall painting fragment showing part of frame; iii) wall monument to Rev Lloyd (d.1838); iv) mural tablet of 1833; v) deeply splayed window with two-centred arched embrasure; vi) fragmentary wall painting similar to previous; vii) beneath wall painting is case containing parts of musical instruments used by musicians in gallery - undated; viii) deeply splayed window, its sloping sill lower than that to west; ix) another fragmentary wall painting with traces of lettering, overlapped by: x) mural tablet of 1790.

East wall: screen set on low masonry wall, with four steps up to chancel.

South wall: batter of original wall more pronounced than on north side, but alternates with newer sections which are plumb. From east: i) priest's door with two-centred arched embrasure; ii) big flat-silled embrasure set in length of new wall, the dressings not whitewashed; iii) mural tablet of 1805; iv) deeply splayed window with sloping sill set in original wall; v) mural tablet of 1841; vi) large internal reveal to main south door with two-centred arch over; so large in comparison with doorway that it might indicate some modification at time of restoration; vii) wooden plaque of 1908 recording donation from Incorporated Church Building Society; viii) modern windows one above the other, segmental arches over the embrasures using same pinkish sandstone as baptistry.

West wall: plain, but wall inset twice; the lowest ledge acted as support for former truss, removed in 1908; chimney stack rises to roof.

Chancel. General. Flag floor with carpet over part of it; choir stalls raised on wooden block plinths; two steps up to altar. Roof similar to nave but all arch-braced collars (6), and four tiers of quatrefoil windbraces.

North wall: wall plumb; contains two splayed windows with relatively modern grey sandstone dressings.

East wall: dominated by modern reredos; to the north of this a three-centred arched doorway to tower set in shallow embrasure. High up wall, above this a diagonal disconformity suggests an earlier roof or rafter line.

South wall: wall dominated by large shallow-splayed window with mix of original and replacement dressings. Just to east of the screen, wall adopts original battered profile. Two mural tablets of 1827 and 1867.

West wall: screen.

Tower. General. Entrance to stair turret set in thickness of west wall. Concrete floor. Roof open to floor of bell stage. Four elaborately carved Early English capitals with foliage, and dressed stone springers above, set into angles of the tower walls at what is thought to be the level of the old ringing loft; they no longer have any function.

North wall: plain.

East wall: plain. Wooden mural tablet of 1800.

South wall: door entrance has splayed two-centred arch with edge stones for voussoirs; relieving arch which is visible externally also visible on internal face.

West wall: triangular-headed splayed door embrasure gives access to chancel. Above is a relieving arch which is eccentric to doorway below.

Churchyard

Llanbister churchyard is an irregular elongated shape dictated by its siting on a spur isolated between valleys that drop down to the River Ithon a little over 200m to the west. Spur itself slopes strongly and churchyard is terraced both for the church itself and for some groups of graves.

It is reasonably well-maintained, though much of the interior north and north-east of church is fenced off and unused.

The boundary on the west consists of a stone revetment wall, perhaps 1.4m high, but on south this gives way to a scarp bank with a drop beyond to a small stream; the scarp is reinforced by a wire fence and a few small trees for about 50m to the south-east corner; from there a distinctive bank with a fence on top runs for full length of east side, the inner drop greater than the outer one because of the slope. On the north the drop to the valley has only a fence along the rim, though lower down there is a hint of a low bank.

Monuments: burials are spread around the west, south and east sides of the church, the majority on terraces to the west. Most of these are 19thC and 20thC. South-west of the church is a lower terrace, probably an extension to the original churchyard, lacking burials except for a handful at extreme end which date from the mid-19thC onwards. Few obvious 18thC gravestones, the earliest being from 1759 just south of porch. Modern burials primarily in highest, eastern part of churchyard. It is claimed that some 18thC and l9thC gravestones in the churchyard were brought from Llananno.

Furniture: none.

Earthworks: northern part of churchyard, which because of the nature of spur overlooks the church, appears to be grave-free. This has one large platform terraced into it and several less well-defined scoops. These could be significant in the context of the early church at Llanbister. A scarp bank to the south-west of the church is a natural continuation of the churchyard boundary further east and may be the original perimeter which was replaced prior to the mid-19thC. The earthen bank on the east side may also be an early feature.

Ancillary features: the main access is from the west where small, iron, double gates and a separate kissing gate are linked to the church porch by a tarmac path. At the east end of the churchyard are a wooden farm gate and a stile.

Vegetation: four yews are spread along what is considered to be the old scarped perimeter on the south side of the church (see above). Sporadic trees and bushes grow elsewhere.

Sources consulted

CPAT Field Visit: 01 February 1996
Crossley and Ridgway 1949, 237
Davies 1905, 231ff, 346
Glynne 1897, 55
Haslam 1979, 243
Howse 1949, 243 & 259
NMR Aberystwyth
Quinquennial Report 1994
Rees 1972
Williams 1874, 46
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 Llanbister 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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