Radnorshire Churches Survey
Church of St Steffan , Llanstephan
Llanstephan Church is in the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon, in the community of Glasbury in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SO1197742166.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16892 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.
The small church of St Stephan lies high up on the east side of the Wye Valley some 12km to the south-east of Builth Wells. Architecturally it is undistinguished, the best features being the15thC Perpendicular windows. There are virtually no internal
fittings of early date. The churchyard includes a well, a sundial and a few chest tombs.
Nave is 13thC with original south doorway perhaps of this date, but all windows are later.
Chancel added in 14thC when nave wall broken through. Some reconstruction in?19thC.
Tower is claimed to be of 14thC origin, supposedly on basis of round-arched doorway to nave, but this could be 15thC (cf chancel east window) in keeping with date attributed to current tower. Additionally, tower arch may have been re-set. Tower perhaps
partly rebuilt on west and south (though conceivably the appearance is the result of contemporary variation in the masonry), but at date unknown and Victorian insertion on south.
Internally, 19thC reconstruction of most windows and doors, chancel arch, as well as replacement of some external dressings. Porch added at this time.
Parts of the following description are quoted from the 1979 publication The Buildings of Wales: Powys by Richard Haslam
Nothing is known of the early history of Llanstephan. If the nave can be attributed architecturally to the 13thC, this pre-dates the first known documentary reference in the St David's Episcopal Registers which record 'Llanstephn' in 1399.
Williams, in 1818, described a timber frame dividing the nave from the chancel and a rood loft of fine oak, very elegantly carved, with rosettes and vine leaves intertwined, supported by oak pillars. A stone slab formed the communion table. All these have
Church restored by Thomas Nicholson in 1867-8, with new nave roof, chancel arch, window embrasures etc.
Church consists of nave, chancel, south porch and west tower, the last two both attached to nave. Its alignment is almost true east/west.
Fabrics: 'A' is of small to medium grey sandstone slabs with some blocks, and some exceptionally large slabs up to 1.5m; the stone is weathered and lichen covered, and irregularly coursed; the quoins consist of selected blocks of the same material.
'B' is of small to large, cleaner blocks of grey sandstone, irregularly coursed.
'C' is of similar with medium to large slabs of sandstone but with more colour variation, both grey and yellow.
'D' is of small to medium slabs of grey and red sandstone, weathered and irregularly coursed.
'E' is of regular blocks and slabs of sandstone, with dressed quoins in alternating red and grey sandstone.
Fabrics 'A', 'C' and 'D' are medieval; 'B' could be recent re-use of older material; 'E' is probably new 19thC masonry.
Roofs: moss-covered shale tiles, modern ceramic ridge tiles on nave, toothed ridge tiles on chancel; metal cross finials of different designs on nave, chancel and porch.
Drainage: on north side the church is terraced into slope and a drainage trench of brick and concrete fed by downpipes utilises this sunken platform; continues around east side. Nothing obvious on south and west.
Tower. General. Solid, squat tower of two and a half stages in Fabric 'A', walls tapering inwards. Two string-courses consisting of flat slabs with added concrete chamfers. Pyramidal roof, weathervane and cock. In its present form it is thought to have
been built in the 14thC, and rebuilt in 16thC, but evidence equivocal (see summary above).
North wall: plinth in concrete at base of wall assists drainage. Small rectangular window, glazed, in 2nd stage, no jambs and chamfered in concrete. 3rd stage (belfry) has similar window, but virtually no chamfer, louvred, and projecting stone sill.
East wall: nave roof apex reaches to tower eaves, and most of remaining masonry covered by metal sheeting.
South wall: an off-centre door, grey sandstone rilled dressings with stopped chamfers: a Victorian insertion now blocked, the insertion visible in the surrounding masonry. Belfry window as on north side. Whole of 3rd stage and upper part of 2nd stage in
thin slabs, a variation of 'A'. Plinth, probably modern, runs around south-west corner at height of c.0.3m, but does not extend as far as doorway.
West wall: Fabric 'A' but thin slabs in 3rd stage as in south wall. In 1st stage, rectangular window without jambs but with projecting sill, glazed, with iron bars. In 3rd stage, standard belfry window with broken sill. Both these windows slightly larger
than their counterparts in other walls of tower.
Nave. North wall: large plinth at base of wall facilitates drainage, though because of terraced site ground level on which plinth is set is c.3.0m down. Two two-centred arched windows each with two cusped lights and additional light in tympanum. Whole
wall possibly refaced in Fabric 'B', but this could be original masonry.
East wall: just over 1m higher than chancel. Visible wall has irregular face with protruding stones.
South wall: in Fabric 'C' though possible that less weathered wall top for last metre or so is rebuilt. Patch blocked in, high up to west of porch, but reason obscure. Two 15thC two-light windows with trefoil heads and 'diamond' lights in the tympana; red
and grey chamfered dressings, mostly original, but some replacement particularly of mullions.
West wall: tower wall abuts nave on north side, but no relationship established on south side.
Chancel. North wall: Fabric 'D', more weathered and lichened than north nave wall; plaster remnants on wall face; little selection of specific stones for quoins. One pair of cusped lights, chamfered dressings, barred windows; original but for mullion
East wall: south part of wall only has battered base to height of 0.3m. South-east wall angle replaced in Fabric 'E'. Fine Perpendicular round-headed east window, three lights with ogee heads and cusped tracery, six panels above; all in original grey and
red sandstone, and dated in the Cadw listing to c.1430-1450.
