The Monmouthshire Antiquarians and the Gwent County History Association spent Saturday in Llangwm at the invitation of the local history society. Llangwm is not so much a village as a scatter of houses, but with a much-used village hall, two churches and a chapel. It was the heartland of early Puritanism in Wales, and the great Walter Cradock was minister there under the Commonwealth.

We started the day in the village hall with a talk from the Gwent archivist, Tony Hopkins, on the commonplace book kept by a seventeenth-century landowner of the parish, John Gwyn. He was Cradock’s brother-in-law, an enthusiast for new methods of farming and fruit growing and an inveterate collector of medical recipes and snippets of local and family knowledge.

We then wandered down to the furthest of the churches, Llangwm Uchaf, now in the care of the Friends of Friendless Churches. Its great glory is its rood screen –

and detail of the carving –

some of this is medieval, some dates to John Seddon’s restoration of the church in c.1870.

And in the churchyard is this delightfully crude eighteenth-century carving of Adam and Eve on the grave of a local farming couple.

The tree is beautifully detailed and the serpent is curved around it but the two figures are hardly differentiated at all and are both wearing little loincloths of leaves.

The inscription reads

In Memory
of Anne the wife of James Thomas
of this Parish who Died Decr the 23rd
1796 Aged 50 years

To Faith and Charity her heart inclind
Gentle prudent and of an easy mind.
Ready to forgive fearfull to offend
Faithfull to her husband, true to her friend.
Her course she finished & resigned her breath
In pursuit of Heaven through ye val of Death.

Also in Memory of James Thomas
Who died Decr ye 13th 1808 Aged 83 Years.


The church is now in the care of the Friends of Friendless Churches (http://friendsoffriendlesschurches.org.uk/). Digging around the outside of the building to deal with drainage problems, they found another tombstone commemorating some of John Gwyn’s family and recording a gruesome local murder.

What they could decipher of it read

Here lyeth the body of Joan Gwyn
The wife of John Gwyn of the parish
[this is Joan sister of Walter Cradock and wife of the John Gwyn who kept the commonplace book]
Who departed this life in the year 1690
Here lyeth the body of Craddock
Gwyn of this parish who departed this
life … 1725
[this is John and Joan’s son, named after his uncle]
Here lyeth the body of Elizabeth
Gwyn, the wife of Craddock Gwyn of this
Parish, who was murdered in her own home …
of … 1743
Aged 31 years
… body that
Bloody villain
Who coveted both gold and hand  … only be.

This event took place at the Gwyn family home, Pwll Farm, and according to local folklore you can still see the bloodstains at the bottom of the stairs. There are more Gwyn family tombs in the churchyard.

Bull Cliff Marble

This is a preliminary posting while it’s fresh in my mind – more to come when Mike Statham and Tim Palmer do a proper write-up of the lithology. Iolo Morgannwg, stonemason, antiquarian, imaginative inventor of Welsh history and general polymath, identified something he called ‘Bull Clifft marble’ in the cliffs between Barry and Porthkerry, at the mouth of the Nant Cidi.


He was keen to promote the use of local decorative stones as an alternative to marble (Italian marble being difficult to get hold of during the Napoleonic wars) and identified a number of earlier memorials made in what he described as Bull Cliff marble in local churches. At St Andrews Major he reported:

In the East part of the North Aisle of St. Andrew’s Church on a black marble ledger (Bull clifft), well polished, is the following remarkable inscription, the ledger is also of the following form, and is the oldest that I ever saw in Glamorgan without a cross on it.

He then drew the stone with an inscription commemorating

John Gibbon James buried the 14 of August 1601 and Margaret Mathew his wife buried the 8 of January An Do 1631. He aged 99 she aged 124.

(Iolo was particularly interested in tombstones recording people who died at an advanced age.)

Iolo’s ‘Bull Clifft marble’ seems to be dark grey or even black, but there are monuments in other local churches described in guides as ‘Bull Cliff stone’ but made of a much paler blue-grey stone.

So we assembled a group from the Welsh Stone Forum and went off to have a look. Here we are heading towards the actual Bull Cliff


and looking at what seems to be the stone Iolo was describing.


It’s a liassic limestone with very characteristic small flat oyster shells (Liostrea hisingeri) which would clearly polish up very nicely.



