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Radnorshire Churches Survey

Church of St Andrew , Presteigne

Presteigne Church is in the Diocese of Hereford, in the community of Presteigne in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SO3157764560.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16939 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Presteigne Church, CPAT copyright photo CS974726.JPG

Summary

St Andrew's church lies on the northern side of Presteigne in the valley of the River Lugg, which here constitutes the boundary with England. Unusually it is the architecture rather than documentary sources that suggest a Saxon origin. Subsequently, the building underwent various major changes, terminating in a major rebuilding of the chancel and south side in the 15thC. On this basis alone it is arguably the most interesting church in the region, and it also retains an interesting range of fittings.

A complex church which would benefit from a very detailed survey. More than one possible building sequence can be offered.

A small Saxon church, on the site of the eastern part of north aisle, conjecturally a nave and a narrower chancel - masonry only, no windows and therefore an assumption only.

Succeeded by an early Norman building with longer yet narrow nave, two windows, a west door and a chancel arch; possibly there was another element at west end of present south aisle.

A rebuild in Romanesque style (c.1200 according to Haslam who claims that the work was begun then halted), involving widened nave and arcaded south aisle in distinctive fabric ('D'). Two Norman windows re-built into new wall on north, but elsewhere on west end new windows with cream freestone dressings and a rood loft doorway in the same masonry further to south than the Norman chancel arch (all three built into walls); the Romanesque piers in north arcade also of similar dressed stone.

Earlier 14thC modifications, with formation of central nave and two aisles, re-setting of two Romanesque piers, creation of new west doorway; tower added on south.

In the 15thC nave raised, clerestory added with some re-use of medieval masonry, chancel added and south aisle widened together with addition of lady chapel though masonry used for chancel extension differs from that used for south aisle and lady chapel; upper part of tower built (or rebuilt) and new window inserted.

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

History

Presteigne's church, architecturally much the best in Radnorshire, drew its wealth from the Herefordshire part of the parish, and is still in the diocese of Hereford. From the 13thC to the Reformation the Augustinian Canons of Wigmore Abbey held the rectory of Presteigne, and were responsible for some of the late medieval developments including the fine chancel.

The date of origin of the church is unknown. Though Presteigne does not appear in Domesday Book, it has generally been assumed that there was a late Saxon church here on the basis of masonry survivals. What cannot be doubted is that there was a Norman church here.

In the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535, Presteigne was referred to as 'the Vicaria de Prestene' and returned the relatively high value of 19 2s.

Williams (in 1818) recorded that a stone over the east window was inscribed in relief the three initial letters M P L, with the date 1244. These letters were then generally taken to mean "Mortimerus Posuit Libeus", i.e. "This part of the church Mortimer had the pleasure to erect". Williams also noted two sundials on the tower, and a mutilated stone cross " on the right hand of the walk that leads to the grand entrance" of the church. The entrance from the town into the churchyard was described as a stone structure, roofed and slated, with a gateway in the centre, and on the west wall an inscription "Opus Joannis Robinson - Lignum inveni, Saxum reliqui An. 1710". This was pulled down in 1891.

One restoration took place in 1854/55, when galleries covering the Lady Chapel and north aisle were removed, existing pews were taken out, and the chancel arch was partially reconstructed.

Another restoration in 1889-91 by J L Pearson, who repaired the nave, the aisle's west windows, and the roofs generally, and also designed the ornate chancel and south aisle screens; and there was a third in 1927, when the walls were stripped. The Norman stonework came to light in the restoration of 1889-91.

Architecture

Presteigne church consists of a nave, a wider chancel, north and south lean-to aisles, a south (lady) chapel, and a west tower that intrudes into the south-western sector of the south aisle. It is oriented west-north-west/east-south-east but for the purposes of description 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted.

Fabrics: 'A' of medium to large blocks and some slabs of sandstone of mixed colours (buff, orange, olive etc), some coursing. 'B' is of medium to large blocks and some slabs of creamy grey freestone, better finished that 'A', and regularly coursed. 'C' is of medium sized blocks and some slabs of red with occasional light coloured sandstone, some coursing. 'D' lumps of brown, red and grey sandstone, small to medium in size, and rather irregular in appearance; traces of render and limewash on a few stones. Interspersed are zones of olive-grey mudstone slabs in horizontal bands giving coursed effect; quoins of large dressed blocks of sandstone. 'E' brownish-grey sandstone, occasionally other colours, predominantly in slabs rather than blocks. 'F' small to medium irregular lumps of greyish-brown fine-grained sedimentary rock incorporating some waterworn pebbles; no real coursing. 'G' medium to large blocks of mustard yellow sandstone, regular in shape and carefully tooled, effectively ashlar facing (cf rubble masonry inside chancel).

