Aberpergwm – Welsh tombs?

The main purpose of my database of medieval Welsh tomb carvings is to act as a resource for people who want to study our tradition of monumental carving, for whatever reason – looking at religion and belief, social identity, geology … But how many of these carvings are really ‘Welsh’? Many were commissioned by outsiders, some were carved by English stonemasons, the lovely alabasters of the 15th and 16th centuries came from the alabaster workshops in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, probably in flatpacks for local assembly.

According to John Newman’s The Buildings of Wales: Glamorgan, the two medieval effigy tombs at Aberpergwm are ‘Two medieval effigies, brought in, it is said, from France, crudely restored and set under crocketed arches in the chancel E wall’. So for the purposes of the database I was prepared to ignore them. Then I rethought it. They are as Welsh as a lot of the ‘Welsh’ tombs of the period, and they are certainly part of that rather nebulous area of study ‘the after-life of the monument’.

There is now a possibility that the database may go online on the new server of the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies in Aberystwyth. I have to start tying up the loose ends … so many loose ends …

So in the slack period between Christmas and the New Year my French cousin and I set off to have a look. The church has had problems with vandalism and is usually locked but the churchwarden opened it for us – and moved the Christmas tree so that we could have a better look.

christmas_tree

The effigies are a male and a female.

If his armour is part of the original and not restoration, he’s late C14. Bascinet and mail aventail

 

simple shoulder and elbow reinforcements

heavily riveted leg armour

sabatons; and a rather cute dog under his feet.

But how much of this is original?

The woman is more obviously restored: but again, which bits are original? If the head with its rather strange expression and the heavy veil and wimple is original, she could be late C14 but could also be a lot earlier.

The tightly-buttoned sleeves look right for the late C14, as does the mantle.

There’s a complete lack of detailing for the upper body where the mantle fastening would be.

Part of the problem is that we don’t seem to have any evidence for provenance – why the suggestion that they came from France? And crucially, what were they like before?

There is a lot else of interest in the church. It was probably a Cistercian grange chapel in origin. It them became a chapel of ease to Cadoxton near Neath and was almost completely rebuilt in the C19 by the local Williams family. Their great house at Aberpergwm is now a ruin just above the church. It was William Williams of Aberpergwm who rebuilt the church and brought the effigies in. They sit in what look like late medieval niches, again probably from elsewhere, with plaques in deliberately archaic Welsh associating them with the Williams family’s ancestors Iestyn ap Gwrgant and the Welsh lords of Glyn-neath and Afan. This really is the invention of tradition.

It was also William Williams who acquired some early C16 German stained glass for the church. It came originally from the Premonstratensian abbey of Steinfeld. Sold off during the Napoleonic wars, it came to Aberpergwm via a German dealer, John Christopher Hampp. Several more panels of Steinfeld glass are in the Victoria & Albert Museum, and more is distributed around churches, mainly in Norfolk, where Hampp had settled. More about this on the online stained glass journal Vidimus: https://vidimus.org/issues/issue-35/features/. The four panels at Aberpergwm depict members of the Premonstratensian order being presented to an array of familiar and unfamiliar saints.

More invention of family history?

The church also has an array of bits of stone carving – some may have come from the earlier church, some must have been brought in. I really need to know more about the C19 trade in antiquities, and specifically the trade in this kind of medievalizing (as opposed to classical antiques).

And in the churchyard – the ‘Wedding-cake Monument’, once much more elaborate. It commemorates Jane Williams, who died of consumption in 1832, a year after her marriage. Her broken-hearted husband had a Gothic-style monument constructed for her and placed where he coupld see it from the house. I can’t find a photo online of the monument in its original glory: here it is in 1979 on Mike Collier’s web site https://www.themikecollierarchive.com/photo_9240385.html and here as it is today, shorn of all its elaborate tracery

weddingcake.JPG

A good quarter of the gravestones in the churchyard are all or part in Welsh. Amy spotted two with a variant of that ‘Cofia ddyn wrth fyned heibio’ poem: these both start ‘Cofia ffrynd ….’, ‘Remember, friend …’. It’s a variant which Gwen Awbery also found in Carmarthenshire.

