Llanfair Cilgedin

A lovely afternoon at Llanfair Cilgedin, one of the Friends of Friendless Churches’ most intriguing churches. Most people go there for the C19 wall paintings, stunning sgraffito renderings of the Benedicite and other scenes (I am particularly fond of the whales and all that move in the waters).


Our main purpose of visit was (as ever) a bit more niche. The church has some scraps of medieval stained glass which I’d seen before – see https://welshtombs.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/my-sledge-and-hammer-lies-reclined/ . This

Medieval Fragments, Church of St Mary, Llanfair Kilgeddin

is Martin Crampin’s photo of the medieval glass in the north window of the chancel. These fragments are obviously all that remains of a much bigger sequence (including a Crucifixion and the Apostles’ Creed) and possibly stained glass from at least two different hands. Of course, we can’t be absolutely sure that any or all of the glass actually originated in the church: some at least of it could have been bought as fragments by the nineteenth-century restorer, John Dando Sedding. (Sedding also restored St Cynfarch and St Mary, Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd, which has a similar window with a crazy quilt of medieval glass – did he just like doing that, or did he have the fragments of glass in stock?)

We need to do some more work on this.

Meanwhile …

Llanfair Cilgedin also has some of those enigmatic post-medieval cross slabs (my rather learned article on them is available online at https://pure.southwales.ac.uk/en/publications/postmedieval-cross-slabs(39f0b31f-d6e5-4bc6-b255-2750950fe7ee).html ). The article does mention this one


drawn by Bradney, who thought it was medieval. It clearly isn’t – the cross head is the same as those on securely dated late C16 / early C17 slabs. Here it is in the churchyard.


The scrolled base looks like a cruder copy of the elegant scrolled bases which are such a feature of early modern cross slabs a little further to the north. Possibly the work of an apprentice, or simply a less skilled stonemason having a go?

But looking for it we also found this one


on a chest tomb with the same style of cross head but a floriated base, a date of 1677 and a lengthy inscription

‘I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth’ (Job 19:25 – and a real challenge not to sing it!

and this one


in the vestry – not really a cross slab but an illustration of the fact that cross slabs were just one of the decorative options available for C17 ledgerstones.

All in all a good day – more on the stained glass when my friend Chris has printed out the photos, cut them up and played jigsaw puzzles with them. We may also throw Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd into the mix and see what happens.



Cogan: stone, plaster and hope for the future

The little parish church at Cogan is one of Glamorgan’s oldest churches. Probably a chapel dependent on the minster church of Llandough, it was by the 12th century the church of a manor belonging to the de Cogan family, though the church itself belonged to Tewkesbury Abbey. There is a lot of herringbone masonry in the walls:

in England this would suggest an Anglo-Saxon date but in Wales this style of walling still seems to be found in the twelfth century.

The church sits at the end of a muddy lane in what is now the outskirts of Penarth. Its village was in decline by the sixteenth century; by 1841 there were only three houses there, and the church was derelict. It was rescued by the 3rd Marquess of Bute: though a Catholic, he restored or rebuilt a number of Anglican churches. We would now regard Cogan as one of the lucky ones. Instead of a complete rebuild or a Victorian make-over, he settled for making the building weatherproof and usable. It still has traces of medieval plaster, though the original stone benches around the nave have been boxed in with Victorian wainscot. The painting over the chancel arch must have been a Last Judgement but hardly any of it is decipherable and the cost of conserving what remains is probably disproportionate.

Now the church needs more repair. Earth has piled up against the walls, creating damp problems, and the old drains are broken and clogged. There is only a small congregation but an enthusiastic band of Friends is raising money. After the necessary repairs, they have great plans. There is a lot of tumbled stone in the graveyard, possibly from older buildings. The Friends want to construct a new building in the graveyard to house a catering facility (you can’t call it a kitchen if you want the HLF on board) and toilets, and possibly a meeting room. This would mean the church could be used for concerts and other events.

First step has been to dig out and replace the old drains and lift the rotting suspended wooden floor. At this point John Davies of the Welsh Stone Forum happened by, got very excited about the stone floor this revealed, and arranged a study visit. Meanwhile, the chancel floor had been lifted, revealing these seventeenth-century ledger stones commemorating members of the Herbert family of Cogan Pill.

No cross slabs, alas, but some finely-carved heraldry and well lettered inscriptions: this is the work of one of the better local firms of stonemasons. The floor is that shelly lias that we saw at Merthyr Dyfan and Cadoxton, lumpy and laid in random slabs like crazy paving, strange material for a floor. It seems unlikely that it was hauled all the way from the coast, so there must be a local outcrop somewhere.

On the wall outside is an impressive monument under a cornice, commemorating John Davies and his wife Mary, who died in 1800. According to local tradition this was carved by none other than Edward Williams, Iolo Morgannwg, forger, polymath and radical, but we could see no evidence for this. It could be him, though.

Here is Jana surveying the  other memorials underneath it – but they are piled up against the wall and adding to the damp. Where can they go?

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?