'F' has been claimed as Saxon; 'D' is probably 12thC Norman, but in north aisle has also been re-cycled in Victorian era. 'C' and 'G' are Perpendicular, probably 15thC. 'E' could be 14thC.

Roofs: slates, simple ridge tiles, and highly decorated finials.

Drainage: hint of a trench around parts of north and east sides; downpipes lead into drains.

Exterior

Tower. General. First stage in Fabric 'A', probably 14thC; 2nd and 3rd stages in Fabric 'B' and are 15thC as are the buttresses; the change from 'A' to 'B' is consistent across the faces. Chamfered plinth to height of 0.5m; first stage topped by string-course (of chamfered freestone slabs) about half way up face of tower; 2nd stage inset terminating in string-course; 3rd stage inset topped by embattled parapet. String-courses run around buttresses. Stair turret in north-west corner with weathervane over caphouse; flag pole in south-east corner.

North wall: stepped angle buttresses rise above aisle roof level; more than halfway up a corbel projects from the wall face as does a linear roof support, though this only for half length of wall: they are indicators of the former aisle. At bottom of second stage is a two-centred arched window, with ogee-headed light and chamfered jambs, all original. Above is two-centred arched belfry window with string-course raised over it to act as hoodmoulding; two louvred lights, ogee and cusped heads with quatrefoil over, double moulded chamfers; dressings look clean but presumed to be original. Cross-shaped slit just below battlements.

East wall: aisle roof rises to within 1.5m of first string-course. Windows as in north wall. Top stage has two waterspouts and a cross slit in a merlon.

South wall: broad Perpendicular doorway with double chamfers, the outer with half-pyramidal stops, though these could belong to an earlier doorway; four-centred arch almost triangular; two red sandstone dressed stones are replacements. Above in the 1st stage is an inserted Perpendicular four-centred window with two trefoil-headed lights and four panels above; mullion and one jamb stone replaced in red sandstone, but tracery and panels in creamy stone, different from jambs. If window inserted, it has been done excellently. 2nd stage window is different from other sides - a rectangular window with two ogee-headed cusped lights (of standard pattern) with smaller lights above; one mullion stone replaced. Above this a standard belfry window, perhaps with some replacement(?), a clock face and above, the standard cross-shaped slit.

West wall: in middle of 1st stage is a rectangular, chamfered window, and in the 2nd stage, two standard windows; above two waterspouts and a cross-slit. Stair in north-west angle lit by six chamfered slits - three in 1st stage, one in 2nd, two in 3rd - of slightly varying size; one shows some replacement of jamb stones.

Nave. General. Basically an early 14thC build. Only parts of nave visible externally.

North wall: only clerestory visible; Fabric 'C'. Four small windows, with two-centred heads and cusped ogee tracery, utilising several different sandstones for dressings, perhaps indicating re-use; and at least one piece of Norman dressed stone built into wall. Fifth clerestory window - balancing that in the south wall at west end - is missing and no sign of blocking.

East wall: roof has different pitch to that of chancel, a maximum of 0.5m higher at apex converging to nothing at eaves.

South wall: south aisle blocks most of this; visible only behind north face of tower where one small clerestory window visible.

West wall: stepped angle buttresses support nave angles and these have appearance of being added, the stones of the wall face being stripped out to allow bonding and gaps around them then filled in with other material. At ground level is two-centred arched doorway in Perpendicular style, with slightly convex double chamfers without stops, and a hoodmoulding with much weathered human-headed stops. Over this is a fine Perpendicular window of five lights, each with trefoil tracery, and four triangular headed panels with cusped-tracery above; chamfered dressings mainly original though mullions replaced. Relieving arch surmounted by carving of St Andrew, earlier than the architecture (see below). North of door and set against buttress is a stone-walled 'box' with grille in front, presumably associated with the heating system. Faces of nave and aisles consistent in appearance, but complex. Southern lower portions of nave wall and most if not all of adjacent south aisle in banded 'D'; likewise a small portion of walling behind north buttress. Around this and forming most of face of north aisle is similar masonry but lacking the banding. This could be re-used 'D' presumably of Victorian date. Above the doorway is 'E', while around upper part of window and above it is 'C'.

