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Radnorshire Churches Survey

Church of St Stephen (St Ystyffan) , Old Radnor

Old Radnor Church is in the Diocese of Hereford, in the community of Old Radnor in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SO2498659092.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16929 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Old Radnor Church, CPAT copyright photo CS974722.JPG

Summary

St Stephen's church at Old Radnor is one of the finest medieval churches in Wales, with considerable architectural interest, a significant range of internal fittings, and strong evidence of a former curvilinear churchyard.

Tower is 15thC with limited restoration work; north aisle and north chapel are 15thC (or even early 16thC) but east wall probably rebuilt in Victorian era, and the same is true of the chancel. South aisle also 15thC but there is a 14thC window at the west end. Porch is largely original. Thus the whole structure is probably 15thC, although whether of one particular build is less certain.

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

History

An early foundation, possibly dedicated originally to Ystyffan and subsequently anglicised to Stephen, the churchyard, the putative early dedication and the font all go to suggest an early medieval beginning. Lands belonging to Old Radnor church were supposedly acquired by the See of Worcester in AD 887 (Howse 1949).

It has been suggested that at least part of the church was rebuilt in the 12thC, but all that remains of this church is a scalloped capital set in the chancel arch behind the organ.

The 1291 Taxatio records 'Ecclia de Radnore Veter' at the very high value of 26 13s 4d, a pointer no doubt to the status of the church.

It was probably burnt by Glyndwr in 1401/2 and the present church predominantly dates from rebuilding throughout the 15thC though it includes earlier fabric. Presence of several piscinae and aumbries has led to the suggestion that the pre-Reformation church had five altars, indicating that it had a status greater than that of a simple parish church.

Williams, at the beginning of the 19thC noted that " the area of the nave and aisles is paved with the figures of birds, the representation of crests and arms, and other fanciful devices" and he supposed that they, as well as the painted glass, had been brought from the Abbey of Wigmore, which belonged to the Mortimer family.

Restoration in 1882 was by F. Preedy of Worcester at a cost of nearly 3000. East end of chancel was rebuilt at that time and other works included: roofs repaired, internal plaster replaced; window tracery replaced, south door reconstructed, south aisle pier next to chancel rebuilt, new east window built, etc.

Architecture

Church consists of a nave and chancel under one roof, with separately roofed south aisle and Lady Chapel, a narrow lean-to north aisle and chapel, a south porch, and west tower.

Fabrics: 'A' of large slabs and blocks of sedimentary rock, probably grey limestone and gritstone. 'B' of large regular blocks of sandstone, some tabular. 'C' similar to 'B' but regularly coursed, perhaps Victorian.

Roofs: well-weathered shale tiles with stone ridge tiles, raised ashlar copings and apex crosses.

Drainage: downpipes set on south side of nave, but no obvious gully beside nave, tower or chapel.

Exterior

Tower. General. Large structure of early 15thC, in Fabric B. Beacon turret on north side, with provision for an iron beacon. Plinth with concave moulding at height of 0.4m on south, but double-stepped to nearly 1.8m on west because of ground slope; string-courses above second, third and fourth stages, the last of these accompanied by waterspouts. Occasional stone replacement apparent in third stage. Battlemented parapet with arrow slits. Stepped buttresses at corners.

North wall: plain below third stage; this stage has trefoil-headed single-light window with much tracery replacement; belfry (fourth) stage has louvre-boarded, double-lights with quatrefoil above set under four-centred arch, with much tracery replacement; tower turret set within north-east corner and lit by simple splayed slits including two in third stage, one in battlemented parapet and one at ground level which is more like an arrow-slit.

East wall: largely masked by nave roof, though drip guard set into tower wall just above the roof is at more acute angle than the present roof; at the belfry stage is a two-light window as on north side, showing tracery replacement.

South wall: later doorway with two-centred arch, concave moulded jambs, all the dressings in Fabric B; trefoil-headed lancet in flat-headed embrasure in second stage; third and fourth stages have windows as on north side.

West wall: as north wall but clock face in third stage.

Nave. General. No external features other than roof.

North aisle. General. Lean-to against nave, though roof pitch less steep. Fabric A, though irregularly coursed.

North wall: three late Perpendicular, three-light windows with trefoil heads, flat-topped embrasures and pink sandstone dressings; that to west completely modern with replacement dressings in yellow sandstone; central window has original tracery but replaced mullions and some replaced jamb stones; eastern window similar to middle one but one jamb completely replaced; between the windows are three buttresses of dressed stone which appear to be additions. Two chimneys, one at north-west corner, the other rising from a buttress which on the basis of fabric should be contemporary with it.