We had with us Mike Statham’s brother Ian who is a retired geological engineer and was pretty confident that we were looking at evidence of quarrying. What we had assumed was erosion by the sea, he suggested was deliberate removal of mudstone and shaly overburden to get at good building stone and the shelly ‘marble’. Once that had been taken away we were left with a flat pavement, with too many fissures to make it useful.


Well, once he said it, we could see it quite clearly!

So on we went to Cadoxton church. Mike and I had been there already looking for this (now on the south wall but from the wording clearly a ledgerstone)


which Geoff Orrin in his Medieval Churches of the Vale of Glamorgan describes as being Bull Cliff marble. It looks quite different from the stone on the beach but Tim Palmer said it was the same stone on the basis of the small oyster shells (difficult to see because of weathering of the stone but he had his magnifying glass and could identify them quite clearly). There is another ledgerstone in the same stone mounted on the south wall


and this one at the back of the church


which looks similar but doesn’t seem to have the same fossils.

Apparently there were ledgerstones under the carpet. We didn’t have time to move the carpet as we had to get on to St Andrews, but Mike and I went back a few days later and found these in the chancel





and these just west of the nave steps.



Most but clearly not all are Bull Cliff stone. Lovely little cherubs (the one on the Rosser ledgerstone looks as though it’s wearing glasses)


and copybook commemorative poems.



There’s a lot of local gossip about the families in the wonderful diary of William Thomas (published by the South Wales Record Society, http://www.southwalesrecordsociety.co.uk/11.htm). For example: he records George Rosser’s death on 28th May, 1764

of about 70 yrs. of age from a very sudden death. He rose the 27th in the morning and Eated his Breakfast and went about the fields, and soon after his return some reaches took him tht in a few hours he Expired. Some sort of a Merry man, had his Life inthat House and land in Eley after his mother which was daughter of late Thomas Howel of Eley decease, which his mother and he had run in debt, to the Lord of the mannor, and the Land rented out to Tho. Collins senr. Deceased to pay it, he went to the great house in Swanbridge to keep an alehouse and a Shop where about this 20 yrs. past he broke, and had £15 of the poor’s money of St. Andrews on use, the Lease of the parishioners, and went to Pencotre where he kept an alehouse, till this 10 or 11 yrs. past that the land in Eley came free and he went there and paid the money to St. Andrews parish, and came well up, but these few years past he rented Barry Island of Sir Edm Tho (which he had given up to Biss of the Holms last Candlemas) and made not much gains of that – the house and Land in Eley after his life went from the family, he Left behind him two sons and two daughters.

There’s also a lot of roughly finished Bull Cliff stone in the actual fabric of the church – sanctuary steps, tower steps – and a wedge-shaped stone in the north side of the chancel which could be a medieval coffin lid. Also mooching around the churchyard I spotted this,


the design a copy of a medieval four-circle or bracelet cross. I’ve not seen anything like this on a modern gravestone but then I probably wasn’t looking.

On to St Andrews – where Iolo’s stone is nowhere to be seen inside the church. There is however a stone against the outside north wall which could be it – very much weathered and doesn’t look like Bull Cliff at all but Tim says the change in colour is lichen. The inscription is totally illegible by daylight so we plan to go back one evening and see what we can do with a raking light.

More on that again.



The Rattleskull Genius and the Storeyed Urn

The church of Llanilltud Fawr in the Vale of Glamorgan (Llantwit Major to the English – St Twit, who he? Is that where Roald Dahl got the idea?) has an outstanding collection of what we now call Early Medieval Inscribed Stones – ‘Celtic’ crosses, carved pillars and inscriptions commemorating the great and the good of early medieval Glamorgan. As if that wasn’t enough, there are medieval tombs, a number of post-Reformation cross slabs, wall paintings, a Jesse tree and a stunning late medieval reredos with niches for all the saints you can think of.

Given this wealth of artistic heritage, it seems strange to get excited about this rather ordinary marble wall monument.


It commemorates Anthony Jones, who died on 29 September 1755 aged 24 and was buried ‘in the belfry under the third bell’. But the monument also mentions his sons Anthony Jones, clerk, and Daniel Jones, esq., and Daniel’s wife Louisa, all of whom are buried with Anthony and Daniel’s mother Mary in the nearby village of Llandow.