North aisle. North wall: three different Perpendicular windows plus others. From north-east corner: i) two-centred arched window having three stepped lights with cusped tracery, the centre light with a cinquefoil head; many of the dressings are replaced. ii) blocked round-headed window with dressings of vesicular masonry, but no sill; iii) blocked window similar in all respects to ii) but for absence of round head, instead a flat slab of similar stone; iv) rectangular window of four lights with cusped ogee heads, the tracery in pink sandstone is original, the yellow sandstone of the chamfered surround is not so convincing; v) another two-centred arched window with three lights but of slightly different size to i) and the cusped heads all in cream sandstone. Certainly some replacement at top of arch and it is possible that much of it is Victorian; vi) projecting chimney stack with chimney protruding above roof level. Base of wall in Fabric 'F', most in evidence at east end but could conceivably run for almost whole length though less convincing near north-west corner. Upper part of wall at west end in distinctive 'D' masonry, includes two Norman windows and also two places where fragments of Norman dressings built into wall face. One of these is beside the most easterly window, its insertion in the 14thC removing another Norman window. Further west the central, Perpendicular, window is also inserted though it is difficult to determine the fabric, not least because of the presence of ivy and a large oil tank. Much of the western portion of wall is in same rebuilt 'D' as is visible on west face of this aisle.

East wall: north-east corner has Victorian quoins; the masonry on the small part of the east wall that is visible could be re-built 'D', but it does appear to run behind and thus pre-date chancel wall.

West wall: partly described in section on adjacent nave; masonry is re-built fabric 'B'. One two-centred arched window with two lights contained trefoil tracery; hoodmoulding above. Wholly Victorian and no obvious sign that inserted.

Chancel. General. Of mid-15thC date, all in Fabric 'G'. Chamfered string-course at 1m; a second hollow-chamfered string-course at window level; 3rd string-course acts as base of a parapet. Integral buttresses, rising as high as 3rd string-course, have cinquefoil decoration on their gables, and pinnacles above.

North wall: polygonal rood loft stair turret projects in north-west corner; three small, chamfered, slit windows. Three main windows in wall conform to same Perpendicular pattern: two-centred arched heads, three cinquefoil headed lights with traceried panels above; most if not all of tracery replaced.

East wall: large four-centred east window of two sets of five lights divided by transom, all with cinquefoil heads; much replacement of dressings. 1.5m off ground and just to south of main window is a small slit window, internally splayed but now blocked. A broad, door-like rectangular opening with complex chamfers, now blocked, lies below main window; it is now 0.7m high but could continue below current ground level; purpose uncertain.

South wall: single window, of same form as those in north wall; all tracery replaced.

South (Lady) chapel. General. A variation on 'G' inasmuch as pink and grey sandstone is used as well as yellow, the pink probably being replacement masonry. A string-course high up on wall on east and south, stepped up and down to follow eaves, and acting as base of parapet.

East wall: two windows, upper one central to apex unlike lower one. Lower has four-centred arch, hollow chamfers and a hoodmoulding over it which continues as string-course but is not taken round the diagonal buttress at south-east corner; three lights with cinquefoil tracery and four panels above with trefoil tracery; mullions and some tracery in replaced dull red or creamy yellow sandstone. Upper window has squat, four-centred arched head with three lights and six panels with trefoil tracery above; some replaced dressings in red sandstone. The hoodmoulding over the window and much of the higher part of the gable also reconstructed in red sandstone masonry. In front of lower part of wall is a 'block house' of?20thC date for a boiler. Wall base has chamfered plinth (visible also on south wall of chancel where it stops short of south-east buttress). One block in wall acts as memorial with inscribed dates of 1830 & 1834.

South wall: the string course below the eaves sports a much weathered armorial plaque near wall centre. Two windows: that to east is same as east window; some tracery and most of the jambstones are original. To west is a smaller window of three lights with cusped heads, almost Y-tracery in a two-centred headed arch; again some tracery and most of jambstones are original; this window is re-used in the 15thC chapel. Hoodmoulding like many others could be either new or replaced. Below window is a priest's door, the chamfered plinth acts as label over top, the jambs are original but the ornate head is of no particular type and is clearly Victorian. Angle buttress contains recess now filled by plain armorial plate of Victorian date. Two slabs in wall act as memorials of 1822/1834 and?1755.

South aisle. General. Thought to have been rebuilt c.1460 probably as three chantry chapels. Features evident in south chapel are continued in south aisle, namely basal chamfered plinth and hollow chamfered string-course below parapet. Same mixture of sandstones as in south chapel.

