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Brecknockshire Churches Survey

Church of The Archangel Michael , Cwmdu

Cwmdu Church is in the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon, in the community of Llanfihangel Cwmdu with Bwlch and Cathedine in the county of Powys. It is located at Ordnance Survey national grid reference SO1804923844.
The church is recorded in the CPAT Historic Environment Record as number 16757 and this number should be quoted in all correspondence.

Cwmdu Church, CPAT copyright photo CS950001.JPG

Summary

Cwmdu church, dedicated to St Michael and known sometimes as Llanfihangel Cwmdu, occupies a spur overlooking Rhiangoll valley as it cuts though the Black Mountains, just before it opens out to the vale of the River Usk. Historical references date its origin to the mid 11thC, though the present structure had its origins no earlier than 15thC.

Though of several dates, the different elements of Cwmdu church reveal limited variation in fabric type and are impossible to distinguish. The tower has been attributed to the earlier 15thC but its base could be earlier. The core of the building, with its much restored Perpendicular windows, thought to be contemporary and dated by Haslam to 1430s, was largely rebuilt in 1830. The exception is the north side of nave, demonstrably rebuilt when north aisle demolished in 1907. Masonry of this rebuild is similar to 15thC/19thC stonework elsewhere in structure suggesting considerable re-use of earlier materials. Added on are two porches thought to be 15thC and 19thC, and the organ chamber of the 20thC.

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

History

Liber Landavensis refers to its consecration by Herwald in c.1060, together with the churches at Partrishow and Llanbedr.

The earliest named incumbent is ascribed to 1234. No reference has been found to it in either of the 13thC Taxatios, but the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535 records 'Comerduy' at a value of 9 13s 1d.

Theophilus Jones in the early 19thC reported it to be in a ruinous state.

In 1831-33 church was extensively rebuilt using wherever possible existing stonework; the detailed 1830 Specification suggests that, the tower apart, the whole building was demolished; rebuilding at a cost of 2,000 was due to the determination of the incumbent, Thomas Price (known also by his bardic name Carnhuanawc; an antiquary, and Celtic and Welsh historian). The 'new' church was smaller than its predecessor and incorporated a gallery.

Further rebuilding in 1907 by Caroe with Hunt and Baldwin, when north aisle was removed, and roof of nave was replaced and lowered. Photograph of church prior to 1907 in Dawson.

Renovation work in 1987/89 including replacement of dressings in cream-coloured sandstone, and inscription etched in glass of south aisle window notes cost of 19,116.

Architecture

Cwmdu church consists of nave and chancel, with a west tower attached, an organ chamber on the north side of chancel, a south aisle and two porches on the south. Windows are in Perpendicular style and Haslam dates building closely to 1430s. Church is aligned east-north-east/west-south-west but for purposes of this description 'ecclesiastical east' is adopted.

Fabrics: 'A' consists of small and medium slabs of red and grey sandstone with some blocks, irregularly coursed, and grey sandstone quoins. 'B' is not dissimilar to 'A' but has predominance of medium-sized slabs, at least some re-used; a few large blocks incorporated and quoins tend to have tooled rilling.

Roofs: slated roofs with ceramic ridge tiles.

Drainage: drainage gully round north side recently dug out; on east, trench lined by external wall and up to 0.5m deep; and indications of drainage works on other sides also.

Exterior

Tower. General. Uniformly Fabric 'A'. Attributed to earlier 15thC by Haslam but earlier writers suggested it was 14thC or earlier. Basal, stepped plinth to maximum height of c.1.7m (on south), the first two steps with chamfers, the top one more like a moulded string course; possible that this plinth could be of earlier build than rest of tower. 1st and 2nd stages of tower both topped with simple string courses, the belfry stage topped by a more elaborate moulded course with waterspouts, though these occur only on north and south sides. Battlemented top, and tower turret raised higher in north-east corner. Each string-course marks a slight insetting of tower walls. Masonry in tower shows distinctive zoning with, for instance, bands of large grey sandstone blocks in parts of 1st stage and again in 2nd stage.