These details suggest a date of about 1800 for the actual monument. But why is it so interesting? True, Gunnis’s Dictionary of British Sculptors describes it as ‘exactly like the contemporary work of T. King of Bath’, and King was one of the best of the provincial marble-masons. But the exciting thing about this wall monument is at the bottom, the name of the mason.


E. Williams, Cowbridge, was also known as Iolo Morganwg, antiquarian, forger, inventor of the Welsh Gorsedd of Bards and the whole Eisteddfod ceremonial, and self-styled ‘rattleskull genius’. His activities as historian, poet and inventor of much of Welsh tradition and culture have been covered by the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies in their ‘Iolo Morganwg and the Romantic Tradition in Wales’ project – http://www.iolomorganwg.wales.ac.uk/ . But for most of his working life he was also Williams the stonecutter. It was his work as a stonemason that supported his research and his writing (though they didn’t support it very well – he was always in debt and even spent time in prison).

Because of Iolo’s fame as a poet and cultural figure, the account books and papers of his stonemason’s business have been kept and are now in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. In his chapter ‘Iolo Morganwg: Stonecutter, Builder and Antiquary’ in Geraint Jenkins’s A Rattleskull Genius: the many faces of Iolo Margannwg, Richard Suggett uses these papers to give us an insight into the life and work of an ordinary jobbing mason. He and his brothers were trained by their father, a master mason whose business included limewashing and plastering as well as new building, repairs and making and inscribing tombstones. The Wathen monument on the outside of Llanilltud church is probably one of his


and there is another wall monument inside the church at Gileston which may be by him (http://www.iolomorganwg.wales.ac.uk/bro-silstwn.php ).

Iolo worked in London and the West Country, gaining experience and developing his intellectual interests, then returned to Glamorgan where he tried to set up as a high-quality marble mason. His business advertisements claimed that he could produce ‘all sorts of chimney-pieces, monuments, tombs, headstones  …’ in marble and freestone, ‘in the newest and neatest manner’, as well as cleaning and polishing old marble tables and cutting inscriptions on old monuments. As well as the Llanilltud wall monument, there is a ledgerstone by him at St Mary Church (http://www.iolomorganwg.wales.ac.uk/bro-llanfair.php ) and possibly a chest tomb in the churchyard at Gileston (http://www.iolomorganwg.wales.ac.uk/bro-silstwn.php ). His prices were moderate: words cost 2d per letter, edge mouldings were 1s. a foot and some sculptured ornaments cost a guinea. But the business did not prosper and in 1786 he was imprisoned as an insolvent debtor. The inventory of the tools in his workshop – grits, polishers, marble carving tools, freestone firmers, saws, compasses and rules – came to just under £2. This included 3s. 6d. for his copy of Darley’s Book of Ornaments for Carvers (a book which I can’t now trace – not online, not in the British Library catalogue).

Iolo was critical of the vernacular poetry on many of the tombs he produced: ‘on how many grave-stones I have inscribed vile doggerel’, he said. His interest in landscape and the natural world led him to explore the potential of the workable stones in Glamorgan and elsewhere in Wales. When it became difficult to import marble from elsewhere in Europe during the Napoleonic wars, he suggested using the limestones of the Glamorgan coast. He was particularly taken with the Bull Cliff liassic stones. We found some tomb carvings using those at Cadoxton and Merthyr Dyfan and we need to do more work on them – that will need another blog post after our field visit at the end of the month.


Llanfrynach: multum in parvo

Llanfrynach is a little church in the fields just west of Cowbridge. Access is down a narrow, rutted lane; there is no parking space, no electricity, no loos. It was clearly the centre of a dispersed settlement but by the seventeenth century most people were living to the north in Penllyn. The journey they had to make across the fields for funerals is marked by a line of coffin stiles, double stiles with a central support to rest the coffin while the bearers clambered over. A church was built in Penllyn in the nineteenth century and Llanfrynach is little used now, but it is still clearly much loved.  There are recent burials and flowers in the graveyard. While we were measuring up the medieval carvings, two lots of visitors arrived, both with families from the area.

