Building » Brecon – St Michael

Brecon – St Michael

St Michael Street, Brecon, LD3 9AB

Brecon was a centre of Catholic recusancy and has been served by a resident Catholic priest almost continuously since 1788. The present small Gothic church and adjoining presbytery date from 1851 and were designed by the Bristol architect Charles Hansom. The exterior of the church has been little altered. The interior has been redecorated and re-ordered but retains much of its original character. The adjoining parish hall was previously a cinema and originated as a house. Although on a constricted site, together the church, presbytery and hall make a notable and positive contribution to the Brecon Conservation Area.

After the Reformation a stable population of about a hundred Catholics managed to survive in this part of Wales, but until the end of the eighteenth century they were served only by visiting priests. In 1788 Bishop Charles Walmesley OSB, Vicar Apostolic of the Western District, appointed a Franciscan, Fr John Williams, as resident priest. He raised sufficient funds to buy the old Three Cocks Inn as a chapel and a residence for the priest, and was also able to let out part of the building to a pastry cook to provide an income. In 1826 there were two priests in the town, George Gildart and Michael Havard, a member of a prominent Brecon family, many of whom farmed in the Senni Valley. He was followed by Lewis Havard, who served as priest in Brecon until 1850. By this time there were about 200 regular Catholic worshippers and a new and larger place of worship was required. Local fundraising was supplemented by a large donation from a Mr Howard of Corby. A design for a new building on the site of the old chapel was commissioned from the Catholic architect Charles Hansom of Bristol and a new church and presbytery were erected to his designs and opened on 6 August 1851. The church seated 150 and cost £1000. The Silurian reported on 9 August:

The very handsome little church, erected on the site of the old Catholic chapel in Wheat Street, was opened with the usual solemnities on Wednesday last. The design of the exterior is very beautiful, and from some points of view, forms a very ornamental feature in the general ensemble of the town, but, unfortunately, it is deprived of much of its architectural effect by the close proximity of other buildings. The congregation was not very large, though it included several highly respectable families of the Catholic persuasion from neighbouring counties, as well as many Protestants from the town and country.

In 1899 the Spanish soprano Adelina Patti, who lived at Craig-y-Nos Castle on the edge of the Black Mountain, married her third husband in the church.  

Adjoining the main front of the church in Wheat Street is a double-fronted stuccoed house of early nineteenth century character (the list entry says it is later nineteenth century), which now serves as the parish hall. In 1919 this building was converted to become the Electrotheatre Cinema with seating for 400, and continued in this use until 1925. It was later acquired for church use.

In 2010 the church and presbytery were renovated under the supervision of Fr Ross Patterson and the interior of the church was repainted and re-carpeted.


See list entry (below). This is brief as regards internal fitting out, and can be supplemented as follows:

  • Immediately inside the main door is an octagonal stone font which is probably original
  • The timber west gallery carries an organ installed in 2014 as a replacement for a previous one in the same position
  • The windows are mostly glazed with clear quarries, but the triple east window has coloured borders with sacred monograms
  • The two recesses in the sanctuary mentioned in the list description are a piscina and a sedilia.

The list entry for the presbytery with its walled forecourt does not mention that this was also designed by Charles Hansom.

List descriptions


Reference Number: 7020
Building Number 
Grade: II  
Status: Designated  
Date of Designation: 16/12/1976  
Date of Amendment: 04/11/2005  
Name of Property: Roman Catholic Church of St Michael  
Unitary Authority: Powys  
Community: Brecon  
Town: Brecon  
Easting: 304403  
Northing: 228527  
Street Side 
Location: On the corner with St Michael Street.  

History: 1851 by Charles Hansom, architect (1816-88), one of the leading architects of Roman Catholic churches in the mid-C19. The great Spanish soprano Adelina Patti, who lived at Craig-y-Nos Castle, married her third husband, Baron Cederstrom in the church in 1899.  

Exterior: Simple Gothic style. Walls faced with grey rubble arranged in courses; pale ashlar dressings. Slate roof. Narrow SE (liturgical W) end of Church facing Wheat Street with flanking buttress, battered plinth; shallow projection in centre with its sides tapering inwards towards apex of gable; two-light window at ground level and a small canopied niche above; bellcote with 2 openings, its gable with cruciform finial. Small Gothic archway to R. Buttressed SW wall of nave of 5 bays; battered plinth and tall narrow lancet windows; gabled ashlar entrance towards E end of SW nave wall. Lower chancel with group of 3 lancets, gabled end with 3-light Decorated style window.  

Interior: Nave of 5 bays has timber roof with scissor trusses and wall-posts on corbels. Organ gallery at Wheat Street end of church. Tall chancel arch; scissor truss roof also to chancel; to R in chancel, doorway and 2 recesses with trefoil heads.  

Reason for designation: A relatively scarce and early example of a Roman Catholic church, well-preserved, by a leading architect in this field. Group value with Presbytery to rear, and Hall to N.  


Reference Number: 7021
Building Number: 
Grade: II  
Status: Designated  
Date of Designation: 16/12/1976  
Date of Amendment: 04/11/2005  
Name of Property: Presbytery to the Roman Catholic Church of St Michael, including boundary wall  
Unitary Authority: Powys  
Community: Brecon  
Town: Brecon  
Easting: 304388  
Northing: 228539  
Street Side: NE  
Location: Attached to rear of St Michael’s RC Church

History: Mid-to-late C19, but with C20 alterations.  

Exterior: Presbytery. Stone walls. Slate roofs. To the NW, a gabled wing projects forward at right-angles to the church; the gable itself is slate-hung and lit by a casement window; on ground floor a modern window. Blank NW return wall of this wing. A further narrower wing to the L at right angles on a NW to SE axis; slate hung upper floor, modern glazing. Enclosed by a high boundary wall of stone rubble with hues of purple and grey with ashlar coping; a flight of steps leads up through this to a two-centred headed doorway in the wing of the Presbytery adjoining the Chancel.  

Reason for designation: Included for Group Value with Church of St Michael, and for contribution of its wall to the streetscape.  

St Michael’s Hall (front wing)

Reference Number: 7148
Grade: II
Status: Designated  
Date of Designation: 16 December 1976
Date of Amendment: 4 November 2005
Name of Property: Front Wing of St Michael’s Hall
Location: Immediately to R of St Michael’s Church.
County: Powys
Town: Brecon
Community: Brecon (Aberhonddu)
Built-Up Area: Brecon
Traditional County: Brecknockshire

History: Later C19.

Exterior: Stuccoed facade to Wheat Street of 2 storeys, 3 windows. Slate roof. On first floor, three sash windows with marginal glazing bars and horns. Two tripartite sash windows on ground floor each flanking central doorway with fluted pilasters and cornice on console brackets; rectangular fanlight; four-panelled door. Return wall of stone.

Reason for designation: Included for group value with St Michael’s Church and adjacent listed buildings.

Heritage Details

Architect: Charles Hansom

Original Date: 1851

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II