St Michael, Myddfai, Carmarthenshire

ST MICHAEL,

MYDDFAI,

CARMARTHENSHIRE (DINEFWR)

Dyfed PRN 4090

RB No. 2999

NGR SN 7723 3013

Listed Building No. 10957

Grade B listed (1998) Grade I listed (2021)

First Listed in 1966. Last amended in 1999.

Reasons for Listing: Graded I as a largely complete medieval church of a scale and detail unexpected in so rural a location. Unusually intact interior including arcades, complete surviving late medieval roofs and the extensive survival of late medieval window tracery. The double nave form is relatively rare in the county, being more common in Powys.

SUMMARY

Medieval church; 95% pre-19th century core fabric; largely unrestored.

A 5-cell church, large. Consists of chancel, 2 bays, nave, 4 bays; north chapel, 2 bays; north aisle, 4 bays; all medieval. South porch, early 17th century. Vestry (north of aisle), 2 bays, early 19th century?; gas-plant house (north of aisle), 1926.

Construction is in mixed rubble, predominantly limestone. 100% of internal walls are rendered/plastered. Slated gable roofs, vestry and gas-plant house with slated lean-to roofs. Medieval chancel arch. Medieval north chapel arcade. Medieval north aisle arcade. Medieval rood stair recess. Medieval windows with mullions; medieval tracery in north chapel. Medieval piscina, external corbel table and internal benching in chancel. Medieval chancel south door rebuilt 1808; main south and north doors rebuilt ?1808 and 1926. Early 17th century rood-loft recess, and vaulting, door and possible stoup in south porch. Aisle west window, 1808. Few later openings, confined to rebuilds in nave and aisle, later 19th century-early 20th century. Western single bellcote, later 19th century.

(18th century glass in chancel east window.)

Roofs: Chancel, nave, north chapel and north aisle, oak roofs c.1500; south porch, early 17th century; vestry and gas-plant house, 1926.

Floors: Mainly 18th century; 20th century in chancel, vestry and gas-plant house.

Finishes: 18th century render on 50% of church; medieval plaster in 80% of church, replastered 1992. Wall-paintings in nave and north chapel, probably medieval?; wall-painting in chancel, 18th century.

Condition – good. Some ivy.

Archaeological potential – excellent. Earthwork beyond 10% of church, platform? former component?; shallow external cutting around 15% of church; floor levels raised in 80% of church?; no underfloor void; no internal crypt/vault; external vault and cellar against 10% of church; external memorials significantly close to 30% of church; building debris beyond 5% of church.

Structural value (pre 19th century) – very good. 95% pre-19th century core fabric; much medieval detail including arcades, windows including tracery, roofs and piscina; medieval wall-paintings; early 17th century vault, door and ?stoup; 18th century floors, glazing and wall-paintings, window and door(s) from 1808.

Group value – high. Medieval landmark church; central village location; churchyard with good memorials.

Phasing:

Phase 1 – Chancel and nave, 13th-14th century.

Phase 2 – North chapel and north aisle, c.1500.

Phase 3 – South porch and nave rood stair recess, early 17th century.

Phase 4 – Vestry, early 19th century?; some refenestration, 1808.

(Phase 5 – limited restorations, very low impact, between 1874 and 1926; no new components.)

Phase 6 – Restored 1926, low impact; gas-plant house built.

DESCRIPTION

The present church

St Michael, Myddfai, is a 5-celled church, of medium-large size. It retains approximately 95% pre-19th century core fabric, being largely unrestored.

The present church consists of a 2-bayed chancel, a wider 4-bayed nave, a 2-bayed north chapel of the same dimensions as the chancel, a 4-bayed north aisle of the same dimensions as the nave, a south porch, a 2-bayed lean-to vestry north of the aisle west bays, and a single bayed lean-to gas-plant house north of the aisle and east of the vestry.

