St Giles, Letterston, Pembrokeshire

ST GILES,  LETTERSTON,  NORTH PEMBROKESHIRE (PRESELI)

 Dyfed PRN 4552

 RB No. 3332

 NGR SM 9391 2958

 Not listed (1998) (2021)

 SUMMARY

19th century church; 0% pre-19th century core fabric. On site of, and in same location as, medieval church (no separate Dyfed PRN).

A 3-cell church, small. Consists of chancel, 2 bays; nave, 2 east bays; vestry (north), 1 bay; (re)built 1881. Nave west bay; north porch; built new, 1926. Construction is in limestone and shale/slate rubble. Neo-gothic. All internal walls are rendered/plastered. Slate gable roofs; vestry with slate lean-to roof. All openings are from 1881 and 1926. Western single bellcote, 1926.

(Medieval piscina and effigy, reused from medieval church.)

Roofs and floors, 1881 and 1926. Finishes, 1881 and 1926.

Condition – good.

Archaeological potential – good. Church entirely rebuilt 1881, in same location as earlier church; no structural or physical evidence for earlier church; deep external cutting with drain around 30% of church; no evidence for floor level changes; underfloor void; no crypt/vault evident; good evidence for former component beyond 40% of church.

Structural value (pre 19th century) – poor-fair. 0% pre-1881 core fabric. Reused medieval effigy and piscina, of unusual form.

Phasing:

Phase 1 – Chancel, nave east bays, vestry, 1881.

Phase 2 – Nave west bay, north porch, 1926.

(Former building history:

Phase 1 – Medieval church.

Phase 2 – Rebuilt 1844.)

DESCRIPTION

St Giles, Letterston, is a 3-celled church, of medium size. It was (re)built in 1881 by E. H. Lingen Barker (A. Gordon, 1993; RCAHM, 1925, 146) apparently taking the place of one that was itself (re)built in 1844 (RCAHM, 1925, 146). The church was built in the same location as its predecessor(s) but retaining none of the earlier fabric.

The present church consists of a 2-bayed chancel, a wider 3-bayed nave, a north porch and a lean-to vestry of 1 bay, against the north wall of the chancel west bay.

Construction is in limestone and shale/slate rubble throughout, with squared quoins. The external pointing is good quality, of 1881 and 1926. All internal walls are rendered/plastered. The roofs are slated gables, the nave roofed at a higher level than the chancel, while the vestry has a slate lean-to roof, all 1881 and 1926. The floors are possibly suspended except in the chancel and porch, and from 1881 and 1926.

The church is fundamentally from 1881, but was extended westward by one bay in 1926 (NLW, SD/F/227). The 1881 church comprised the chancel and nave, the vestry and a west porch (RCAHM, 1925, 146, which mistakenly mentions a north porch), and is, in the main, unaltered. The openings are neo-gothic and have oolite dressings. The east window is of 3 lights, traceried, in a 2-centred surround. There is a 2-centred doorway in the north wall of the chancel west bay into the vestry, and a plain-moulded, 2-centred chancel arch. The piscina in the east bay south wall was recovered from the medieval church when it was rebuilt in 1844, and until 1926 it was situated in the former west porch. The projecting bracket bowl is in the form of a stiff-leaf moulding, and a square-sunk panel above has a cross ‘raguly’ in relief of highly unusual form for the region (Barnwell, 1884, 32); the use of the stiff-leaf moulding suggests a late 13th century date rather than any later. The gabled chancel roof is of softwood and oak, and from 1881. The tiled floor is also from 1881.

The vestry has an external doorway in the east end wall, and a window in the north wall similar to the chancel east window but simpler, and of 2 lights.  There is a disused fireplace in the west wall. The softwood lean-to roof continues the chancel roof north slope, and the floor is suspended; both are from 1881.