South wall: three remarkable windows each having large triangular head with unusual tracery; cusped, ogee-headed lights and broad panels above. Little of the original dressed stone survives in windows, a few tracery fragments only, and some grey jambstones which might be original. Above each window is a gargoyle-like protrusion from the string-course, that over the centre window could be armorial, the other two are too weathered for identification. Buttresses have recesses for shields, that in more easterly are the Mortimer arms, clearly a replacement; one buttress stone has sharpening marks. Wall butts against tower.

Interior

Porch (Tower). General. Flagged floor. Ceiled in stones on edge, with vaulting to a central (now blocked) roundel originally used for lifting bells; arches spring from wall angles, and medial ribs spring from two-centred blind arches on each wall.

North wall: four-centred chamfered arched doorway matches that of outer doorway on south.

South wall: the reveal considerably larger that present doorway.

Nave. General. Black and red tiled floor edged by heating vents. At rear of nave (in line with last piers of arcades) is a tiled plinth reached by two steps and containing numerous heating grilles. Body of nave has seats set on wooden block flooring. Roof of four bays with simple tie-beams separated by multiple arch-braced collars on a collar purlin. Is this 14thC or a recent replacement? Walls plastered except for freestone dressings.

North wall: dominated by arcade of six bays; the two westernmost piers are Romanesque, round with octagonal capitals. Some replacement of stonework and base of one pier was rebuilt later in medieval era. Romanesque stonework in creamy white sandstone, rest of piers in grey sandstone. Arches are two-centred and double-chamfered, but final, most easterly, bay has four-centred arch with wider span due to absence of a respond, because of respect for earlier arch in east wall of north aisle/nave (see below). Wall over the arches is plastered, except where mural fragments have been uncovered, and these still visible though largely incomprehensible. Four small clerestory windows with simple splayed embrasures placed over spandrels in arcade but no indication of a fifth (as noted above).

East wall: high two-centred chancel arch dying into chamfered wall butts which splay outwards as they rise; early 14thC. The stonework of the early 14thC chancel arch dies into the piers. Jonathan Williams recorded at beginning of 19thC that wall above was painted with figures of Moses and Aaron on the west and Death and Time on the east.

South wall: six-bay arcade with octagonal piers showing some stonework replacement and some variation in the style of the bases. Five clerestory windows but no obvious murals.

West wall: contains west door, its reveal a two-centred embrasure with edge stones for the arch and a chamfer on the inside of the door arch only; above is the splayed west window. Sealed in the wall on north side are incomplete remains of rounded arch in vesicular stone comparable with windows visible in external face of north aisle, while the jambstones are in red sandstone; interrupted by the respond of the arcade. This door arch is considered by most authorities to be Norman work (pace Haslam). Above this is the chamfered edge of a window embrasure partly plastered over, and in different material, a creamy freestone. [On the opposite side and interrupted by south arcade respond is a similar window embrasure in chamfered freestone; enough is visible to suggest a peaked, possibly two-centred arch].

North aisle. General. Floor is as nave and shares same raised platform at rear. Roof is lean-to with six arch-braced trusses supporting main purlin. Plastered walls.

North wall: series of features whch from west are: i) Radnorshire militia colours; ii) splayed embrasure of window with plastered jambs but bare arch; iii) tapestry of early 16thC (see below; removed for security reasons since preliminary report prepared); iv) window embrasure with segmental head but virtually no splay; v) beneath iv) is tomb recess with semi-circular head and complex moulding, and containing a decorated coffin lid of ?c.1240; vi) complete round-headed window embrasure in vesicular masonry, now blocked; lacks sill; vii) 19thC marble plaque with stone one below; viii) west side of window embrasure similar in its stonework to vi); ix) deeply splayed window embrasure, the arch of the embrasure showing signs of reconstruction.

East wall: semi-circular chancel arch in vesicular stonework set in wall, together with jambstones of north side nearer to ground level. To south of this is the doorway to rood loft, recessed in at an angle, and the quoins on north side are in 19thC red sandstone; in the recessed wall is a squint to the altar. Above and behind the pulpit are the remains of another arch, with an internal chamfer, the arch almost triangular rather than two-centred, and in the creamy white freestone of the two blocked windows at the west end of the nave; this appears to be an earlier rood loft entry.

South wall: arcade.

West wall: Victorian window embrasure with just the arch dressings left unplastered.

Chancel. General. Built in fully developed Perpendicular style. Tiled floor with encaustic patterns; choir stalls raised on wooden plinths; three steps up to sanctuary and altar; sanctuary paved with stone slabs and carpeted over. Late medieval (or Tudor) roof of 72 panels divided by moulded ribs and resting on wall posts. Walls unplastered, and window reveals moulded and without splays.