Llangatwg Feibion Afel

That wonderful organisation the Friends of Friendless Churches held its AGM this year in the church of St Cadoc of the sons of Afel. It is now one of Monmouthshire’s most remote churches, down a lane and across the fields in a little valley north-west of Monmouth. In the early medieval period, though, it may have been something more important. Early charters describe it as a mother church, with the churches of Llanllwyd, Llanfaenor, St Thomas of Newcastle and St Thomas of ‘Panrox’ subordinated to it. The surrounding area is full of llan place names. Some are misleading – Llandishty and Llanbawddwr are not really llan but glan place names, farms named after streams. But what about Llancreaver (just west of the Hendre), Llanadan west of Llangatwg, Llanvolda next to the Hendre and plain Llan on the road to Newcastle? It really is a landscape very similar to that around St Cadoc’s great monastery at Llancarfan, where there are surrounding hamlets like Llancadle, Llanbethery and Llanfeuthin, and others like Castell Moel and Moulton with archaeological evidence of early churches.

There is very little left of the medieval fabric at Llangatwg, but plenty of good post-medieval tomb carvings. Lots of Brute-style cherubs;

a very strange little figure

llangatwg_7

llangatwg_7_detail

the heartbreaking monument to two young children of the Banister family, with very crudely carved figures – surely the work of a local stonemason not quite up to the job

llangatwg_banister_children

this amazing carving of Adam and Eve (the ‘cherub’ on the top clearly comes from a different monument)

DSC_0018

and for me the most exciting, very worn and almost unphotographable, commemorating a James Water who died in 1696.

llangatwg_water

This must have been a ledgerstone, from the amount of wear. It has a cross head and (very unusual for the date) an inscription partly in (rather garbled) Welsh.

llangatwg_water_welsh

It reads

GWEDDIVN BAWB AR
Y IESU HWN DDYG
ON HAWDDNHEL
PU A DANGOS VNNHY
GWIR OLEVNI [?PRYD]
DDE Y GWIWION YN Y
GWELY

(roughly translated as Let us all pray to the Jesus, this is easy enough to help to show us the true light when the worthy ones come to their bed)

And the Hendre does very good vegan chocolate brownies.

Welsh Stone Forum looking at – yes – stones!

Because other people’s expertise is always invaluable.

We started at Grosmont. I’d been there before – https://welshtombs.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/more-cross-slabs/ – and had specific queries. What was the actual stone of that unfinished effigy of a mailed knight?

grosmont_effigy_compressed

And was there any chance of moving and examining the loose stones at the west end? Andrew Haycock confirmed my completely uninformed guess that the effigy was local Old Red Sandstone – he thinks from what used to be called the St Maughan’s Formation, which is the local type. This does actually influence how we interpret it. There have been a number of attempts to date the carving, to explain its very rough quality and to identify the person it represents. My initial instinct was to guess at a late C13/early C14 date. It’s very difficult to say anything definite because of the lack of detail. It does look as though the effigy is meant to have its legs straight, and the hands are clearly placed together in prayer. Crossed legs would be much more usual in the second half  of the thirteenth century: though straight legs were coming back into fashion by the end of the century, there are still plenty of effigies with crossed legs in the early fourteenth century. Similarly, hands together in prayer get more common towards the end of the thirteenth century. Alternatively, we could be looking at a very early effigy – before the middle of the 13th century. Early effigies are unusual but we can’t rule that out. He seems to be wearing a mail coif,

grosmont_head

while a number of the earliest effigies have cylindrical helmets, but there are early examples (eg William Marshall in the Temple Church, London) with coifs.

So – coif, hands together, legs straight … probably early C14?

(All this is based on H. A. Tummers, Early Secular Effigies in England – really the bible on the subject!)

The current theory about the rough carving is that it was roughed out in the quarry to save weight then should have been finished in situ but for some reason that wasn’t done. That works even for stone from a local quarry: getting that huge slab even a mile along rough tracks would have been no joke. But why wasn’t it finished? And who was he?

Tradition identified him as Henry of Grosmont, but he died and was buried in Leicester in 1361 – too late for the style of the armour on this carving. There could be any number of reasons for the failure to finish- family quarrels, running out of money – without an identification we are never going to know.

On to Llandeilo Gresynni and a couple of remarkable discoveries. Eric, who organised the day, spotted this lurking in a corner of the porch,

llandeilogresynni1

and I spotted another.

 

Two medieval cross slabs new to my database. Dating cross slabs is even more difficult than dating roughed-out effigies: these are probably fourteenth century.