The 2 nave east bays are also all 1881 work. There are side wall windows in each of the 2 bays, like the vestry window. The nave is roofed as the chancel; the tiled passage, the suspended board floors, the softwood seating and the pulpit are all from 1881.

The 1881 church was, until 1926, entered through a west door and gabled porch (which contained the re-sited piscina, see above). The present north porch doorways, with their 2-centred surrounds, were recovered from the former west porch and re-used (NLW, SD/F/227). The former nave west wall featured a single bellcote, also from 1881 (RCAHM, 1925, 146), which was re-used in the 1926 extension; it is a plain, gabled structure.

The church was still apparently undergoing ‘improvement’ in 1883 (Anon., 1883, 338-9), £300 being required to complete.

The 1881 west porch and nave west wall were removed in 1926 to make way for an extra nave bay, and a new north porch (NLW, SD/F/227). The architect was J. Coates Carter and the estimated cost was £1000. All details, and the facework, were copied from the 1881 church. The north and south walls each have a window like the 1881 nave windows, and the 1881 north door and porch door were re-used. The nave roof was extended replicating the 1881 roof, and similarly the floor and seating; the bellcote was re-used (and the bell). The porch side walls have simple, single-light windows, the gabled roof is in softwood, and the tile floor is laid directly on the substrate. A recess was let into the north wall immediately east of the new north door, to receive the effigy that had been recovered from the medieval church in 1844 but had been standing in the south-west corner of the nave during the intervening years; the effigy is female, and of the 14th-15th century, and traditionally (but spuriously) known as that of ‘St Leotard’ (Anon., 1883, 338-9).

The pre-1844 church is shown on the tithe map of 1838 (NLW, Letterston, 1838), which seems to be an attempt at an accurate representation. A chancel and nave of equal width appear to be depicted, and a north aisle running the full length of the nave and lying beyond the present north wall; the church may have been substantially medieval. Vestry minutes from the early 19th century only record the usual small sums spent on minor repairs (Pembs. R. O., HDX/1038/1-2). In 1833 the church had been described as ‘not remarkable for any striking architectural features’ (Lewis, 1833); the piscina, and the effigy, were then located in the chancel (Fenton, 1903, 187).

Little is known of the 1844 church. It may have been a rebuild of the medieval church, or alternately have dictated the plan, if not the fabric, of the 1881 church. It was ‘not remarkable for any architectural features’ (RCAHM, 1925, 146).

The font has a hexagonal scalloped bowl, and a hexagonal stem and base, probably of 15th century date. It has been much damaged and restored (RCAHM, 1925, 146).

There is no physical evidence for the pre-1881 church. A deep earth-cut cutting runs along the south walls, primary? (re)excavated in 1881?; it contains a drain. There is no evidence for internal floor level changes. The nave and vestry floors are suspended with an underfloor void. No internal vault or crypt is evident. There is documentary evidence for a former north aisle beyond the present north wall.

The present church was not listed in 1998. Not Listed in 2021.

SITE HISTORY

There is no evidence for any pre-conquest religious use of the site.

St Giles, Letterston, was a parish church during the post-conquest period, of the medieval Deanery of Pebidiog (Rees, 1932). It was granted c.1130 to the Knights Hospitaller of Slebech Commandery, by Ivo, the son of Letard, Lord of the Manor of Letterston (Anon., 1898, 285). In 1330 John Letard of Letterston released all his rights in the ‘church of St Giles’ to the Knights (ibid.). The Commander of Slebech granted a 3 year lease of the pension of the church, to Thomas ap Philip of Picton in 1508 (ibid.).

In 1291 the church, as ‘Ecclesia de Villa Becard’, was assessed at £14 13s 4d for tenths to the king, the sum payable being £1 9s 4d (Green, 1912, 228). The annual value of ‘Leeston’, in 1536, was £12 11s 0½d, in tenths 25s 1¼d (ibid.); the rector was a Dr Leyson by the collation of the Commander of Slebech, to whom the church paid a yearly pension of 8s (Anon., 1898, 285).