West wall: plain, no window; ashlar coping with decorated stop.

North Chapel. General. Part use as vestry. Fabric plus roof and buttresses as north aisle, except for east wall.

North wall: two three-light windows with trefoil heads and also triangular-headed arches over. That to west has replaced mullions and possibly only the tracery is original; that to east could be total replacement but for sill. Wall outset where internal Easter Sepulchre, in later fabric inasmuch as different banded stone types and more recent ashlar quoins.

East wall: in Fabric C with larger blocks of stone towards base; window as the two in the south chapel but completely replaced, and covered by metal grill.

Chancel. General. Mixed fabrics.

North wall: Fabric A, but buttress at north-east corner in more recent fabric and comparable with those against north aisle except for rilling on stones; single window has two lights with trefoil heads and quatrefoil above, completely replaced in 1854.

East wall: Fabric C except perhaps for bottom 1m or so which could be better coursed, re-used Fabric A; five-light window with panel and intersecting tracery, wholly Victorian dating from 1882; two 19thC grave slabs against wall, one with a badly flaked surface.

South wall: fabric more regular than 'A' though otherwise similar, so a rebuild using old masonry?; double lancet window completely replaced but for sill.

South chapel. General. Also termed the Lady Chapel. Largely in Fabric B, but high up on east side could be re-used Fabric A. Roof lower than south aisle, but otherwise conforms to overall pattern of south side of church.

East wall: butt joint in north-east corner; buttress at angle; two-centred arched window blocked with limestone slabs, but sandstone jambs in place; a stop in the form of a stylised human head above window apex is re-set; two rings on spikes driven into wall at eaves level (purpose uncertain).

South wall: two, late Perpendicular, three-light windows with trefoil heads in square-headed frame, largely renewed; priest's door between window with original chamfered jambs and moulded stops, pointed arch; modern buttresses.

South aisle. East wall: plain where showing above roof of South Chapel.

South wall: Fabric A, though some infilling high up and to west of porch where an irregular zone of tabular stonework; two 16thC, four-light windows with cinquefoil heads; that to west a complete replacement with stone of two colours for tracery; east window largely original though mullions replaced and stone variation in right-hand jamb; cambered heads; hoodmoulding stops with faces are also original; additionally this window has a relieving arch of slabs, not replicated above westerly window.

West wall: ashlar quoins at south-west angle; three-light window with reticulated tracery indicative of early 14thC, sandstone dressings largely replaced, and some tracery already crumbling.

Porch. General. Fabric B with massive ashlar quoins in same fabric, one with benchmark;?some replacement of ashlar coping stones. The whole considered to be 15thC.

East wall: plain; rougher, uncharacterised fabric in bottom corner close to aisle.

South wall: two-centred Perpendicular arch with multiple roll and cavetto mouldings, eroding; three niches in gable with 19thC statuettes of Christ, Mary, and St Stephen holding the stones of his martyrdom; top niche original but others have 19thC embrasures and may not be contemporary. West wall: plain; fabric anomalies near angle with aisle could indicate re-used masonry.

Interior

Porch. General. Flagged floor, stone benches on east and west. Limewashed walls apart from door dressings. Roof has tie beams, collars with raking struts above, two rows of trefoiled windbraces.

North wall: (=south wall of nave) simple, two-centred arched doorway with stop-chamfers.

East wall: broken stoup in corner.

Tower. Interior not accessible.

Nave. General. Nave roof has very flat-arched profile, moulded tie-beams, plain ribbed panels with numerous bosses at the rib intersections displaying carved armorial and foliage motifs including Tudor Roses, the whole being 16thC in date. Tiled floor of 19thC date with wooden floor beneath the benches; two brasses of 1796 and 1808 set in floor plus incised cross slab in front of screen (see below).

North wall: four-bay arcade of one build, having tall, early 15thC octagonal piers with moulded capitals on square bases, and double chamfered arches.

East wall: screen.

South wall: four-bay arcade as north wall.

West wall: ground floor doorway to tower approached by single step but blocked off, leaving semi-circular niche; in the south-west angle formed by the west wall and the short stub of the south wall is a stone buttress-like projection to a height of around one metre: its purpose is unclear. On the west wall are two hatchments and three marble tablets.