Construction is in medium-large mixed rubble, limestone predominating, unsquared and uncoursed, with medieval quoins in areas. Extensive remains of external render/pointing survive from the ?18th century; 1926 repointing in areas, and poor later 20th century ribbon pointing; 100% of internal walls are rendered/plastered, medieval but partly reskimmed in 1992. Slated gable roofs, the nave and aisle roofs at the same level and above the chancel and chapel roofs; these roofs are of oak, medieval; the vestry and gas-plant house have slated lean-to roofs. The body of the church is largely floored with limestone flags from the later 18th century.

The chancel east wall has a low, basal batter and internal stone benching. The south wall has an external corbel table at the wall-head, medieval – formerly parapetted?. The east window comprises 3 cusped lights in a square surround, all in Old Red Sandstone, c.1700; the  glazing is 18th century (Yates, 1974, 66) as is the painted text, ‘Words of Institution’, above the window on the internal face. The 2 south wall windows are similar and of similar date, but have square drip-moulds, the western with primitive moulded head stops and a similar central moulding (cf. Cilycwm, Carms.). Between the two, and in the west bay, is a doorway, still open and probably medieval but with its head rebuilt as a semicircular arch with a ‘Gibbs’ surround, probably from 1808 (see below). Internally, a plain piscina lies beneath the south wall east bay window, comprising a recess with a 4-centred surround of c.1500. The north wall arcade into the north chapel is represented by a single 4-centred arch occupying both bays, with semi-octagonal stops and plain-moulded capitals (but no bases, or bases concealed), of c.1500. The chancel arch is plain and 2-centred, with chamfered stops and plain imposts, 14th-15th century?. The creasing for the medieval chancel roof is visible higher up on the external face. There is a slight medieval stone bench south of the arch, and an area of weathered wall-painting, medieval?

The chancel roof is medieval, ceiled with an oak ‘wagon-roof’ of c.1500; the plaster panels were renewed in 1992 (Anon, n.d., 6). In 1926, the roof was still partly stone-tiled (NLW, SD/F/501); were the tiles survivals from an early covering?. The polychrome tiled floor may be from 1926. The limestone Commandment tablets of the early 19th century (Yates, 1974, 66) have been relocated to the south wall.

The nave is divided from the north aisle by a 4-bayed arcade similar to that in the chancel, but with 2-centred arches; it is also from c.1500. The oak wagon-roof is also like that in the chancel and similarly from c.1500, but the framing is transverse only, with panels renewed in 1992. The south-east corner features large Old Red Sandstone quoins in the upper half where it may have been rebuilt in the early 17th century; the east bay south wall is pierced by 2 windows, the upper as the chancel windows and early 17th century, the lower a single lancet from the 15th century. Both formerly lit the medieval rood loft and stair, and were blocked presumably later in the 17th century; the lower lancet has a history of being successively unblocked and reblocked until left open in 1926 (NLW, SD/F/501). The west half of this bay is produced externally as a square projection from the south wall with a 2-centred internal recess; the projection has large external quoins like the south-east corner, over which it is squinched at a higher level, and was probably built in the early 17th century similarly for the rood stair. It is pierced by an inserted window, like the chancel windows but with 3 lights, in oolite, with surrounding infill and all representing an early 20th century copy of an original 3-light window from the early 17th century (shown in NLW, SD/F/500). A similar window lies to the east, again a copy of the original; the intervening ‘plain recess or aumbry’ from c.1500 and mentioned in 1917 (RCAHM, 1917, 218) and shown on a plan of 1866 (NLW, SD/F/500) has since been filled in – in 1926?. The south door lies in the nave west bay; it has been rebuilt with a semicircular head, possibly in 1808 (see below). The west wall is pierced by a plain 3-light window in a 2-centred Old Red Sandstone surround, inserted in 1874 into an existing opening (Anon., n.d., 6; Evans, 1917(b), 7) which, in 1866, had a single light timber-framed window (NLW, SD/F/500). The gable supports an elaborate bellcote on a 2-centred arch corbelled out from the external wall face, with oolite quoins, dressings and string course, the bellcote above the string course being of oolite ashlar and gabled, with a single ‘Caernarfon’-headed opening; all is from the later 19th century. It contains a bell. There are 3 external buttresses on the south and west walls, from 1926 (NLW, SD/F/501). The limestone-flagged floor was laid in the later 18th century, directly on the substrate.