Llanfrynach is one of those churches you keep coming back to. I went there first in the mid 1990s when I was working on churches in the landscape. There was a suggestion of a Roman site just to the north of the church, so this could have been an example of an early church deriving from a late Roman house or estate church. There were Welsh poems on some of the gravestones in the churchyard so Gwen Awbrey came there with me. Our daughters were in the Welsh primary school together, so while Gwen deciphered the poems and I looked at the surrounding fields the girls made rubbings of tomb carvings. Apparently they were designing tombstones for their friends in school the next week. Gwen and I waited in some trepidation for a call from the headmaster, and planned to blame each other.

The church itself is a fascinating building. Much of the original 12th century building survives. There is a narrow chancel arch and a stone bench all round the nave. There are faint traces of medieval wall paintings to the south of the altar – a crown of thorns or a vine trail, with bunches of grapes. But it was not until my third visit, with a young French student who was working on Welsh wall paintings, that I realised that the east end of the church is virtually paved with medieval tombstones.


Even the doorstep is a late 13th century cross slab.


There are also some of those enigmatic post-Reformation cross slabs so typical of south-east Wales and so rare elsewhere. To complicate the picture still further, some of the medieval stones have lettering suggesting they were reused in the seventeenth century, and others are so battered it’s difficult to put a date to them.

Planning out and analysing this jumble of medieval and post-medieval slabs was clearly going to take some doing. My French cousin Amy is here for Christmas and happy to spend a day on her knees with tape measure and note pad. The church key lives in the Cross Inn, just up the road. Yes, they could do lunch for a vegan. We were in business.

The cross slabs date from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries. Probably the oldest is this one


If you saw it in Yorkshire you would probably say 12th century but in north Wales it could be as late as 1300. The lettering MT 1670 is a later addition.

Then there are a number of floriated crosses in circles and quatrefoils. As well as the doorstep, there is one built into the roof of the rood loft stairs


a tiny cross head, 30 x 26 cm, which may have covered a heart burial


and this splendid one,


137 x 70 cm, with an elaborate head


and lovely detailed oak leaves springing from the shaft.


There are traces of writing incised round the border but all we could identify was a capital G. It looked Lombardic in style, so it may have been contemporary with the cross.

This very plain cross set in the chancel floor


is probably late medieval, and this stumpy base


could also be early 16th century. We thought long and hard about the two very plain crosses in the sanctuary floor. Both are in the very simple four-line style of the post-medieval crosses in Llantwit Major and elsewhere in the Vale of Glamorgan. We thought this one


might be pre-Reformation. The wedge shape would mean an even earlier date in England but you still find this coffin-lid shape in Wales in the seventeenth century. But the absence of any inscription seems to suggest earlier rather than later. This one on the other hand


is so very crudely carved, with space for a lengthy inscription below the cross, that we eventually decided it was post-medieval. It could even be as late as the date carved on it, the letter M and a date beginning 16… .

Then there are the clearly dated post-medieval stones. A little cross slab which has clearly been repositioned (it now forms part of the southern sanctuary step)




(Orrin has transcribed this as commemorating William and Elinor but the reading above is quite clear.)

Against the south wall of the sanctuary, and possibly in its original position, is a sizeable slab


with a cross whose design I have not seen elsewhere. Orrin describes it as ‘a cross moliné with fishtail base’ but the base seems feathered like wings.


What the symbolism could be, either the fish or the wings, we can only guess.


The cross commemorates two more members of the Turberville clan:




The Turbervilles held the Penllyn estate in the seventeenth century and were connected to the Turbervilles of Sker. Both families were at one time defiantly Catholic: the Jesuit priest St Philip Evans was arrested at Sker in 1678 and it was at the Turberville house in Penllyn that St John Lloyd was arrested in the same year. Both men suffered the horrific death of hanging, drawing and quartering the following year. In this case, then, the crosses and the Latin on the second slab could reflect the family’s religious standpoint. On the other hand, the older Christopher (husband of Elinor and father of William) was High Sheriff of Glamorgan in 1616, and there are plenty of examples of post-Reformation cross slabs from impeccably orthodox families.

Oh, and the coffin stile in the churchyard.


Could the coping stone on the western pillar


be part of a medieval coped  grave cover?


