Radnorshire Churches Survey
Church of Our Lady of Pilleth , Pilleth
Pilleth Church is in the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon, in the community of Whitton in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SO2563168237.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16936 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.
The church of St Mary at Pilleth lies isolated on a western slope above the Lugg valley, about 7m north-west of Presteigne. It has a tower that could be 15thC or earlier, and a nave and chancel in one that may be 14thC. Medieval fittings include a font and
stoup, and one of the bells is said to date to 1450. The churchyard is rectangular with a few graves, and there seems little doubt that this was entirely a medieval foundation.
The tower is claimed as 15thC, but probably has a complicated history. One possible sequence is initiated by a structure of the same general width as the nave which survives only as foundations on the north, and the base of the wall on the west. Collapse
or some other disaster led to the north,?east and south sides being rebuilt with a string course added. Whether the west side was also rebuilt cannot be ascertained for this together with part of the tower turret may have required a further degree of
rebuilding at a later date, when the string course was not renewed. The accepted 15thC date must be treated with caution, as the only diagnostic architecture - the west window tracery - is re-set in the later rebuilding.
Nave and chancel attributed to the 14thC on basis of south door and sanctuary windows, but much rebuilding on east and south; and the roof line lowered in 1911.
Parts of the following description are quoted from the 1979 publication The Buildings of Wales: Powys by Richard Haslam
The earliest recorded church at Pilleth was a dependency of St Cynllo's at Llangunllo. It has been suggested that though the dedication is to the Virgin Mary, the fact that in the late 17thC the parish feast day was on St David's day reveals its earlier
pre-Norman dedication. There is however no convincing evidence for such an early origin.
Though the manor of Pilleth is recorded in Domesday Book (1086) as 'Pelelei', it appears that the first record of a church or chapel is in 1198 when it was given by Radolph de Baskerville to the Premonstratensian Abbey at Llantony, and not surprisingly it
fails to show in the 13thC Taxatio records.
Howse claimed that in the Middle Ages pilgrims were attracted by a notable image of the Virgin.
At the beginning of the 15thC the church was burned by Owain Glyndwr and subsequently restored.
Its dependency on Llangunllo remained until the end of the 19thC.
Glynne in the mid-19thC noted the squat tower, a wooden south porch with panelling and arched ribs, and the whitewashed walls. The east window was modern, but there were Decorated windows in the chancel. Inside was a fairly well-preserved wooden screen
with plain panelling. An earlier report in Archaeologia Cambrensis (1847) also noted that the medieval screen was still in existence, that the east end had a square wooden window, ready to fall out, and that there was a sash window in the south wall of the
Extensive restoration was completed in 1872/73 by G.Potter to the specifications of C.Hill of Knighton; these included the rebuilding of the east wall, new windows on the east and south, and many new fittings. But in 1894 a fire reduced the church to a
ruin and destroyed the fittings. Much of the tower survived. Photos after the fire (in the church) show the roof line of the former porch on the south side.
A further phase of restoration by W.J.Tapper was completed in 1911 when the roof was lowered, and the floors appear to have been excavated to their medieval level, before flags were laid.
Pilleth church comprises a nave and chancel as one cell, and a west tower which is not centrally aligned to the main building. It is oriented west-north-west/east-south-east but for the purposes of this description 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted.
Fabrics: 'A' is of laminated grey shale slabs, (mainly tabular though a few block-like), a few red sandstone lumps; regularly coursed.
'B' of shale rubble both blocks and slabs with red sandstone more frequent that in 'A'.
'C' is similar to 'A' but the shale slabs are thicker and the red sandstone more frequent.
Roofs: at the time of the site visit, the body of the church had only felt and battens. Tower has stone tiles.
Drainage: nothing obvious.
Tower. General. Variously attributed to the 13thC or 14thC (Haslam) or the 15thC (Cadw listing). Tower reduced in height at a later date, reportedly on the basis of internal evidence in the ringing chamber. String course at about three-quarters height but
only on three sides. Saddleback roof with weathervane and weathercock. Generally Fabric 'C' except where stated, though on east side some uncertainty; some limewash remnants, particularly on east and south.
North wall: heavily pointed. No windows; stringcourse much broken. At the north-west corner is a stepped angle buttress, the chamfers of dressed stone, and probably an original feature. Against the north wall but low to the ground is a low wall which
terminates at a large diagonal buttress at the north-west. This has been convincingly interpreted as the remnant of an earlier north wall, and is said to be part of the tower destroyed by Glyndwr at the beginning of the 15thC.
East wall: again no windows. Interrupting the stringcourse is an earlier, higher and more steeply pitched roof line (pre-1911) clearly visible, with some dripstones still in situ. A second, lower roof line is visible, though still higher than the present
roof, and its apex line set further south than the others; within its triangle the wall is plastered but lacks limewash.
South wall: a square tower turret projects at the south-west angle and is lit by a single slit window with chamfered dressings. The stringcourse stops at the edge of the turret. While most of wall including turret appears to be in 'C', lower part of the
south-west corner is in 'A'. At the junction of the tower and nave, large sandstone quoins mark the line but to a height of less than 1m; their absence at higher level indicates rebuilding of a part of the tower wall.
West wall: large part of wall rebuilt with Fabric 'A' below, 'C' above. No stringcourse. In the rebuilt section, one small slit window without chamfered dressings lights tower stair, but wall is dominated by a window which utilises the original tracery
from what was a 15thC, four-light window for a two-light opening; the jambs and perhaps the mullion have subsequently been renewed.