A doorstep in the house of God

Continuing to work our way round the churches of the Vale of Glamorgan, photographing and measuring as we go. I thought I knew all about Colwinston,  Rhianydd Biebrach has written in detail about the effigy there, I’ve written about the wall paintings,


10 years ago I made a television programme there with Trevor Fishlock …

And when we got to the door, there was this,


bit more detail


clearly a medieval tombstone, those double branches near the foot suggest earlier rather than later, probably late 13th century. Not in its original location. People did ask for burial in the porch and in other places where they would be walked over, partly as a gesture of humility and partly so people would actually notice their tombs and pray for them. But this one has clearly been relocated because the head is to the east. Gravestones just make good doorsteps – there are similar examples at nearby Llanfrynach and at Llanover in north Monmouthshire.

And the effigy:


possibly a priest but more likely a civilian. It’s so worn it’s hard to tell, and it could even have been placed outside, as a monument to someone whose family had aspirations but weren’t sufficiently eminent to qualify for burial inside.

Then on to Marcross, where there is a nice 14th century floriated cross in a niche –


again, I don’t think this is the original location, and I think this is the base


– and the grave of a priest in the chancel.


‘War’s annals will cloud into night
Ere their story die’

Wimpled ladies and defiant clergy

An unexpectedly exciting day going round churches in the Vale of Glamorgan. We started in Flemingston, where I’d looked at the effigy tombs before but wanted to rephotograph them and look again at the inscriptions. There’s an early 14th century incised effigy slab in a niche in the north wall commemorating an ‘Elizabet’, possibly one of the local de Fleming family.


The body of the slab is just incised lines


but there’s a hollow where the head would have been,


suggesting it was a separate piece of inlaid stone. Sally Badham thought the slab might not be in its original location but from the inscription it seems to have been designed to sit somewhere against the north wall.

In the south chapel is a much more accomplished piece of carving, an early 14th century effigy to Joan le Fleming.


She is wearing a wimple and an elegantly flowing dress.


The effigy is in a niche in the south wall – clearly not its original location as the inscription is on the dexter side (into the wall) and as a result requires some quite tricky contortions to read it. But here it is



(quite a good offer. I did pray.)

The south chapel was built on by the Fleming family in the early 14th century but the niche looks a bit earlier and may be recycled.

But where did the effigy sit if not there (and it clearly wasn’t there – apart from the inscription, the slab doesn’t fit in the alcove). There’s no north wall in the chapel for it to lie against. Was it originally in the main body of the church – or although there’s no inscription on the sinister side, was it originally on a chest tomb?

Mulling this over we went on to Llanmaes. The Llanilltud rectorial benefice is doing a sterling job in keeping these little village churches open, for visitors during the week and services at the weekends. We were there mainly to check up on a slab which T. H. Thomas drew over 100 years ago. Orrin thought it was medieval but from Thomas’s drawing it’s one of those very characteristic post-Reformation Glamorgan cross slabs with heavy plain crosses and billets down the side, and plenty of space at the bottom for an inscription.

OK, so we found that one in two pieces and hiding under several layers of carpet at the back.

llanmaes_thomas1 llanmaes_thomas2

We had a look around and found another, on the north side of the chancel.


This is an unusually large slab for the post-Reformation period but very plain in style. From this I think it is of the same date as the first inscription, which commemorates ‘DNS ALEXANDER PHELEP RECTOR H[UIU]S ECCLESIE’ in an inscription which starts above the cross and finishes on the base.



According to the list of incumbents in the parish guidebook, Alexander Philip was rector in 1530 and he was still there in 1563 when the aged bishop Anthony Kitchin sent in a report on his diocese to the Privy Council. He had however moved on – presumably to Higher Service – by 1581 when a son of William ap Rees Lloyd was appointed.  Like his bishop, Alexander Philip had served through all the religious turmoil of the sixteenth century. I have no idea what the evidence for his being there in 1530 was. The date was recorded by a local antiquarian Augusta Rayer-Jenkins in her list of clergy in the old diocese of Llandaff but without references. He was definitely there in 1536 when he was one of the trustees of the Carne estate (this is in a deed in G. T. Clark’s Cartae pp. 1896-1901). He must have been fairly new in post in 1530. This was before the Acts of Union and 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. Turbulent times. It’s easy to criticise clergy who served under such conflicting instructions but really what were they to do? Would it have done any good 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. It was then  recut in the early seventeenth century to commemorate some members of the Jones family and again in about 1668 to commemorate Richard Swinglehurst, who had been rector since 1642. More resolute than Alexander Philip, he was kicked out by Parliament in 1645 but restored in 1660.

The top of the slab was cut across by the altar rails and hidden under the kneelers. I moved the kneeler and found this – medieval, probably early C14 if the Conwy examples are a guide.


like the C16 slab it’s cut across by the altar rails – here’s the other side (with a rather nice heraldic tomb)


Or is the cross slab a copy – but if so, why no inscription?

Also the church has the remains of a fine wall painting of St George. Much of the paint has faded but you can just make out the princess, the dragon’s head and the horse’s trappings.


After all that excitement we went for lunch. The afternoon’s finds really need a separate blog post.