Inside, the chancel is ledgerstone heaven. We’d had a chance to look at the photos of the back of the Springet stone at Grosmont so we were primed for these. Most have that characteristic elegantly-curved base, but not this one

walden2

 

a memorial to Jane and John Walderne and their sons ?Mark, David and Charles

walden_sons

(the names just visible on the panels). There are three monuments to the local Powell family:

powell1

Ann Powell, widow of Thomas Powell of Penrhos

powell2

TP (possibly Thomas Powell)
and his son Walter, whose diary is a wonderful source for the life of a minor Monmouthshire gentleman in the early 17th century and the difficult years of the Civil War . You can read the whole thing at https://archive.org/details/diaryofwalterpow00powerich/page/n6 .

powell3

and another Powell widow, date uncertain

elizabeth_rogers

Elizabeth Rogers, wife of the vicar Owen Rogers, d. 1640

DSC_3197

another floriated cross with the IHS trigram and the inscription now so worn as to be illegible. Bradney saw the initials IP on it but could not make out any more

DSC_3201.JPG

and this lovely chap with exuberant beard and moustache, hands held rather awkwardly to his chest and a splendid long-skirted coat but no name

Also some later slabs:

Herbert

Charles Herbert of Colebrook, d. 1685

herbert_detail

with this intriguing detail above the heraldry

 

and Maria Watkin, wife of a later vicar, d. 1704.

watkins

But we failed to find these, drawn by Bradney from rubbings in the early 20th century.

Bradney1

A couple with S P and C P (the P drawn reversed) and what looks like CVIVS at the bottom

and the iconographically-fascinating slab of Owen Rogers, vicar in the mid C17.

Bradney2_Rogers

Not quite a cross slab, it has candles, little faces and a lot of text. Walter Powell fell out with Rogers and accused him of drunkenness and keeping the church key in the village alehouse. There may have been some substance in this as he was dismissed in 1650 for drunkenness as well as Royalism. He was reappointed at the Restoration but died the following year. His tomb slab is a defiant defence of his career: the Latin tag PRELUCENDO PEREO (I perish going before with a light), a quote from 2 Timothy 4:7 ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith’ and doggerel verses which he may have written himself

Here lies a sheapheard late of Christ his sheep
From sheepe-clothed wolves his lambs did keepe
His monument God’s angels guard and keepe
Til him tharkangel wake shall out of sleepe
his soule flown up a bove the lofty ski
…. Jehovah on hie

and underneath IAM.PENRY, possibly the name of the sculptor

Did we not look far enough, or are these 2 stones now under the choir stalls?

Bradney also listed a lot of ledgerstones in the north chapel, then known as the Cillwch chapel. They are now under a carpet, which isn’t doing them any good: it has a felted backing which is holding the damp. I’m hoping to be put in touch with the present incumbent, so that if the carpet ever comes up, we can do a proper survey.

A Post-Reformation cross slab in the Vale of Glamorgan

I could have sworn I’d done a blog post somewhere on this one but I can’t find it. The whole subject of reuse of medieval and post-medieval tombstones has been doing the rounds on Twitter so here is this contribution (again).

The churches of the Vale of Glamorgan are full of interest (as well as reminders of past mistakes). Cross slabs hidden in fonts and staircases, garishly repainted effigy tombs, and any number of those enigmatic post-Reformation cross slabs that might commemorate Catholics but more probably exemplify the typical Welsh combination of traditionalism and loyalism.[1] One such stone, in Llanmaes (between Cowbridge and Llantwit Major), is a particularly good example of the continuity of this tradition and the extent to which it was embedded in local society. In the north of the chancel floor and overlaid by the communion rails, it is a large slab of local limestone with a plain cross on a three-step calvary base.

llanmaes_jones_compressed

The style of the cross – very plain, with short thick arms and heavy plain shaft – is comparable with others in the area which can be dated to the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century. The inscription is crudely carved in a combination of Roman, Lombardic and uncial capitals and seems to be integral to the design: it starts on a panel above the head of the cross and continues on the base. It reads DNS (the N is actually an inverted V] ALEXANDER / PHELEP / RECTOR / H[UIU]S ECCLESIE [Huius is written H, inverted V with a line over it, S].

llanmaes_jones_head_compressed

llanmaes_jones_base_compressed

The stone has then been reappropriated by two of his successors in the rectory and inscribed + HERE : LIETH : THE : BODY : OF : Dr : MORGAN : JONE[S : A]ETAT : 58 / &: HERE : LIETH : THE : BODY : OF : MARIE : 1624 / JONES : THE : WIFE : OF : D : JONES / DECEASED : THE : 5 : OF : DECEMBER : AN : DN : [the year is concealed by the altar rail] / ANo : AETATIS : 64 : HEERE : LYETH : THE : B[ODY [: OF / MR : RICHARD : SWINGLEH[URS]T : MR / OF : ARTES : AND : RECTO[R OF] / LA[N]MASE : WHO : DECEAS[ED] : MAR / CH : THE : [the date is difficult to decipher but according to the parish records he died on 25 March 1668].