South wall: wall base battered to height of 0.5m. Paired lights as on north, replaced mullion? Priest's doorway with two-centred arch and stopped chamfers; the dressings all Victorian, and the door itself modern. Chancel wall butts against nave on this
side. Some of wall in Fabric 'E'.
Porch. General. Porch abuts nave and uses regular blocks and slabs in Fabric 'E'. South entrance has two-centred arch in buff sandstone of Victorian build; side walls plain.
Porch. General. Flagged floor. Victorian roof of two bays with three arch-braced trusses and one tier of trefoiled windbraces. Three steps up at porch entrance, one up at nave door. Interior limewashed in past.
North wall: two-centred arch in red sandstone with chamfered dressings and broach stops - original and thought to be 13thC.
East wall: stone bench with slab seat.
South wall: arch internally chamfered with stops.
West wall: as east wall.
General. Interior of church has not been plastered and shows bare stonework throughout. Windows are uniformly Victorian with two-centred arched embrasures and chamfered dressings in yellow sandstone.
Tower. General. Tower floor two steps up; floor of black and red tiles, carpet covered. Bell stage supported on oak beams to reinforce the weak stonework.
North wall: massive timbers supporting belfry built into wall. Wall patched in places, occasionally with brick. Splayed window with wooden lintel and sill.
East wall: round-headed arch, broad for its height, chamfered dressings with half-pyramidal stops. Above the arch are indications that it may have been inserted into existing masonry, and the relieving arch is not centred on it.
South wall: belfry frame free-standing against wall, but a break in masonry near south-east corner reveals where former vertical support incorporated into wall face (as on north), and positions of former diagonal supporting struts also visible. Blocked
West wall: wall base on this side has plinth to height of 0.3m and is battered to c.1.3m. Slightly splayed window, deep basal splay, wooden lintel.
Nave. General. 13thC nave plan of a double square. Floor is same as tower, though encaustic tiles at east end, and benches on flush wooden boarding. There is no obvious sign of underfloor heating. Roof of eight bays with arch-braced trusses launched from
decorated wall plates, all Victorian.
North wall: slight outward lean. Inner arch of more westerly of two windows clearly inserted. At west end timber joists (for gallery?) sawn off. One 19thC mural tablet and wooden Building Society panel (1869).
East wall: inserted chancel arch, two-centred with complex mouldings in yellow sandstone.
South wall: features from east to west: i) just to west of more easterly window is fragment of relieving arch; its significance is unclear but it could simply indicate that present splay is a Victorian enlargement, and same appears to be true for more
westerly window; ii) mural tablet of 1876; iii) small niche with two-centred arched head in single block of stone; the base seems very shallow for a stoup; iv) reveal rebuilt in same way as windows; v) blocked window or door high up on wall, coinciding
with similar if less obvious fabric patching externally; possibly a square window to light a former gallery (note: in support of this interpretation, metal supports protrude from west wall, opposite).
Chancel. General. Two steps up from nave to chancel, two staggered steps to sanctuary, one more to altar. Tiled floors with encaustic tiles; choir stalls and organ raised on wooden plinths. 17thC unceiled wagon roof over chancel, but two most easterly
bays are ceiled. Heavily pointed walls.
North wall: standard window. Mural tablet of 1844, and framed painting beside it, set up to commemorate a 20thC vicar, but of earlier date.
East wall: window splay rebuilt as elsewhere. Fabric change observed externally cannot be verified because of heavy pointing.
South wall: one window with sedile below; aumbry of modern wood just to east. Priest's door redesigned as elsewhere. Wall safe built into wall to west of it.
West wall: all but chancel arch dressings plastered over.
Church occupies medium-sized, irregularly oval churchyard on south-west slope high above Wye Valley. Yard appears to be slightly raised, but in part this is due to holloway around north side. Internally ground slopes from north to south, the surface
irregular with hollows and scarps that could be natural or the result of burial practice. Some ambivalent evidence for earlier smaller yard enclosing only northern half (see below).
Churchyard overgrown in places, particularly to north of church.
Boundary on west consists of well-built drystone wall up to 1.0m internally, 1.7m externally. On south it is similar but ground level difference perhaps no more than 0.2m. On east a hedge and wire fence separate churchyard from stream. On north stone wall,
the track outside 0.5m lower than the interior.
Monuments: these are in localised, occasionally dense groups on south and south-east sides of church. Some tomb chests date back to mid/late 18thC. State of preservation not particularly good and some tilting over.
Furniture: sundial in far south-eastern corner of churchyard. Set in concrete on octagonal stem. Made in 1795 in Birmingham.
Stone-lined well now overgrown, in southern part of churchyard. Still flowing. Not recorded as a holy well.
Earthworks: a scarp runs across the yard from west-south-west to east-north-east, with three old yews on it. Could be natural, or the boundary of earlier enclosure - the presence of the yews hints at the latter.
Ancillary features: lychgate in mortared sandstone and shale, possibly 18thC, with gates for people and carts and an added stable for the parson's horse. Other entrances are kissing gate in south-east, a vertical slab stile in north-west corner, and in
adjacent west wall, a metal farm gate of recent insertion.
Vegetation: several large and mature yews, and two smaller ones further south.
Cade Schedule of Listed Buildings 1995
CPAT Field Visit: 16 November 1995
Crossley and Ridgway 1949, 241
Davies 1905, 257
Haslam 1979, 255
Howse, 1949, 260
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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 Llanstephan 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 - firstname.lastname@example.org, website - www.cpat.org.uk.
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