Nave and chancel. General. Nave and chancel dealt with as one, because of the absence of external differentiation.
North wall: largely 'A', and this is in places zoned, with broad and narrow bands of shale. North-west corner has projecting foundation for length of c.1m, a continuation of that visible for the short length of the west wall. Most of the wall face is
devoid of features and bulges, though from a height of c.1m near the west angle dropping to ground level about three-quarters of the way along, is a wedge-shaped area of wall face that is both vertical and has slightly different colouring; its relevance is
uncertain. A modern stone buttress props the wall, close to the internal chancel demarcation. At the east end the wall face is battered and stands further out from the wall to the west; at the junction of the two it is evident that the batter is in fact an
additional masonry facing, perhaps to provide strengthening for the chancel window. At its east end the battered section has freestone quoins, now partially disguised by a large modern concrete buttress, but the fabric is essentially the same as the rest
of the wall. The Decorated window has two ogee-headed lights and reticulated tracery, presumed to be original.
East wall: predominantly Fabric 'B'. Two-centred arched window with three stepped lights with cusped heads; hoodmoulding; Victorian, from the 1873 restoration, for it is not central to the present axis of the building, and must have been constructed before
the roof was lowered.
South wall: the eastern end is in Fabric 'B'. Lighting the chancel is another Decorated window with reticulated tracery, largely original. Further west a large part of the upper wall has been replaced in Fabric 'B', and both windows within this zone have
double cusped lights with cream freestone dressings of modern construction. Main church door lies at western end of nave: 14thC with a two-centred arch, chamfered jambs, all in yellow sandstone. Finally there are the angle quoins (see tower - south wall)
encapsulated in the wall face, and pointing to the primacy of the nave over the tower.
West wall: projecting foundation course referred to under section on north wall. Also just below eaves level, wall face is inset, but leaving one stop like a coping stone, projecting; presumably this is evidence of rebuilding.
Tower. General. Slab floor includes one much worn graveslab of 1677. Walls whitewashed. Reportedly contains its original medieval bell frame.
East wall: plain but for four-centred archway to nave. At ground level within the archway the foundation stones project on the south side, perhaps signalling an earlier phase.
South wall: flat-headed doorway with chamfered lintel to stair turret.
West wall: stone plinth along wall to a height of 0.4m; window above is slightly splayed.
Nave. General. Three steps down from south doorway to a stone-slabbed platform on which rests the font etc, and another step down to the body of the church, also stone-slabbed. Walls whitewashed, but not plastered. Roof of modern tie beams with king posts
North wall: wall has outwards lean; also a slight disconformity in the extreme north-west corner, where wall face protrudes (see below).
South wall: a buttress-like stand of masonry in the extreme south-west corner, chamfered off at a height of 2.5m, must be a remnant of a former pre-tower west wall. This matches the disconformity on the north wall. Doorway reveal is round-headed and
probably a replacement, while the window splays exhibit old damaged stones suggesting they are original, even if the windows fronting them are 19thC.
West wall: four-centred arch with voussoirs leads into tower; juncture of north-east angle of tower and west wall of nave clearly visible. Recapped stone benches around base of wall.
Chancel. General. One step down from nave to chancel, then one step up to sanctuary. Slab floor includes at least two graveslabs of 1692 and 1843. Walls and roof as nave.
North wall: wall face has a pronounced outward slope. Corbel projects from wall near window but does not look to be of any age, though Howse (1949) claimed that had supported a beam that carried what he termed the 'Lenten veil'.
East wall: splayed window and to the south of it a sunken patch that carried a memorial now in Whitton church.
South wall: splayed window and piscina just to the east of it. Additionally some other fittings have been built into the wall including a shallow recess with a semi-circular head, and a protruding stone that looks like a small stoup in profile. Above this
are metal fittings formerly holding a mural tablet?
A near rectangular churchyard set on an east-facing hillside, with an element of deliberate terracing at the west end, and a marked slope the north of the church. Prior to the late 19thC it was extended, though not substantially, on the downhill side. It
is now rather overgrown and the most recent burials seem to date from the 1960s.
Boundary: modern wire fences on the east and north, a new wooden fence on the south, and impenetrable vegetation on the west.
Monuments: these lie on the south side of the church and are primarily 19thC though the earliest noted was of 1780. Undulations in this area suggest numbers of unmarked graves. Modern burials are placed on a terrace to the east of the chancel.
Furniture: the octagonal basin of a 15thC sandstone font is mounted on circular stones and incorporated into a circular stone seat at the head of a flight of steps leading from the main entrance.
Earthworks: the eastern slopes have been cut into three wide terraces, for burials.
Ancillary features: a single wrought iron gate gives access on the east side to Pilleth Court, while the main entrance - also via a wrought iron gate - is on the south.
North of the tower is the holy well, approached by five stone steps. Lined with stone to a depth of c.2m, though natural rock for rear face. It was formerly roofed over and was reputed for its healing properties in the Middle Age. Partly restored, possibly
after the church fire of 1894.
Vegetation: no yews; several large fir trees close to the northern boundary.
Archaeologia Cambrensis 1847, 329
Cadw Schedule of Listed Buildings
CPAT Field Visit: 13 October 1996
Crossley and Ridgway 1949, 249
Haslam 1979, 267
Howse 1949, 261
Williams 1905, 311
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 Pilleth 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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