The north chapel has a 3-light, Perpendicular traceried east window in a 2-centred surround with a drip-mould, all from the early 16th century. The north wall is pierced by a similar window but with a 4-centred surround. To the west, the internal face of the wall displays a fragmentary wall-painting of apparent medieval date. The chapel is open to the north aisle through an arch identical to those in the aisle arcade and similarly from c.1500. The oak wagon roof is like that in the chancel and also c.1500. The floor was lowered in 1926 (NLW, SD/F/501) and floored with re-used limestone flags.

The north aisle has a window in the east bay north wall like the early 20th century nave windows, inserted into an existing opening that featured a single light timber-framed window in 1866 (NLW, SD/F/500). An internal aumbry like that formerly in the nave south wall (see above), probably coeval with the core fabric, lay to the west until filled in, ?c.1926. A second window lies further west, like the chancel windows and also from c.1500. In the west bay north wall is a doorway with a segmental arch, which formerly represented the north door of the church; it was probably blocked at the Reformation and has been successively blocked and reopened to be finally unblocked and rebuilt in 1926 to communicate with the vestry beyond. The west wall is pierced by a window with a semicircular head and a ‘Gibbs’ surround, dated 1808 in the masonry; it contained a single-light, timber framed window in 1866 (NLW, SD/F/500) but was given a window like the nave west window in 1874 (Anon., n.d., 6; Evans, 1917(b), 7). The aisle is also roofed like the chancel, and floored as the nave.

The south porch may be early 17th century. It is vaulted with a segmental barrel vault, plastered, and the door has a semicircular ‘Laudian’ arch of Old Red Sandstone ashlar. The internal plaster conceals the possible remains of a stoup (RCAHM, 1917, 218-19). The floor is flagged as the nave.

There is a possible ‘D’ shaped earthwork beyond the east end of the church, former apse? platform?. A shallow earth-cut cutting runs along the west half of the north side of the church.  The floors may have been raised concealing former pier bases, but the north chapel east bay floor has been subsequently lowered. No suspended flooring, or underfloor void, is present. There is possible evidence for a former component beyond the present east end (see above). There is an external vault, a below-ground heating chamber and former gas-plant house against the north aisle north wall, but no evidence for any internal crypt/vault. Many memorials lie close to the south wall. An external earthwork north of the north aisle represents construction/demolition debris.

Structural development

The pre-19th century church has survived more-or-less unchanged. The nave and chancel may be 13th or 14th century and the only close parallel for the external corbel table in the chancel is in the nave at Llangynin, in south-west Carmarthenshire. The north chapel and north aisle are doubtless contemporary with each other, and were added c.1500. There is no justification for the suggestion by RCAHM that the chancel and nave formerly occupied the northern cell (RCAHM, 1917, 218) and the chancel certainly occupied its present position by 1866 (NLW, SD/F/500). The south porch may on stylistic grounds be dated to the early 17th century; the rood-loft stair recess in the nave south wall features early 17th century openings and it may well be an addition from this period and occupy a ‘Laudian’ context, cf. the similar recess at Llanfynydd, Carms.. The church has been largely unrestored and retains many medieval features, including the roofs; features representing virtually every succeeding architectural period are also present, as well as wall paintings, glass and flooring.

Post-17th century work has been episodic. The church windows were apparently ‘out of repair’ in 1672 (Evans, 1919, 213) but no later 17th century detail is evident in the present fabric. The present floors have been noted as being largely from the late 18th century, and may conceal the arcade pier bases ie. raised?. The chancel south door and aisle west window are from 1808; they have the same ‘Gibbs’ surrounds, and the window has the date incised (the south door is less similar).

