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.

Tintern Parva

Off to Tintern to check finer points of detail on two tombs in the Abbey – the one with ‘Jesu Mercy, Lady Help’ and the one with a line from the Order for the Commendation of the Soul.

But first to the little church of Tintern Parva, just upstream. I went there with Andy Delmege in 2016 when he had resumed his great trek tound Wales on the Cistercian Way. We had a service there and lunch in the pub. Milling around afterwards I noticed this

IMG_3900 (3)

in the nave floor but didn’t really have time to look at it properly.

The church is open daily and they have great plans for a kitchen and toilets to cater for walkers on the Wye Valley Walk. Several walkers came past while I was there and they clearly get a lot of visitors already. I think the Cistercian Way really ought to go that way – it means a road section from there to the Abbey Mill (and the only alternative is a long plod up hill to Barbadoes Wood) but the church is really worth a visit. It was there long before the abbey. A church is documented in the eighthcentury in the Book of Llan Daf but the foundation must go back earlier, possibly to the days of King Tewdrig and the spread of Christianity in rural south Wales. According to legend, Tewdrig himself had a hermitage nearby – was his little oratory the origin of the church?

I was lucky enough to meet the church warden, Alan Hillard, and his wife doing the flowers.


(Purple, green and white. Very appropriate.) He’s an enthusiastic historian and told me a lot about the background to the church.

First up: the medieval cross. Described in the church guidebook as a broadsword (possibly someone had seen all those north Wales tomb slabs which really do have sword + shield and spear?) but it’s clearly a cross. The flared finials and the complicated 3-D base are very similar to the ones at Tintern Abbey.

IMG_3900 (2)

The false-relief blackletter inscription really isn’t legible but is similar in style to the one on Jenkin ap Hywel’s tomb, in the style and size of the lettering. Was this a local stonemasons’ workshop, possibly based in or near the Abbey?

Also in the nave floor is this


commemorating Elizabeth Phillips the wife of William Fielding, a relative of Henry Fielding the novelist.

‘She was the best of house wives, & ye tendrest Wife,
Who nere Lovd Babling,  ever hated Strife
Religious, Modest, prudent, And yet free,
Abhorring Sloth she still helpd Poverty.
To moane her Losse her friends she left behind
Her body is unto this grave confind
But she (With Joy) her soul to heaven resignd.’

Family tragedy on the south wall:


julia Roberts clearly never got over the birth of her little son and her grief at his death. The family lost other young children. John moved away and married again (the churchwarden had traced him on the census) and some of the children died after he moved, but he chose to commemorate his children by his first wife here at their home.

Another family tragedy.


Caleb Coy was the custodian at Tintern Abbey at the beginning of the twentieth century. His son Herbert went to Cananda and then to the United States in search of work. When war broke out in 1914 he was working in a New York hotel. He came home as soon as he could, enlisted in the Welsh Regiment and was killed at Ypres. His body was never found.

So Tintern Parva was not one of the ‘Thankful Villages’ – but it has no war memorial. The adjoining parish of St Mary, Tintern has some Commonwelth War Graves tombstones in the churchyard, though the church is now disused and in ruins. There is a local campaign to get a memorial at Tintern Parva to the war dead of the combined parishes.

And on a happier note: here in the churchyard


is the tomb of John Lorraine Baldwin, one of the founders of ‘I Zingari’ the cricket club which developed into the MCC. He wrote the first standard rules for cricket, badminton and whist. There is a lovely ‘Spy’ sketch of him


on Wikimedia.

The adjoining tomb is that of his wife Elizabeth. Apparently they didn’t really live together. As warden of Tintern Abbey he lived at St Anne’s, the house which used to be the abbey gatehouse chapel, but she lived elsewhere – a very modern solution!

On to the abbey … that needs a separate post.

Cross slabs under the carpet, under the altar, under the cupboards …

The great referendum result seem to be that we are leaving Europe.


‘Where by divers sundry old authentic histories and chronicles, it is manifestly declared and expressed that this realm of England is an Empire, and so hath been accepted in the world, governed by one Supreme Head and King having the dignity and royal estate of the imperial Crown of the same, unto whom a body politic compact of all sorts and degrees of people divided in terms and by names of Spirituality and Temporalty, be bounden and owe to bear next to God a natural and humble obedience: he being also institute and furnished, by the goodness and sufferance of Almighty God, with plenary, whole, and entire power, pre-eminence, authority, …’

(the beginning bit was a lie, but what the hey, let’s call it a mistake and move on)

So we Googled for Hardy’s ‘At the Breaking of Nations’  and decided to go off looking for tombstones instead.

First up was Llantrithyd. I just wanted to measure the effigy in the nave – slightly less than life size, rather crudely carved but full of character.


I knew there were what the 1897 architect described as ‘ancient memorial stone slabs’ in the sanctuary floor but they were covered by the carpet. To our great delight the carpet had been taken up in preparation for restoration work on this seriously hulking late C16 monument to members of the Basset and Mansell families of Llantrithyd Place.