North wall: at least six putlog holes in masonry of 1st stage; also one louvred, slit window with hollowed chamfer to dressings, the top stone perhaps replaced. A further slit high up in 2nd stage, similar to that below but predominantly in gold-coloured sandstone. Belfry lit by two, louvred, trefoil-headed lights, with Y-tracery, all under a two-centred arch; the mullion and tracery may be replaced. Wall also incorporates tower stair, which is lit by chamfered slits, two in 1st stage, two in 2nd stage, but none higher; dressings of those in 2nd stage look fresher and could be replacements, in a gold coloured sandstone.

East wall: apex of nave roof reaches to just above 1st stage string-course. Another, earlier, roof line suggested by a higher gable edge line on face of wall, yet string-course not interrupted by it, implying that it post-dates tower construction. Arnatt indicates that this marked line of roof of 1830 construction. Windows in 2nd and belfry stages as on north side, but impossible to determine how many of dressing stones replaced.

South wall: ten putlog holes in 1st stage; one slit window with replacement dressings top and bottom in red sandstone, but grey hollow-moulded chamfers of rest of slit original; a second slit window in this stage may have had top replaced. 2nd stage slit and belfry windows as on north side, but impossible to determine degree of replacement, though yellow tracery stonework likely to be.

West wall: eight putlog holes in 1st stage; a four-centred arched doorway at ground level, with hollow and wave chamfered dressings, the jambs original, but the arch head in differently coloured stone and less weathered. Slit windows at top of 1st and 2nd stages, and belfry window as on north, but again degree of replacement difficult to gauge.

Nave. General. Fabric 'B'. Only wall face of any magnitude is on north - known to have been constructed in early 20thC when north aisle demolished. Large windows shifted from north aisle.

North wall: three high windows, of Perpendicular style, each of three lights with cusped heads under two-centred arches; the most westerly has some original tracery and a more sharply peaked arch, but most of the dressings in these windows renewed. Two substantial buttresses with chimney projecting through nave roof behind more westerly.

West wall: small part, only, visible, and largely taken up with quoins of north-west corner; it appears that tower face may have been cut back to accommodate quoins.

Organ chamber. General. Of early 20thC build, though east wall of demolished north aisle originally reached as far as east wall of chamber, and its foundations visible in drainage trench; mural tablet of 1818 on east wall.

Chancel. General. Fabric B. Foundations of earlier chancel visible in foundation trench around north-east angle.

North wall: no fenestration; mural tablet of 1810.

East wall: large five-light, Perpendicular, window; lights have cusped heads with cusped panels above, and two-centred arch over; some tracery original, but otherwise much replacement of dressings. Possibly masonry just below roof line replaced or merely repointed. Two mural tablets pegged to wall, two others resting against it - one is completely weathered, the others date from 1740, 1778 and?1787.

South wall: masonry appears to abut south aisle wall. One window, with two cusp-headed lights under two-centred arch; most of tracery original but rest looks more recent. Two indecipherable mural tablets, one pegged and the other set into wall below window.

South aisle. General. Inclusion of blocks suggests fabric is closer to 'A' as used in tower. Flat roof.

East wall: one two-light window, similar to that in adjacent, south wall of chancel, but longer; original dressings except for mullion. Angle buttress, considered to be 19thC.

South wall: set on projecting foundation course as far as and including both central buttress and small, east porch; the buttress, with early medieval inscribed stone set in it, is certainly 19thC so the probability is that whole wall reconstructed in last century. Two windows of different forms. That to east has five lights with standard tracery, but no panels above and a square head to window frame with label over top; much of stonework replaced at two different times; its size suggests it may originally have been located elsewhere. More westerly window of standard form consisting of two-centred arch over three lights with standard tracery; some tracery and jambs original.