At some period during the medieval period the parish church site was moved from ‘Hen Eglwys’, now a place-name site at NGR SM 9295 2946 (Dyfed PRN 2395), to its present location. The topographic evidence suggests that this occurred sooner rather than later, as has been previously supposed (Green, 1912, 228; RCAHM, 1925, 146, et al.); the present church site occupied a central location within the medieval settled area of the vill, characterised by ‘tofts’ and strip fields, and was surrounded by part of the former large village green (NLW, Letterston, Tithe Map, 1838). A church had certainly been established at the present site by the late 14th century (date of piscina and effigy re-used from the medieval church, see above).

At the dissolution, Slebech Commandery and all its appurtenances, including the rectory of Letterston, fell to King Henry VIII. The patronage remained in royal hands. By the 18th century the chapel of Llanfair Nant-y-gof had become annexed to the rectory of Letterston (ibid.), a union that continues into the 1990s.

As a discharged rectory of the Archdeaconry of St Davids, the living had an annual value of £40 (£70) in 1786, rated in the king’s books at £12 11s 0½d (ibid.). The situation was unchanged in 1883 (Lewis, 1833).

In 1998 St Giles, Letterston, was a parish church. The living was a rectory, held with Llanfair Nant-y-gof, Puncheston, Little Newcastle and Castlebythe (Benefice 656) in the Archdeaconry of St Davids, Rural Deanery of Dewisland and Fishguard (St Davids, 1997-8).

SOURCES CONSULTED

 Map Evidence

NLW, Ordnance Survey 1:2500, First Edition, XVI.7, 1889.

NLW, Ordnance Survey 1:2500, Second Edition, XVI.7, 1907.

NLW, Parish of Letterston, Tithe Map, 1838.

Rees, W., 1932, South Wales and the Border in the XIVth century.

Church in Wales Records

 Jones, W., 1996, Quinquennial Report, Letterston.

St Davids, 1997-8, Diocesan Year Book.

NLW, SD/F/227 – Faculty, enlargement of church, 1926.

Parish Records, Pembrokeshire Record Office, Haverfordwest

HPR/46 – Letterston:-

HPR/46/20-23 – Correspondence re: addition to churchyard, 1897-8.

HPR/46/24 – Faculty, enlargement of church, 1926.

HPR/46/25 – Faculty, plan of westward extension, 1926.

HDX/1038/1-2 – Vestry Minutes, 1818-42

Printed Accounts

Gordon Partnership, 1993, Redundant Religious Buildings in West Wales.

Anon., 1883, ‘Fishguard Meeting’, Archaeol. Cambrensis, Vol. XIV, Fourth Series.

Anon., 1898, ‘Haverfordwest Meeting’, Archaeol. Cambrensis, Vol. XV, Fifth Series.

Barnwell, E. L., 1884, ‘The Letterston Piscina’, Archaeol. Cambrensis, Vol. XV, Fourth Series.

Crossley, F. H., and Ridgway, M. H., 1957, ‘Screens, Lofts and Stalls situated in Wales and Monmouthshire: Part 8’, Archaeol. Cambrensis, Vol. CVI.

Fenton, R., 1903, A Historical Tour through Pembrokeshire.

Green, F., 1912, ‘Pembrokeshire Parsons’, West Wales Historical Records Vol. II.

Lewis, S., 1833, A Topographical Dictionary of Wales.

RCAHM, 1925, Inventory: Pembrokeshire.

Rees, J. R., 1897, ‘Slebech Commandery and the Knights of St John: Part I’, Archaeol. Cambrensis, Vol. XIV, Fifth Series.

Rees, J. R., 1899, ‘Slebech Commandery and the Knights of St John: Part II’, Archaeol. Cambrensis, Vol. XVI, Fifth Series.

Salter, M., 1994, The Old Parish Churches of South West Wales.

Up dated: October 2021 – PKR