These inscriptions neatly encapsulate the experiences of the parish and its clergy in the political and religious upheavals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. According to Augusta Rayer-Jenkins’s list of clergy in the old diocese of Llandaff, Alexander Philip was in Llanmaes by 1530, though she gives no reference for this.[2] He was certainly there by 1536, when he was named as one of the trustees of the Carne estate.[3] He was still there in 1563 when the aged bishop Anthony Kitchin sent in a report on his diocese to the Privy Council. Llanmaes is of course in Wales and 1530 was before the Acts of Union. Local people were probably just becoming aware of Henry VIII’s marital problems but with no way of predicting where they would lead. Alexander would have had to take the oaths of Supremacy and Succession, would have seen the great wall painting of St George and all the other decorations of his church painted out, the rood figures removed and the rood screen taken down to the bressumer beam, services in English rather than Latin – and would then have had to get the parish organised to put back as much as they could when Mary came to the throne, only to see it all undone again after 1558. While it is easy to criticise clergy who served under such conflicting instructions, we have to consider the alternatives. What good would it have done to leave and let their parish be taken over by someone more hard-line?

Alexander Philip was presumably dead by 1581 when his replacement was appointed so the slab must date from about then. Morgan Jones D. D. was rector of Llanmaes from 1608 to 1624 and treasurer of the diocese of Llandaff . He was followed in 1624 by Richard Swinglehurst, who was also his son-in-law. Swinglehurst seems to have been made of tougher stuff than Philip – or perhaps it was the Commissioners for the Propagation of the Gospel in Wales who were more tough-minded than the gentle and pliable Bishop Kitchin. In 1650, Swinglehurst was deprived of his living for ‘delinquency’ (support for the royalist cause) and refusing to sign the ‘engagement’, a statement of loyalty to the Commonwealth. According to Francis Davies’s account, Swinglehurst

was sequestered and made a delinquent by Col. Jones and
his agents, and had the fifths of his living for one
year, but afterwards was obliged to take what the rulers
pleased, sometimes a small sum at their pleasure, some-
times nothing at all, for he was a rich man as the
commissioners told him, and did not want, and therefore
they thought fit to prevent the exuberancy of his
treasure, to cut him short of his fifths. And they were
as good as their words, for he had nothing out of his
good living for four years, but lived to enjoy it after
the Restoration.[4]

 

It is difficult to find a connection between Alexander Philip and Morgan Jones, but Jones’s family remained in the rectory for a further generation. The next stone to the south commemorates Swinglehurst’s daughter Elizabeth, whose husband Thomas Wilkins succeeded Swinglehurst as rector, but her memorial has heraldry rather than a cross.

IMG_1090

The traditional explanation that these cross slabs commemorate Catholics clearly does not work: there are other examples of crosses on the graves of clerical families. It is nevertheless tempting to assume that Swinglehurst’s Royalism implies that he was on the ‘Arminian’ wing of the Established Church. However, the vicar of the neighbouring parish of Llantwit Major, Stephen Slugge, chose a cross slab to commemorate his first wife, who died in 1626. Slugge held on to his parish through the Commonwealth and was described by Davies as ‘a trimmer and a favourite of the times’. There are no easy answers here. The persistent popularity of cross slabs in south-east Wales in the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries owes something to the distinctive Welsh blend of traditionalism and loyalism, and possibly rather more to local fashion.

The church has plenty else of interest. A simple wheel cross, probably later 13th century, built into the chancel steps

llanmaes_medieval

another post-medieval cross slab, in two pieces

llanmaes_thomas1

llanmaes_thomas2

and the very faded remains of a wall painting of St George.

llanmaes_george_compressed

Also a final puzzle. We have three surviving wall paintings of St George in south Wales – at Llancarfan, Llangattock Lingoed and Llanmaes. All three churches are dedicated to St Cadoc. Coincidence – or connection?