West wall: one two-light window of standard form, the mullion replaced, the rest original. Below window the whole wall face set out to accommodate internal recess (see below), and this incorporates 19thC angle buttress indicating that it too is in part of recent origin. However, that part of outset wall closest to tower is in similar fabric ('A') to tower and could thus be original.

East porch. General. Built a short distance west of south-east corner of south aisle; reputedly of 16thC date, but 1830 Specification implies that it was a new construction at that time.

East wall: contains square window embrasure with four roundel lights, the stonework of the lights more weathered than the embrasure dressings.

South wall: four-centred arch with stopped wave chamfers; locked iron gate; all of archway could be original but south wall of large, tooled sandstone blocks could be rebuilt.

West wall: as east wall but new stonework for roundels.

West porch. General: main porch, built almost at south-west angle of south aisle; appears to be in Fabric B. Dated to 15thC, but completely rebuilt in 1830.

East wall: small two-light window with round heads; dressings largely replaced.

South wall: entrance arch is two-centred, with stopped, grooved chamfers but much replacement of dressings; wall partly rebuilt with larger blocks of sandstone except near gable apex.

West wall: possibly largely rebuilt as it appears to abut Victorian angle buttress; window as on east side, the red sandstone heads perhaps original though could be replacements.

Interior

General. Plastered and whitewashed. Some evidence in various windows (south aisle, nave?) that external dressings reversed during restoration and weathered faces now inside.

West porch. General. Porch not centred on south door of church but offset to east. Roof is wagon-ceiled; flagged floor incorporates at least two and possibly more grave slabs.

North wall: contains south door of church, a four-centred arch with wave chamfer and stops; mixture of coloured sandstone and some jambs may be replacements; thought by Haslam to be earlier than windows in body of church.

East wall: stone bench against wall, and above it, tomb slab of 1658 pinned to wall.

South wall: porch arch internally chamfered. West wall:- as east wall; grave slab of 1767 pinned opposite that of 1658.

Tower. General. Ceiled with sandstone slabs set on edge, giving barrel vault with holes for bell ropes. Concrete floor.

North wall: tower turret doorway in north-east corner standing out from wall face; four-centred arch almost triangular topped, stopped chamfer only on west side of doorway; door itself of some age. Near to north-west corner, chimney piece projects slightly from wall.

East wall: pointed tower arch.

South wall: deeply splayed slit window.

West wall: reveal of west doorway; disconformity in masonry above the reveal suggests that originally there was a higher internal arch, subsequently reduced in size.

Nave. General. Red tiles (Victorian) cover floor, but carpetted over in aisle; polished wooden floor beneath benches. Roof has seven bays with simple corbels supporting arch-braced collars. Walls are narrow and the roof high.

North wall: shallow-splayed windows; chimney piece survives to roof level to east of most westerly window. Wall displays slight irregularities beneath plaster at level of tracery in windows.

East wall: no conventional chancel arch; instead arch over sanctuary further to east.

South wall: arcade of two full bays with third shared with chancel, tall and of 15thC date; octagonal pillars and capitals, except for west respond, and all in orange-red sandstone that looks like replacement stonework; some of arch stones in similar stone, while respond arch stones showing signs of decay; pillar bases appear original.

West wall: fine, four-centred tower arch with complex moulded stopped chamfers; 16thC. Adjacent on north is chamfered slit window lighting the vice. Above tower arch at level of nave eaves is doorway with wooden door set in four-centred chamfered arch. Just below present roof, converging lines indicate at least one and possibly two earlier roof lines.

Chancel. General. Chancel proper is short (equivalent to sanctuary only), a feature of the orthodoxy of the 1830s. What follows applies to the "choir" as well. Big two-centred chancel arch, the capitals akin to those of arcades; a 19thC construction using materials from one of arcade arches. Roof is continuation of nave with two and a half bays over the "choir"; sanctuary has ribbed wagon roof. Floor of tiles and wood as in nave; sanctuary has carpet over tiles.