North wall: a change in consistency of the fabric towards east end where more rubble blocks than slabs; also wall inset at a level just below window arch base; two of the three roof corbels are set on the wall inset, the third above it. Rood loft doorway is Tudor. Range of wall monuments (see below).

East wall: main east window with four-centred head. Several 18thC monuments.

South wall: contains two bays of arcade, giving onto Lady Chapel; higher than those in nave; two-centred arches with complex octagonal moulding. Over and around the only window the consistency of the fabric changes as on north wall, and wall face is similarly inset.

South (Lady) Chapel. General. Black and red tiled floor, and sanctuary has encaustic tiles. One step up from south aisle and two to altar. Roof has two tie-beams alternating with 19thC arch-braced corbelled trusses. Organ beneath arcade protrudes into chapel. Bare masonry and of bigger more regular blocks, comparable with exterior. Little splays to window.

North wall: two bays of arcade; one arch stone replaced.

East wall: two windows; the upper added supposedly about 1560, to light a post-Reformation gallery.

South wall: simple alcove to priest's door. Original Decorated ogee-headed recess for piscina with complex moulded chamfers, re-set in wall. Range of monuments, all 19thC and 20thC.

West wall: two-centred arch to south aisle in red sandstone and clearly Victorian; above it rubble walling of grey and yellow masonry unlike anything seen elsewhere in church.

South aisle. General. Of two widths: most of aisle is same width as lady chapel, but because of placement of tower, it narrows considerably at west end. Part taken up with vestry which is inaccessible. Tiles and wooden floor as in nave; gravestone of 1582 set in floor near east wall. Roof has five tie-beams with vertical struts to collars; arch-braced collars between. Bare walls. Floor lower than porch with three steps down at south door.

North wall: shows clerestory windows of nave, a string-course just below, both features of the exterior of nave, and about 1m lower, the corbels for former lean-to roof.

East wall: evidence of rebuilding of chancel arch. However, the late 14thC north respond of the main arch has a squint to the chancel.

South wall: several memorials of 18thC and 19thC date (see below).

West wall: rectangular window with chamfered dressings in what is east wall of tower at level of main aisle windows. Chamfered plinth retained at base of tower, and also the angle buttress at north-east corner of tower. The latter is stepped not only in conventional buttress form, but also one step on south face which is related to relict string-course high up on north wall.

Narrower part of aisle is approached from east under an arch. On buttress just to east of this is a corbel and fragment of string-course, further indicators of the earlier and narrower south aisle.

South wall: Four-centred doorway embrasure, and above it is a smaller four-centred doorway with half-pyramidal stops to chamfers. To west is the tower access by a small four-centred doorway, with some dressings replaced. 19thC mural tablets on south wall.

Churchyard

The churchyard is irregular and rectilinear in shape. It is level but there is a gradual drop in this part of the town to the River Lugg, which runs less than 100m to the north of the church.

It is well-maintained, although a little untidy in south-west sector.

The yard is enclosed by a wall which differs in its construction around the perimeter. On the south. the mortared stone wall rises to over 2m in height and is replaced in brick in places. On the east it is more of a revetment wall with the church interior raised over 1m above the external road, and the same is true on the north side, though here gardens and houses back onto the churchyard.

Monuments: gravestones are quite well spread, though some areas - e.g. to the west of the church - are devoid of stones. Many of the older stones are leant against the churchyard wall, particularly on the south side. A reasonable number of 18thC slabs survive, the earliest noted being 1718.

Furniture: three shafts are set in churchyard. Those near to north-west entrance and just to west of tower are octagonal and are in fact pinnacles from church tower, erected in the 17thC and taken down in 1891. That near south entrance is more square in section with four stopped chamfers, one inset face, and is fixed in an octagonal base. It is c.0.9m high.

Earthworks: none.

Ancillary features: one small wooden gate plus one larger one at south corner; a single gate in north-east corner, and open access in north-west. Tarmac paths.

Vegetation: five yew trees, all small, and some deciduous trees.

Sources consulted

Cadw Schedule of Listed Buildings 1985
Church Guide 1984
CPAT Field Visit: 15 February 1996
County SMR
Davies 1905, 202
Faculty 1854: Hereford Diocese Annual Box 1854 (1) (HRO)
Haslam 1979, 267
Howse 1949, 243
NMR, Aberystwyth
Taylor and Taylor 1965, 497


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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 Presteigne 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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