More cross slabs

Having written up those post-medieval cross slabs (‘Post-medieval cross slabs: closet Catholics or stubborn traditionalists?’ in The Antiquaries’ Journal 96 (2016), 207-40, on my university research web site at https://pure.southwales.ac.uk/en/publications/postmedieval-cross-slabs(39f0b31f-d6e5-4bc6-b255-2750950fe7ee).html ), I keep finding more of them. Most exciting were the ones at Llantriddyd asking for prayer for the souls of children of the Mansel and Aubrey families (https://welshtombs.wordpress.com/2016/06/25/cross-slabs-under-the-carpet-under-the-altar-under-the-cupboards/ ) and there were more at Llanmaes and Porthkerry (thanks to Gwen Awbery for spotting this one – https://welshtombs.wordpress.com/2016/11/15/portrey-and-deere/ ).

They are all interesting but the best ones are the ones that tell a family or community story. The stone at Llanmaes commemorates three rectors of the parish, one who served through all the religious turmoil of the sixteenth century and one who lost his job in the civil wars of the seventeenth century but regained it at the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. (It’s useful to be reminded that we have a long history of violence in the service of religion.) The Porthkerry stone has several generations of the local Portrey and Deere families which took a bit of disentangling.

When John Rodger visited Llandough near Penarth at the beginning of the twentieth century, he saw and drew this


a very simple cross on a coffin-shaped slab, similar to those blue lias stones at Llanilltud Fawr and Llancarfan. I have a very vague memory of seeing it there on a difficult student field trip. People kept getting lost and we were running way behind time, so I didn’t make a note or photograph it – and now it is nowhere to be found. Did I really see it, did I imagine it, did I confuse it with another stone at Llanilltud and on another day?

Visiting Llandough with the great Ian Fell so that he could photograph the St Armel window


(another puzzle – why a mid-C20 window depicting a saint who was so fashionable in the early Tudor period but virtually forgotten since?) I had another look with the churchwarden. We have reluctantly concluded that it is under the carpet and that yes, I was mistaken. But she then remembered reading about another stone by the organ. We clambered round all sorts of paraphernalia in the south chapel, pulled up the carpet – and there it was.



(Ian Fell’s photos – one stitched together to show the detail.) The lettering is easier to read in this


from the church notebook. The church has details of a survey which I thought was done by NADFAS but it isn’t on their web site. Was it the GGAT survey from the 1990s? – but I didn’t think they did tomb carvings. More work needed.

Anyway, it’s a lovely carving, commemorating members of the Jones and Morgan families. It starts with an early version of tombstone poetry:


DECESED ∙ THE 3 ∙ OF ∙ AVGVST ∙ 1619

Interesting to note that she doesn’t seem to have changed her name on marriage – we may still be in the era of patronymics but concealed and used as surnames. The final line of the poem could just be read as an implicit prayer for her soul.

This would have been just about acceptable in the early years of the seventeenth century when many in the established church were softening their attitude to visual decoration and the ‘beauty of holiness’. But the slab has been reused to commemorate another Nicholas, described as ‘of Walston’,  presumably Margery and Nicholas’s son, who died in 1657 at the height of the Commonwealth reforms of religion. Crosses on gravestones were being attacked and destroyed along with a lot else in the way of visual decoration. Reusing the family tombstone might have been an attempt to protect it, but the Morgans clearly felt no need to hide the decoration (they could just have turned the slab over).

The style of the cross is interesting, too. I haven’t seen another quite like it. It’s basically along the same lines as the crosses at Llantriddyd, Llanmaes, Porthkerry and Llanmihangel but with pointed finials and a much smaller base. The lettering is honestly rather poor – irregular and badly spaced. This really does seem to have been a one-off by a local stonemason who wasn’t quite up to the task.

So far I haven’t found out much about the Morgan family. In vol 3 of Cardiff Records John Hobson Matthews transcribed a fragment of a headstone in the churchyard at Llandough commemorating a Mary daughter of Nicholas Morgan, c. 1630, followed by members of the local Vaughan and Matthew families from the 18th and 19th centuries (http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cardiff-records/vol3/pp580-583 ). But this was published in 1901 – goodness knows where the stone is now. This Mary was presumably the daughter of the Nicholas who died in 1657. There was a Walston in the nearby parish of Wenvoe, a substantial Tudor farmhouse to the north-west of the village (sometimes confused with Wenvoe Castle which was actually some way south of the village). Did Nicholas Morgan move there? Did his wife have connections there? Will I ever get round to finding out?