 

[1] For a more detailed study of these stones see M. Gray, ‘Post-medieval cross slabs in south-east Wales’, The Antiquaries’ Journal 96 (2016).

[2] Cardiff Library MS 4.1224 f. 77.

[3] G. T. Clark, Cartae et alia munimenta quae ad dominium de Glamorgancia pertinenent vol 5 (Cardiff: William Lewis, 1910), pp. 1896-1901

[4] Philip Jenkins, ‘ “The Sufferings of the Clergy”: the church in Glamorgan during the Interregnum. Part 2: the account of Francis Davies’, Journal of Welsh Ecclesiastical History 4 (1987), 9-41.

More on Llanblethian

Update: Cadw have now revised their listing statement for William Williams Pantycelyn’s monument at Llanfair-ar-y-bryn. Here it is: http://cadwpublic-api.azurewebsites.net/reports/listedbuilding/FullReport?lang=en&id=10969

And a further update. Gwen Awbery has been back to look at the Llanblethian stones and this is her reading of the poetry – exactly as it appears on the tombstones, as far as it can be read, rather than my version which was taken from an online version of Theomemphus. On William Rhys’s tomb:

Wel dyma un a garwyd a gannwyd y y gwad
Deng miliwn lawn o feiau faddeuwyd iddo’n rhad
Ei dynnu wnawd o’r danllwyth ac yntau’n mynd i lawr
Fe gadwyd hwn o uffern mae e yn y nef yn awr.
And on Catherine Masey’s
… fy nghorph i fynu fel fy Anwylyd cu
Heb nwydau drwg byth mwyach …..
…. wyr is yr wybr ddedwydded ….
Ac nis gall dyn ddychmygu …….
If you look at them carefully you will spot some small differences in the Welsh. The first line of William Rhys’s has ‘gannwyd’ rather than ‘ganwyd’. Gannwyd is actually what is in the first (1764) edition of Theomemphus. It means washed or cleansed. Ganwyd nowadays would be translated as ‘born’ – but Welsh spellings like English were still flexible in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Gwen says ‘ the conventions of Welsh spelling, with respect to the doubling or not of “n” and “r” were only fixed quite recently’.
Possibly more significant and also in the first line of William Rhys’s – his tombstone says ‘dyma un a garwyd’ while the printed text of Theomemphus says ‘dyma dyn a garwyd’. They mean roughly the same – ‘here is one who was loved’ and ‘here is a man who was loved’. I think the difference might suggest that whoever asked for the text of this particular poem had learned it by heart and was remembering it rather than asking the carver to work from a printed version.
Gwen was also able to read a lot more of the poem on the middle stone:
Gwel rhybudd beunydd yn …
Pawb edrych pob oddran su n …
Ymaith pan el dy amod
Tynnu mau at hyn o nod.
This is a variant of one she had already collected from Llansannor, a couple of miles to the north of Llanblethian:
Here lyeth the body of Evan William of this parish, who departed this life Aprill y 10th 1731, aged 58.
 
Gwel rhybydd beunydd yn bod – pawb edrych
pob oedran su n darfod
ymaith pan el dy amod
tynnu mau at hyn o nod.
 
Here also lyeth Rebekah William, dyed August y 16th 1738, aged 19.
Again you will notice some differences. The poem is an englyn, a Welsh verse form with very strict rules. The Llanblethian one isn’t laid out in the proper form, but the Llansannor one is. also, the Llanblethian one has ‘oddran’ in the second line instead of ‘oedran’ (=’age’). Like the Theomemphus poem this might suggest oral transmission.

What follows is a corrected version of the posting on 18 January. The original posting and update are at the end, though I have moved the photos.

The big excitement at Llanblethian was the crypt – see https://welshtombs.wordpress.com/2019/01/02/the-llanblethian-crypt/. But we also had a look in the churchyard and Amy spotted some more Welsh poetry on three flat tombstones, to the south-east of the church. I’m really not good at deciphering damaged and worn stones with Welsh inscriptions but with the help of a bit of googling when we got home I identified two of them. Both are verses from the inscription on the grave of Theomemphus in the epic poem of that name by the great Welsh hymn-writer William Williams Pantycelyn. One has the first verse, the other the second, so they do seem to have been planned as a pair. The third verse is on Williams’s own memorial in the churchyard at Llanfair-ar-y-bryn near Llandovery.

