St Andrew's, Bayvil, a lonely little church in the Pembrokeshire uplands close to Nevern, is a proud possession of the Friends of Friendless Churches. It is something of a rarity in Wales, a small, unpretentious medieval church – the font is twelfth century – entirely rebuilt in the early nineteenth century, and largely left untouched ever since; ‘delightfully pre-Victorian’ as the authors of the Pembrokeshire ‘Pevsner’ put it. The mystery of Bayvil is simply this: whose was the guiding hand behind so thoroughgoing a rebuilding round about 1830? For on this the records are tantalisingly silent. Lloyd, Orbach and Scourfield, authors of the aforesaid Pembrokeshire ‘Pevsner’, have no doubt; it is ‘by David Evans’. But who was David Evans? It is a far from uncommon name in Wales, and the hunt for this David Evans uncovers a local architect of considerable versatility – ‘that ingenious architect’ as he was hailed in 1810 – now almost entirely forgotten. So what is his story?
Little is known of his background, other than he was originally from Eglwyswrw, a small village on the Fishguard to Cardigan road, and presumably born there, the son of Benjamin and Eleanor Evans, sometime in the late eighteenth century. Of his education and training as an architect we know nothing, though as some of his work shows both a knowledge of, and the influence of, John Nash, active in this part of Wales from the 1780s, it raises the intriguing possibility that Evans either worked for, or was trained by, that distinguished architect. He emerges as an architect in his own right about the year 1810, when he designed Berry Hill, a late Georgian villa, which retains its Regency interiors, at Nevern, near his home, and, further afield, at Carmarthen, the now long-vanished Union Terrace in Church Lane, his first essay in what might be termed ‘town planning.’
However, it would seem that the 1820s and 30s saw him at his most prolific. In 1827, from his office in Cardigan, he designed Castle Green House, on the site of the keep of Cardigan Castle, another ‘competent Regency villa’ (restored in a Channel 4 programme in 2017 and now used as the castle’s museum), and at least had a hand in the rebuilding of the eighteenth century Shire Hall in the same town. In 1829 he rebuilt the church and provided a vicarage at Eglwyswrw (Middleton & Son again rebuilt the church in the 1880s, keeping Evans’s walls), and this is really when he emerges as a church architect on a modest and largely local scale. Which is when Bayvil appears on the scene.
At that time the church was served by a curate who happened to live in Eglwyswrw (the vicar was an absentee; he was resident in Hampshire) and what was more natural than he should ask the by now prominent local architect to undertake the rebuilding of his church, when he had watched the ‘new’ church at Eglwswrw going up? The result is the Bayvil as we know it — unpretentious, a little backward-looking as to interior layout, and carefully conserved in the 1980s by the sure hand of Roger Clive-Powell. But Bayvil did not have Evans’s full attention; for that we have to turn to two more churches occupying his time simultaneously — Llangoedmor and Llechryd — both important in his story.
In 1830 the rector of Llangoedmor, just outside Cardigan in the Teifi valley, was the Revd Llewellyn Lewellin, recently appointed (1827) Principal of St David’s College, Lampeter. Lewellin was not a local man – his family was from Glamorgan – so, again, naturally, it was to the Cardigan architect he turned for the restoration of the church. The most extraordinary feature of Evans’s new work there – which fortunately survived R J Withers’s remodelling of a quarter of a century later, is the whimsical – and totally out of scale – spirelet at the division of the nave and chancel. Here, atop a basically medieval church, Evans planted a copy of the top of the spire of St John’s, Waterloo Road, London, which he could only have known from an engraving of the church, which had been built a decade earlier. What prompted this jeu d’esprit is lost in the mists of history, but it is no small tribute to the skill of the builders he employed, if nothing else.
Allied to Llangoedmor, as a chapel-of-ease, was the church at Llechryd, on the banks of the Teifi. Again Lewellin turned to Evans, to refurbish at least, a building of 1638, which had replaced in its turn a medieval chantry chapel. Evans seems to have largely left the building itself – which had been remodelled and probably enlarged in the eighteenth century – untouched, but the brick-framed windows, box pews and pulpit were his. Liable to flooding, the chapel was abandoned when a new church was built in the 1870s, and only the shell, tidied up in the 1990s, remains. What we know of its interior makes it likely that it resembled Bayvil in layout and furnishing.
That is broadly all that can be said of David Evans. We know that in the 1830s he had returned to ‘town-planning’, laying out a largely unrealised scheme at the village of St Dogmaels, and was probably responsible for the impressive Bridge Warehouse, again of the 1830s, adjacent to the former Cardigan Quay. He died in 1840, and lies buried in the churchyard of Cardigan Priory Church, his practice passing to his equally intriguing son Daniel (who doubled as a local innkeeper). One mystery remains: Lloyd, Orbach and Scourfield draw attention to four country houses in the Cardigan area, Glandwr, Tresaith (1809), Gelli, Trefilan (c.1800), Treforgan, Llangoedmor (c.1810) and Plas Trefilan, Trefilan (1828-30). All show examples of what might be called ‘Nash influence,’ but are not by the master. Were they, perhaps, the work of the pupil, one David Evans? Probably we shall never know. All still survive, so you can judge for yourself.