Ceredigion Historical Society
Richard Suggett talks to Ceredigion Historical Society members about the History of Llanrhystud Church

Ceredigion Historical Society visit to Llanrhystud Church

The tour started at Llanrhystud Church on a beautiful sunny day, where members of Ceredigion Historical Society listened to a talk by Richard Suggett on the history of the church.

Ceredigion Historical Society members visited Llanrhystud for a tour of the village and its buildings on 19 May, 2018.

Watch the video and discover the history of Llanrhystud Church.

1. Llanrhystud Church

The Vil, is this sort of settlement here, but with the fields and the remarkable thing about Llanrhystud is that there are remnants of the medieval field system, if you went up into the Church tower and looked North you would see that some of the fields divided into little strips, as they are at Llanon, so it’s an open field system and a very little known one. Rheinallt told me to look at the reminisces Atgofion by Hen Abgwr, and just on page 3 he mentions the fields and he says that the old people used to call them Llan dir Syr Rhys, which is remarkable because the Syr Rhys, it’s not Lord Rhys, I think its Rhys ap Thomas, Rhys ap Thomas was executed in the early sixteenth century but he seems to have got his hands on quite a bit of land around here, and there are references in the Court of Argumentations to his descendants trying to get the land back, so that’s the story there.

Ceredigion Historical society visits Llanrhystud Church
Ceredigion Historical society visits Llanrhystud Church

But if there is an association with Syr Rhys ap Thomas is does account for the splendid church, the medieval church here was better than the average church, it had a tower and the core of the present day tower is still the medieval tower, and its quite like the one at Llanwenog which is defiantly associated with Syr Rhys, and the profile of the church with its long Nave and then this bell clock between the Nave and Chancel, that was certainly there in the medieval period. It’s a most unusual structure and there are a couple of drawings of it just before 1850 and it shows that there were three bells, so it is quit extraordinary and the bells were rung at the most solemn part of the mass, so just one example in Ceredigion and a couple in Pembrokeshire and a very rare structure and it shows that there was some importance about the church here.

Stain glass window at Llanrhystud Church
Stain glass window at Llanrhystud Church

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2. Medieval Church

So the medieval church survived up to 1850, and in 1850 the vicar decided he wanted a new church and there were probably several motives, one is, he says and is probably true, the church was damp and cold and a bit ruinous and unpleasant to go in and at the time people drew a parallel between the new chapels which were often dry and sometimes warm, and churches which were almost pretty unpleasant so that was one motive. But the other motive was that rebuilding churches was fashionable, and the fashion had been set at Llangorwen were in 1841 where a new and correct Gothic church was erected by Issac Williams whose grandfather had been vicar here at Llanrhystud, that’s the second reason. 

Richard Suggett talks to Ceredigion Historical Society members about the History of Llanrhystud Church
Richard Suggett talks to Ceredigion Historical Society members about the History of Llanrhystud Church

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3. Re-building of the Church

If your inside the church there is an iron plaque that commemorates the rebuilding and the re-seating of the church and it’s the culmination of three or four years of raws, whenever you have a building project it’s kind of inseparable from raws and Ieuan Gwynedd Jones’s written up the re-building history here, there were continuous arguments so for about three years here, so the Vestry agreed that the church should be re-built, they had an estimate of five hundred pounds, and they thought that it was going to be manageable, in those days you could raise a parish rate and pay for the re-building that way, so they were going to raise a rate of five hundred pounds that way, it was a slightly tricky thing to do because they raised the rate in Aberystwyth when re-building St Michael’s, several non-conformist ministers refused to pay the rate and the bailiffs had been called in and had left a nasty ill feeling.

Llanrhystud Church stained glass window
Llanrhystud Church stained glass window

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4. Church Architect

They decided to raise the rate here in Llanrhystud, of five hundred pounds and that would leave them four hundred pounds to find, then a building committee was set up which included at least one Methodist Deacon which is interesting, and then they invited an architect down, and he was called Richard Kyrke Penson from the dynasty of architects in the Oswestry, Wrexham area, and people like Penson in the second half of the nineteenth century, once they had learned all the tricks made a very comfortable living re-building churches, but this seems to have been his first one. Richard Penson came down and gave his estimate and it was something like one thousand two hundred and fifty pounds, so already the cost had jumped without any money being raised, so the church decided to apply to the Incorporated Church Building Society for a grant, in the Annual Reports of the ICBS they had a wonderful before and after view of the church and the before view of the un-restored church, shows the tower quit dilapidated, well the whole church was dilapidated and part of the tower had fallen away, I’m sure its accurate. The restored church is just like this, expensive with Bath Stone dressings and all this tracery, it’s an ambitious church. The two views of the church were published in the newsletter, and everyone is feeling please with themselves, and then just out of the blue, comes criticism of the scheme from the most respectable clergy, one of them and it must have been very wounding, was by Issac Williams who rebuilt Llangorwen and was the grandson of the previous vicar here at Llanrhystud. Issac William’s said the whole scheme was preposterous, partly because all the seats in the new church were going to be appropriated, that is people were going to pay pew rents and that there was no extra free accommodation for the poor, he said that went completely against what the ICBS stood for. The second criticism was from an antiquary, the Rev John Allan, his name has kind of been forgotten now but he was the Arch Deacon of Salop and he’s a very influential man from a Pembrokeshire family, a very popular man and it was said he couldn’t tell a lie, he couldn’t criticise anyone privately without afterwards writing to them to say what he had said. The Rev Arch Deacon Allan said he was a Welshman and this church was completely inappropriate, it was an interesting church that was going to be destroyed and he said, “what person with any sense of fitness and local character could view without regret the proposed transformation of the old church”. I think this must have really thrown the pilgrim committee here and the Church Buildings Society withdrew their grant and said they wouldn’t give a grant unless there were a considerable number of free seats, so the architect was called back again, he re-designed the church so that there’s an extra aisle on the other side which contained free seating, but the cost jumped again then so it had trebled more or less since the start, by this time everyone was getting really worried and the tension showed because the architect fell out with the builder and the architect said the builders work was not up to standard, but the builder who was from Llansteffan refused to budge and the architect resigned so they were without an architect. Eventually there was arbitration they came to some agreement and the parish had to borrow quit a lot of money and five percent to finish the scheme, but in the end the church was consecrated in October 1843 and here it is today.

Now everybody’s quite used to it and quite enjoys it, but the sad thing was that the building material were sold for thirty pounds and everything from the old church disappeared accept the font and one memorial, all the memorials went. So that’s the story of the church.

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