The first of the Llanblethian inscriptions is on a rather overgrown stone that is overlaid by another stone above it. I had to clear the overgrowth to read the farm name.

It commemorates William Rhys of Fyrsil Fawr in the parish of Coity who died on 25 Feb. 1794. He has the first verse from Theomemphus:

Wel dyma’r dyn a garwyd, a ganwyd yn y gwa’d,
Deng miliwn lawn o feiau faddeuwyd iddo’n rhad;
Ei dynnu wnawd o’r danllwyth, ac yntau yn myn’d i lawr,
Fe gadwyd hwn o uffern, mae e’n y nef yn awr.

(Well, here is the man who was loved, who was cleansed in blood,
Ten million sins were freely forgiven to him;
To keep him from the blazing fire and from going below,
He was kept from Hell, he is now in Heaven)

(I have corrected my translations with the aid of Eifion Evans’s Pursued by God, which is a verse translation of part of Williams’s poem, but I have tried to give a more literal reading. I’m also grateful to my Welsh teacher for checking my conclusions.)

The second tombstone, to the south of the first,

commemorates Catherine, wife of Jonathan Masey (elsewhere Meazey) of Llanblethian and daughter of John Thomas of Wernfawr in Ystradowen. She died on 29 September 1794, aged 32.

Her grave has the second verse of the Theomemphus poem:

Fi ga fy nghorph i fynu, fel fy Anwylyd cu,
Heb nwydau drwg byth mwyach i’m blino fel y bu;
Does dyn wyr is yr wybr, ddedwydded yw fy lle,
Ac nis gall dyn ddych’mygu dim am bleserau’r ne’.

(My body will be raised, like my dear Beloved,
With no more evil desires to weary me as I was;
No man beneath the heavens can know, blessed is my place,
And no man can imagine anything about the pleasures of Heaven.)

 

(for the whole thing see https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=Ju4-AAAAYAAJ&hl=en_GB&pg=GBS.PP1 )

I can’t find out any more about William Rhys and I can’t identify Fyrsil Fawr (Furze Hill?) in Coity. Catherine and Jonathan appear on online family trees at https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Meazey-1   and https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Thomas-12911. Both came from Ystradowen but seem to have moved to Llanblethian by the time they married. She was his second wife and he married a third wife in 1797. This was not heartless: he was farming, he had a young family, he needed a business partner to run the house, the dairy etc and look after the next generation. Her tombstone also commemorates two of her grandchildren, Richard and Catherine, children of her son William Meazey and his wife Jane. Llanblethian was not a strongly Welsh-speaking area in the late 18th century. Ystradowen is a little to the north, but still in the Vale of Glamorgan, traditionally an anglicised area.

Theomemphus was first published in 1764. It was very popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and went through several reprints. The third verse of the poem from Theomemphus’s grave  was used on William Williams’s own tomb at Llanfair-ar-y-bryn. His tombstone also commemorated his wife Mary, who died in 1799. His sons William and John were buried nearby, and in 1886 subscriptions were raised for a memorial to the whole family.

While I was scratching around for background on this, a friend at the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments in Wales sent me a link to Cadw’s listing document for the monument, at http://cadwpublic-api.azurewebsites.net/reports/listedbuilding/FullReport?lang=en&id=10969 . This led me astray for a while, as the listing statement said that the poem was written by Williams Pantycelyn’s son John. John was clearly a bright lad (he became principal of the great Methodist college at Trefecca) but he would only have been ten years old when his father published Theomemphus, so on the face of it, it seems unlikely. When I contacted Cadw to ask for their evidence, they suggested that the statement might have meant that it was John who suggested the verse for his father’s original tombstone. Now, that would be a fascinating suggestion if we could find any evidence to substantiate it – and it would be good to know why he chose that particular poem, and why specifically the third verse. However, so far the evidence is lacking.