The lean-to vestry had been built by 1839, and is shown on tithe map (NLW, Myddfai, 1839). However, on a plan of 1866 it is shown as only entered from the exterior, and in form looks more like a bier-house (NLW, SD/F/500). It was being used as a vestry by the later 19th century when the north door was unblocked, and an east window was inserted (blocked in 1926). All other openings, and the roof and floor, are from 1926.

In 1849 the wardens were charged with putting the chancel in good repair (Carms. R. O., CPR/48/7). The repairs were still being undertaken in 1851 and may have included reseating; a plan of 1866 (NLW, SD/F/500) shows the seating as open benches, now gone.

The church underwent some very low impact restoration in 1874 (Evans, 1917 (b), 7) when the 2 west windows were inserted and a pulpit, since replaced, was installed (Anon., n.d., 6); possibly it was now that the north door was unblocked to the vestry. The installation of 2 heating stoves in the nave and north aisle may have occurred at the same time; the flues led to chimney stacks in the side walls, removed in 1926 (NLW, SD/F/501).

Some limited refenestration occurred between 1917 and 1926, when 2 windows of c.1500 noted in the south wall of the nave by the RCAHM in 1917 (RCAHM, 1917, 218) were rebuilt in oolite, along with the north aisle east window, which had been rebuilt in the same style by 1926 (NLW, SD/F/500).

More extensive building work was undertaken in 1926 (ibid.)., to the specifications of the architect Charles W. Mercer, of Llanelli, and at an estimated cost of £1600. It was, however, still of low impact and chiefly concerned the vestry, which had for some time been used as a coalshed, the doorway into the aisle (the former north door) having been blocked once more. The doorway was reopened and rebuilt, and the vestry was divided into two by a partition wall. The west half was excavated out to form a below-ground heating chamber, with steps down, and a low-pressure heating apparatus was installed; the flue led to a simple square chimney stack on the aisle north-west corner, now gone. The east half was given a woodblock floor. The vestry north door was rebuilt with a concrete lintel, and a new 2-light window in a  square Old Red Sandstone surround was inserted either side of the door. The whole was reroofed with lean-to softwood common rafters continuing the aisle north roof slope. A small lean-to structure was erected between the vestry east wall and the aisle north wall, with a low roof and a plain doorway reached by 4 steps down within external brick retaining walls; the new structure was built to house a gas-plant for the heating apparatus, now disused.

At the same time, the north chapel east bay floor was lowered and relaid, the screen between the chancel and north chapel was re-used and extended, the nave and aisle stoves were removed and their stacks demolished, and the nave buttresses were built (ibid.). The walls were repointed in areas, and some new roof slating was laid, and timberwork repaired.

At around the same period, but not mentioned in the above specs., the present chancel floor was laid and the altar rail was fixed. The pews in the nave and aisle, free-standing on raised boarded floors over the flagging, also appear to be earlier 20th century, as do the pulpit and desk.

In a programme of renovations completed in 1992 the roofs were reslated, and the defective timber and plaster panels were replaced. The internal walls were partly reskimmed (Anon., n.d., 6).

The limestone font has an octagonal square bowl and stem moulded from one piece, of probable 14th century date. A loose font bowl observed in the church in 1925 was apparently recovered from the former chapelry at Dol Hywel (RCAHM, 1917, 219)

The bell has been recast (Anon., n.d., 6).

The church was Grade B listed in 1998. It lies within Brecon Beacons National Park.

Listed Grade 1 (2021)

First Listed in 1966. Last Amended in 1999.

SITE HISTORY

There is some evidence for the pre-conquest religious use of the site –

Circular churchyard.

St Michael, Myddfai, was a parish church during the post-conquest period, of the medieval Deanery of Stradtowy (Rees, 1933). It is first mentioned in 1284, when the advowson fell to King Edward I due to the forfeiture of the previous patrons (Anon., n.d., 3), who were apparently a family named Wroth (RCAHM, 1917, 218, who give the date of the forfeiture as 1291 ). The advowson was subsequently granted to the Bishop of St Davids (Anon., op. cit.), with whom it still formally remains. Rees, 1933, has the church appendent to Talley Abbey, but this assumption may be due to the surrounding grange that was present during the medieval period.