North wall: two-centred arch in red and yellow sandstone gives on to organ chamber; in sanctuary 19thC marble plaques to several generations of Williams family.

East wall: narrow wall with splayed window and, on either side marble tablets of 1836 with Lord's Prayer and Exodus quotations.

South wall: deeper than east wall?

Organ chamber. General. Wooden floor. Roof is flat version of sanctuary roof. No features of interest.

South aisle. General. East end is partitioned off for vestry. Roof is simple flat ribbed ceiling, comparable in style to sanctuary. Vestry has raised wooden floor, the rest of aisle has wooden floor under seating with tile surrounds.

North wall: = south arcade of nave. Solid wall in vestry carries one mural tablet of 1837.

East wall: narrow wall; high window with internal tracery painted.

South wall: priest's door has four-centred arched reveal. 19thC coat-of-arms on wall between the windows.

West wall: contains one splayed window and beneath it a tomb recess with peaked arch and stopped chamfers with wave moulding, now utilised by font - no indication of earlier usage and appears to have been constructed specifically for font in 1830.

East porch. General. Restricted access. Wagon ceiling as west porch, but pointed. Floor flagged, incorporating some grave slabs. Early medieval cross-incised slab rests against outer iron gate.

North wall: priest's door into south aisle; two-centred arch, no chamfers but voussoirs; simple niches dating to 1830 restoration on both sides of doorway, and said to incorporate earlier window heads.

Churchyard

Cwmdu churchyard is reasonably large and sub-rectangular in shape. It is set on the eastern side of a small river, the Rhiangoll, on a low spur between the river valley on north-west and a shallow, dry valley to south.

The churchyard is tidy and well-maintained, in part because of wholesale clearance of gravestones from south side of church. Perimeter is overgrown with bushes and other vegetation.

The boundary consists of a mortared retaining wall on south side of yard with a drop of no more than 0.2m internally; from the south-east corner the external drop becomes progressively less and opposite the church there is no difference in height inside and outside the yard, though material has been piled up against the inner face. On the north there is again a drop beyond the wall of around 2m. The wall generally sound but in parts of north side it is in a bad state of repair. On west side the wall again acts as revetment with a 2m drop beyond.

Monuments: majority of surviving grave markers are on north side of church and date to 19thC, including Thomas Price's own tomb; one or two only beside the approach path south of church, the rest removed in 1981/82 and either stacked or dumped around the boundary, and now largely concealed by the vegetation; amongst these are certainly some of later 18thC origin. Some older gravestones, the oldest dating to 1662, said to be leaning against eastern churchyard wall.

Furniture: a churchyard cross consisting of steps, base, and part of shaft, is topped by more recent octagonal stone to carry sundial.

Earthworks: none of any significance.

Ancillary Features: main entrance on south has stone pillars supporting ornate ironwork lampholder. Stile formed by stone on edge, immediately to east. Tarmac path leads to porch only. Subsidiary access in middle of east side by standard farm gate.

Vegetation: yews, many of fairly small girth, around perimeter of churchyard with a couple beside path to porch.

Sources consulted

Annatt: Church Guide - n.d.
CPAT Field Visit: 25 October 1995
Crossley and Ridgway 1952, 70
Dawson 1909, 192
Faculty, 1830: NLW/SD/F/140
Haslam 1979, 315
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 Cwmdu Church may also be found on the Swansea and Brecon Diocese website.


The CPAT Brecknockshire 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 ( 22:00:37 ).
Further information about this and other churches surveyed is available from the Regional Historic Environment Record, Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust, Curatorial Section, 7a Church Street, Welshpool, Powys, SY21 7DL tel - (01938) 553670, fax - (01938) 552179, email - chrismartin@cpat.org.uk, website - www.cpat.org.uk.

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