Having got as far as I could, I gave in and asked the expert. Wyn James of Cardiff University has published extensively in the life and work of Williams Pantycelyn and the other Welsh Methodist hymn writers. He could think of no evidence that John Williams had chosen the poem for his father’s tomb. He also pointed out some inaccuracies in Cadw’s transcription, and gave me a lot more detail about the history of the monument –

‘The memorial was the fruit of a fund-raising campaign began in late 1884, by Thomas Levi in particular, to have a more impressive memorial than the original stone slab. John Williams had been buried close to his father, and the new memorial encompassed both the original graves. It was completed around the end of August 1886 (see Aberystwith Observer, 28 August 1886). It cost just over £160, and the remaining funds from the campaign were (according to Trysorfa y Plant, June 1886) used to pay for the carved pulpit in the Williams Pantycelyn Memorial Chapel in Llandovery, which was being built at that time. The prominent Liverpool sculptor, Joseph Rogerson, made the monument, to a design by the architect Richard Owens (1831-91), also of Liverpool, and Rogerson also sculptured the carved pulpit in the Memorial Chapel in Llandovery. (See William Morgan, ed., Album Williams Pantycelyn, 1890, pp. 32, 36.) The treasurer of the fund to raise the memorial was the wealthy builder, David Roberts (1806-86), and that would explain the Liverpool connection, as Roberts worked very closely with Richard Owens – they worked closely, for example, in the building of the famous ‘Welsh streets’ in Liverpool, where Ringo Starr was born. (On Owens, see http://www.liverpool-welsh.co.uk/archive/The%20Welsh%20Builders.pdf; http://www.welshchapels.org/welsh-chapels/richard-owens/.)’

I have contacted Cadw and suggested that the listing statement needs to be corrected.

My cousin is back with me, and we went to Llandovery to look at the church and the monument. The church really needs another blog post  (see https://www.heritagetortoise.co.uk/2019/03/llanfair-ar-y-bryn/) – it’s the church of a short-lived Benedictine priory, on the site of a Roman fort, with a fragment of a medieval cross slab – but we saw and photographed the monument

and the original tomb slab to William Williams Pantycelyn and his wife Mary.

The inscription is now virtually illegible. The churchwarden had a transcript made some time ago which showed that it was virtually the same as the one on the monument. He was a mine of information on the history of the church and community, and said he had never come across a tradition connecting John Williams with the inscription on his father’s tomb. We also saw John Williams’s original monument, on the wall of the porch.

Strangely, the inscription is all in English. Inside the church is the desk at which William Williams did much of his writing.

How would someone so rooted in the Nonconformist tradition have felt about the fact that his desk has become a sort of contact relic, the focus of pilgrimage?

So how did the poem reach a farming community in the Vale of Glamorgan? Williams died in 1791 so the poem would have had some publicity then and it seems to have been well known in south-west Wales. Part of it was reworked in a later hymn, but not as far as I can see the first verse. Paradoxically, the Vale of Glamorgan connection may actually have been through his son John, who worked for a while as a schoolteacher in Coychurch (which is the next parish to Coity) with David Jones, the ‘Angel of Llangan’. However, he was only there for three years, 1781-84, after which he moved on to lecture at Trefecca.

So this is  a bit like those lines from Canwyll y Cymru  at Sully (https://welshtombs.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/canwyll-y-cymry/) , a bit of serious Welsh poetry with a fascinating back story in what you would think was a very Anglicised area. Intriguingly, Rhys Prichard (c 1579-1644), author of Canwyll y Cymru, was vicar of Llandovery. Something in the water? – a bit like the three 16th century Welsh translators of the Bible, William Salesbury, Richard Davies and William Morgan, all born in the Conwy valley in north Wales.

There were two more stones at Llanblethian with fragments of Welsh visible, one with a poem beginning ‘Gwel rhybydd beunydd …’ but I couldn’t make much of them though they are bound to be on Gwen Awbery’s database. The other doesn’t seem to be the third verse of the Theomemphus poem. It might be worth going back after dark and trying with a raking light.

 

Update, 24.01.19.

The information that the poem ‘Wel dyma’r dyn a garwyd’ was written by William Williams Pantycelyn’s son came from Cadw’s listing report on Pantycelyn’s grave, http://cadwpublic-api.azurewebsites.net/reports/listedbuilding/FullReport?lang=en&id=10969 . I can’t find anything to support this in G. M. Roberts’s edition of Theomemphus in Gweithiau William Williams Pantycelyn vol. 1. The lovely people @CUSpecialColls found the first (1764) edition of Theomemphus for me and it has the poem in it – so I have no idea where Cadw got their information. I don’t know exactly when John Williams was born but his parents were married in 1748 so he would still have been in his teens in 1764. 