The benefice was a vicarage; in 1492 Bishop Hugh Pavy collated to Sir Rhys ap Ieuan, chaplain, the vicarage of the parish of ‘Mothevey’ and instituted him, the vicarage then being vacant by the resignation of the last vicar, ‘on a yearly pension of 5 marks’ (Anon., 1930, 42). The parish had a dependent chapelry at Dol Hywel, now gone.

In 1833, the living was a discharged vicarage of the Archdeaconry of Carmarthen, in the patronage of the Bishop, rated in the king’s books at £6 6s 8d and endowed with £200 royal bounty (Lewis, 1833).

In 1998 St Michael, Myddfai, was a parish church. The living was a vicarage, held with Llandingat (Llandovery), Benefice 530 in the Archdeaconry of Carmarthen, Rural Deanery of Llangadog and Llandeilo (St Davids, 1997-8).

SOURCES CONSULTED

Map Evidence

NLW, Ordnance Survey 1:2500, First Edition, XXVII.9, 1886.

NLW, Ordnance Survey 1:2500, Second Edition, XXVII.9, 1906.

NLW, Parish of Myddfai, Tithe Map, 1839.

Rees, W., 1933, South Wales and the Border in the XIVth century.

Church in Wales Records

St Davids, 1997-8, Diocesan Year Book.

NLW, SD/F/500, Faculty – Decree, new pew or transept, 1866.

NLW, SD/F/501, Faculty – Restoration of church, 1926.

Parish Records, Carmarthenshire Record Office, Carmarthen

CPR/48 – Myddfai:-

CPR/48/7 – Vestry Minute Book, 1841-55

Unpublished Accounts

Sambrook, R. P., and Page, N. A., 1995 (i), The Historic Settlements of Dinefwr (Unpublished client report; copy held with Dyfed SMR).

Sambrook, R. P., and Page, N. A., 1995 (ii), The Historic Settlements of Dinefwr: Gazetteer (Unpublished client report; copy held with Dyfed SMR).

Printed Accounts

Anon., n.d., Myddfai Church Guide

Anon., 1858, ‘Correspondence’, Archaeol. Cambrensis, Vol. IV, Third Series.

Anon., 1859, ‘Notices and Queries’, Archaeol. Cambrensis, Vol. V, Third Series.

Anon., 1879, ‘Correspondence’, Archaeol. Cambrensis, Vol. X, Fourth Series.

Anon., 1916, ‘Miscellanea’, Archaeol. Cambrensis, Vol. XVI, Sixth Series.

Anon., 1930, ‘Field Day’, Trans. Carms. Antiq. Soc. Vol 20.

Crossley, F. H., and Ridgway, M. H., 1947, ‘Screens, Lofts and Stalls situated in Wales and Monmouthshire: Part 8’, Archaeol. Cambrensis, Vol. XCIX.

Evans, G. E., 1917 (a), ‘Churchwardens’ Presentments’, Trans. Carms. Antiq. Soc. Vol 11.

Evans, G. E., 1917 (b), ‘Parish Churches’, Trans. Carms. Antiq. Soc. Vol 11.

Evans, G. E., 1919, ‘Miscellanea’, Archaeol. Cambrensis, Vol. XIX, Sixth Series.

Evans, G. E., 1921 (a), ‘Churchwardens’ Presentments’, Trans. Carms. Antiq. Soc. Vol 14.

Evans, G. E., 1921 (b), ‘Myddvai, 1732’, Trans. Carms. Antiq. Soc. Vol 14.

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

RCAHM, 1917, Inventory: Carmarthenshire.

Salter, M., 1984, The Old Parish Churches of South West Wales.

Yates, W. N., 1973, ‘The Age of the Saints in Carmarthenshire’, The Carmarthenshire Antiquary Vol. IX.

Yates, W. N., 1974, ‘Carmarthenshire Churches’, The Carmarthenshire Antiquary Vol. X.

Updated: August 2021 – PKR.