North aisle. General. It has earliest roof in the building; in Perpendicular style: divided into panels with richly moulded ribs and chamfered rafter infilling, the main ribs jointed into curved braces incorporated into a coved, moulded bressummer piece at wallplate level; rough bosses. Floor at west end incorporates 128 medieval glazed tiles, mostly with simple designs; elsewhere are Victorian tiles.

North wall: small piscina in north-east corner though no drain hole; wall plaque in north-west corner, and wall tablet of 1740 between more westerly windows.

East wall: screen divides off north chapel.

South wall: arcade.

West wall: hatchment with wall brass below.

North chapel. General. Plain tiled floor, partly carpeted and covered with paraphernalia of vestry.

North wall: Easter Sepulchre set into wall; large chest in front of more westerly window and another smaller chest under easterly window.

Chancel. General. Roof rebuilt 1882 over new corbels and incorporating new arch-braced truss to mark nave division. Organ set mainly in north chapel but protrudes into chancel. Two rows of 16thC benches. Sanctuary paved with 17th, 18th and 19thC memorial slabs; otherwise tiles.

North wall: two-bay arcade with four-centred arches, similar but flatter than those in nave; single window has some modern stonework but also perhaps some original; Lewis memorial of 1776 plus three 19thC brasses.

South wall: two-bay arcade as north wall with modern corbels between; trefoil-headed piscina, with marble mural tablet to 18thC Duggan family above it; marble memorial to Anne Lewis beside Duggan memorial.

West wall: no chancel arch, but an arched truss marks division between nave and chancel.

South Chapel. General. Roof broadly similar to that in south aisle; floor carpeted, but floor of slate in former sanctuary.

North wall: four-centred arches similar to those in adjacent aisle. Parclose screen tracery shows some damage. East wall: blocked window visible as inset with, in front, a marble monument to Lewis of Harpton, 1777. Mural tablet of 1837 resting on floor. South wall: niche (?aumbry) under more easterly window; priest's doorway with chamfered arch but not jambs.

West wall: wide arch into south aisle.

South aisle. General. 19thC encaustic tiles on floor. Grave slabs of 1770 & 1783 and another with brass removed, together with twelve medieval tiles, all lying flat by most easterly column of north arcade. A further 72 medieval tiles at approach to south chapel, and 70-80 (though some broken and one removed) in front of screen and close to piscina on south side of aisle. Walls plastered apart from dressings and ashlar. Fine roof, similar to that in nave.

North wall: arcade of sandstone columns.

East wall: chamfered arch.

South wall: windows splayed, that to west showing mostly modern stone in reveal, original stonework in that to east; 19thC and 20thC brasses and mural tablets; piscina with shouldered arch, Victorian.

West wall: splayed window embrasure,?Victorian glass; a mural tablet and a metal plaque recording grant stacked against wall.

Churchyard

The churchyard is set on the side of Old Radnor Hill overlooking the Radnor basin, the ground falling away to the west but the church and village occupying a natural shelf some distance below the summit of hill.

It is sub-oval in shape, medium-sized and raised around southern perimeter; the level within the yard drops gently from church south-westwards. Original churchyard has been truncated to the north where straight wall appears to have cut off former curvilinear boundary, visible as a scarp in gardens of Harp Inn.

Boundary of current yard consists of a mortared stone wall, patched up in places, with earth banked up behind; on the south the wall is effectively a revetment because of internal build up of material (up to 1.4m); and on south-east, wall is topped by a low wire fence.

Churchyard is still used for burial but is overgrown around north side.

Monuments: except for north-west quadrant, gravestones widespread and of variable density - particularly packed to west of church. Some memorials in poor state of repair. Numerous chest tombs.

Furniture: none noted.

Earthworks: none noted.

Ancillary Features: lychgate of 1882 in Tudor style on sandstone base, on east side. Kissing gates to south and west, with tarmac paths leading to porch. Store shed in north corner with wooden five-bar gate beside it. In north-east corner, improvised stile across wall.

Vegetation: several yews spread apparently randomly to south-west of church.

Sources consulted

Cadw Schedule of Listed Buildings 1993
CPAT Field Visit: 21 July 1995
Crossley and Ridgway 1949, 246
Davies 1905, 190
Faculty 1881: HRO/F/02-04-1881
Fenn and Sinclair 1988, 78-91
Haslam 1979, 263
Howse, 1949, 261
Powys SMR
Silvester 1994, 134
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 Old Radnor Church may also be found on the Hereford 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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