There is no photograph on the Cadw site but I did find one of the more modern stone which has copied and replaced  the original, at https://www.crichbaptist.org/articles/william-williams/. This does only have the third verse of Theomemphus’s epitaph (another thing I was worried about) but there is nothing to suggest that it was John Williams and not William himself who wrote it.

Time to ask Cadw, maybe?

 

The big excitement at Llanblethian was the crypt – see https://welshtombs.wordpress.com/2019/01/02/the-llanblethian-crypt/. But we also had a look in the churchyard and Amy spotted some more Welsh poetry on three flat tombstones, to the south-east of the church. I’m really not good at deciphering damaged and worn stones with Welsh inscriptions but with the help of a bit of googling when we got home I identified two of them. Both are verses from the inscription on the grave of Theomemphus in the epic poem of that name by the great Welsh hymn-writer William Williams Pantycelyn. They only appear in later editions of the poem and are thought to be by his son, the Rev. John Williams, but here they are on two gravestones from 1794 and they do seem to have been planned as a pair.

The first is on a rather overgrown stone that is overlaid by another stone above it.

It commemorates William Rhys of Tyr … in the parish of Coity who died on 25 Feb. 1794. He has the first verse from Theomemphus:

Wel dyma’r dyn a garwyd, a ganwyd yn y gwa’d,
Deng miliwn lawn o feiau faddeuwyd iddo’n rhad;
Ei dynnu wnawd o’r danllwyth, ac yntau yn myn’d i lawr,
Fe gadwyd hwn o uffern, mae e’n y nef yn awr.

(Well, here is the man who was loved, who was cleansed in blood,
Ten million sins were freely forgiven to him;
To keep him from the blazing fire and from going below,
He was kept from Hell, he is now in Heaven)

(I have corrected my translations with the aid of Eifion Evans’s Pursued by God, which is a verse translation of part of Williams’s poem, but I have tried to give a more literal reading. I’m also grateful to my Welsh teacher for checking my conclusions.)

The second tombstone, to the south of the first,

commemorates Catherine, wife of Jonathan Masey (elsewhere Meazey) of Llanblethian and daughter of John Thomas of Wernfawr in Ystradowen. She died on 29 September 1794, aged 32.

Her grave has the second verse of the Theomemphus poem:

Fi ga fy nghorph i fynu, fel fy Anwylyd cu,
Heb nwydau drwg byth mwyach i’m blino fel y bu;
Does dyn wyr is yr wybr, ddedwydded yw fy lle,
Ac nis gall dyn ddych’mygu dim am bleserau’r ne’.

(My body will be raised, like my dear Beloved,
With no more evil desires to weary me as I was;
No man beneath the heavens can know, blessed is my place,
And no man can imagine anything about the pleasures of Heaven.)

 

(for the whole thing see https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=Ju4-AAAAYAAJ&hl=en_GB&pg=GBS.PP1 )

I can’t find out any more about William Rhys (might go back with a trowel and clear a bit more of the earth from the tombstone and see if I can get the name of his farm). Catherine and Jonathan appear on online family trees at https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Meazey-1   and https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Thomas-12911. Both came from Ystradowen but seem to have moved to Llanblethian by the time they married. She was his second wife and he married a third wife in 1797. This was not heartless: he was farming, he had a young family, he needed a business partner to run the house, the dairy etc and look after the next generation. Her tombstone also commemorates two of her grandchildren, Richard and Catherine, children of her son William Meazey and his wife Jane. Llanblethian was not a strongly Welsh-speaking area in the late 18th century. Ystradowen is a little to the north, but still in the Vale of Glamorgan, traditionally an anglicised area.

Theomemphus was first published in 1764. It was very popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and went through several reprints. The third verse of the poem from Theomemphus’s grave  was used on William Williams’s own tomb at Llanfair-ar-y-bryn.He died in 1791 so the poem would have had some publicity then and it seems to have been well known in south-west Wales. Part of it was reworked in a later hymn, but not as far as I can see the first verse. So this is  a bit like those lines from Canwyll y Cymru  at Sully (https://welshtombs.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/canwyll-y-cymry/) , a bit of serious Welsh poetry with a fascinating back story in what you would think was a very Anglicised area.

There was a third very worn stone with fragments of Welsh visible but I couldn’t make much of it though it’s probably on Gwen Awbery’s database. It doesn’t seem to be the third verse of the Theomemphus poem. It might be worth going back after dark and trying with a raking light.