The little parish church of Porthkerry in the Vale of Glamorgan sits under the flight path of Cardiff Rhoose Airport. The church has a simple medieval rood screen, the battered remains of the head of its churchyard cross – and on the north wall of the nave, this
another of those puzzling post-medieval cross slabs. My old friend and colleague Gwen Awbery has been recording Welsh poetry on tomb carvings and is currently working on poetry on war memorials. Having heard me talking about cross slabs, she spotted this one in Porthkerry and we have at last managed to organise ourselves to have a look at it.
It’s a hefty sandstone slab. The differential wear patterns suggest that like the similar crosses in other Vale churches it was originally in the floor of the church. It was apparently placed on the wall for preservation but suffered further damage from lamination because of damp in the wall – there are no easy answers to the conservation and protection of these stones. In 2014 the parish raised money for extensive conservation work on this one, including reattaching a detached fragment of text from the lower right edge.
The shape of the cross, with its short thick splayed arms, is similar to those in Llantrithyd and Llanmihangel. However, Porthkerry stone also has the shafts at either side (what John Rodger and T. H. Thomas called ‘billets) which are found on slightly smaller slabs elsewhere in the Vale, and a large base with space for an inscription. In the case of this stone, though, the inscription is so lengthy that it spills into the shaft of the cross and the billets.
The first inscription, in well set out incised capitals, commemorates Reynold Portrey:
HEERE LIETH THE BODIE OF
REYNOLDE PORTREY ESQUIER DECESSED THE
24 DAY OF FEBRUARII IN AO 1629 HAVINGE
LYVED 63 YERRES WHO IN HIS
LIEFE TIME CURED MANY OF SE
VERALLE INFIRMITIES WITHOUT REWARDE.
HE LEAFT LIVINGE IOHAN HIS LOVING
WIEFFE WHO CAUSED THIS MONUMENT OF
HER AFFECCON OF SOE LOV[EING]
A HUSBANDE TO BE SET UP AND
DESIRES TO BE HEIRE ALSO INTERRED WHEN
SHE DIETH. THEY HAD YSSUE ON SON
ALEXANDUR AND TWO DOUGHTERS.
(some of this transcription was done before the stone was damaged.)
Joan is commemorated by an inscription across the head of the cross, in less well-carved letters:
HERE LYETH THE BODY OF IOAN WIFE
TO REYNOLD PORTEREY MARCH 22
Other inscriptions have then been added. Along the upper border is
…BODY OF WILLIAM DEARE HUSBAND UNTO CISSILL PORTREY AGED …
On the lower arm of the cross is
between the shaft of the cross and the lower billet is
CISEL HARY WIFE TO RO DEERE
And below the lower billet is
[?CISSIL] PORTREY WIFE TO WILL[IAM]
There are some other traces of writing but they are too worn to decipher. It is clear, though, that we have several generations of family history.
Reynold Portrey, acc to http://www.ancestry.co.uk/genealogy/records/results?firstName=reynold&lastName=portrey, was the son of Nicholas and Cecil Portrey. He was born in Llanmaes but the Portreys are an old Llantwit Major family. In 1620s he was sub-tenant of Fonmon Castle from Anthony St John. The castle was not at that time in particularly good condition: a survey in 1608 found one of the lofts to be ruined and decayed, and elsewhere there were missing floorboards. (All this is in the RCAHM inventory at https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=mhnYtVAUhQEC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false.) He was still there when he died in 1630. The castle subsequently passed into other hands.
Reynold married Joan Nicholl (daughter of John Illtyd Nicholl and Margaret, another old Llantwit Major family) in about 1600. According to the tombstone they had three children, Alexander, Ann and Cecil (the names are from http://www.ancestry.co.uk/genealogy/records/results?lastName=portrey&geo_a=r&o_iid=41013&o_lid=41013&o_sch=Web+Property ).
Cecil was born in 1604 and married William Deere of St Mary Church in 1631. The Deeres are another of the great families of the Vale of Glamorgan. Both Cecil and William are commemorated on the family tombstone. According to http://www.ancestry.co.uk/genealogy/records/cecil-portrey_94131310 they had eight children:
- William (b. 1632)
- Reynold (1633-99)
- John (b. 1635)
- Catherine (1636-1700)
- Robert (1638-80)
- Matthew (1640-1717)
- Cecil (b. 1640, probably the Cisil Dere whose name appears on the arm of the cross)
- Ann (b. 1645)
(according to https://www.myheritage.com/names/cecil_portrey Catherine was later Catherine Love )
Cecil died in 1668 aged 64.
Her son Robert may be the one who was married to Cecil Harry, whose name appears on the family tombstone.
The church also has ledgerstones in the sanctuary commemorating the family of an eighteenth-century rector with what one can only describe as ostentatious humility:
We went on to Merthyr Dyfan in pursuit of Mike Statham’s new enthusiasm, Bull Cliff marble, but that needs another posting.