The sanctuary floor is covered with cross slabs, none of them medieval, mostly  late C16 and several implicitly or explicitly asking for prayer for the souls of the deceased. This was of course quite non-PC in the late sixteenth century, and the more so after the bull Regnans in Excelsis which excommunicated Elizabeth and declared open season on her.

The crosses are in a characteristic style, with short thick splayed arms, stepped bases, the inscription round the border and dates on the base. Most commemorate identifiable members of the Bassett, Mansell and Aubrey families who owned the manor of Llantrithyd and lived in the big house whose ruins you can still see next door to the church. Anthony Mansell was the younger son of the great Sir Rhys Mansell of Penrice and Margam: the family had Catholic sympathies but there’s nothing to suggest that any of the people who commissioned these memorials saw themselves as anything other than loyal members of the Established Church.

It’s another example of that combination of traditionalism and loyalism that characterises the Welsh response to the religious changes of the sixteenth century, but a bit more high-profile than most: the idea of the family in the big house asking for prayer for the souls of their children in Armada year is striking to say the least.

It also throws light on the old debate over people’s feelings for their children. The open requests for prayer for the soul are on the memorials of children. On the one hand even babies were seen as in need of prayer. On the other hand the willingness of the parents to make such public and challenging requests, defying church teaching,  suggests really deep grief and a determination to commemorate the children in the way they felt was appropriate.

From the south the inscriptions read

      (with a design which could be a very worn coat of arms)
      This is presumably Elizabeth Norton, second wife of John Thomas Bassett: see Arch. Camb.
      13, 1867, though she is also commemorated on the great monument in the north of the chancel.postmed1+2_compressed
    2. … GRAVE ∙ THE ∙ BODY ∙ OF ∙ … 1586 ∙ GOD ∙ HATH ∙ HIS ∙ SOULE ∙ TO ∙ H…
      (According to an article by T. M. Price of Boverton in the Glamorgan Gazette for Friday 28 May 1915 this could then be read as ‘God hath his soul to his mercy the body of John Bassett’ and the date 1586: http://cymru1914.org/en/view/newspaper/3886118/5 . This is presumably the John William Bassett who was buried on 10 January of that year, still 1585 in the old-style dating of the register:  https://archive.org/stream/registersofllant00llan/registersofllant00llan_djvu.txt . Not sure where he fits in with the family pedigree – a bit more work needed here)
    3. HERE ∙ LI
      ETH ∙ IN ∙ GR
      AVE ∙ THE
      BODY ∙ OF
      RYCE ∙ HAW
      ARD ∙ WHO ∙ SO
      LE …
      (according to the Glamorgan Gazette and Camb. 1867 this then had a date of 1580 or possibly 1680. Nothing for that date in the parish registers but a Rice Havard was buried on  8 March 1571/2)postmed3_compressed
    4. Under the altar table:
      PRAY FOR … ET
      O 1573
      (A small stone: this could commemorate either Edward or William Mansell, sons of Elizabeth Bassett and Anthony Mansell, who both died in that year: https://archive.org/stream/registersofllant00llan/registersofllant00llan_djvu.txt )postmed4_compressed
    5. ?RSWIE
      OF IOHN
      AETATIS 48
      ANNO 1552
      (I need to look at this one again – I can’t find a name anything like that in any of the family pedigrees and it’s too early for the parish registers)
    6. postmed5_compressed


  1. …?AUBREY … 1594
    (another small stone. According to the 1915 Glamorgan Gazette article this could then be read as Willeford Aubrey. The parish registers record the burial of Wilsiford daughter of Mr Thomas Aubrey on Tuesday 2 July: https://archive.org/stream/registersofllant00llan/registersofllant00llan_djvu.txt .)postmed7_compressed
    (this is Rice, oldest son of Elizabeth Bassett and Anthony Mansell. Like most of their children he predeceased his parents and the estate went to his sister Mary and her husband Thomas Aubrey, ancestors of the Aubreys of Llantrithyd. His memorial has the arms of Mansell impaling Bassett.)postmed8_compressedpostmed8detail_compressed

The Glamorgan Gazette article records other wall monuments to children of the Aubrey family which do not seem to have survived.

Well, that was all very exciting. We had a good lunch in the White Hart at Llanilltud and ploughed on to Llanmihangel via Wick, where we had to collect the key from the vicar.

Main purpose of visit to Llanmihangel was this


the late C16 monument to Griffith Grant. It shows him in semi-effigy with the lower part of his body covered by a cross very similar in design to those at Llantrithyd – this effigy was clearly the work of the same firm of stonemasons, probably working a bit above their level of skill. The complicated inscription runs in two lines round the chamfer and along the edges:

‘Heare lyeth in grave the body of Grifithe Grante, sone to Richard Grant & Marget Vch Rees Ab John deceased the X4 Daye of May, Anno Domini 1591. He lyved 67 Yeares in the end thereof departed his life and so departing left his wedded wife Blainch’

(difficult to translate – Orrin says ‘God  renews the souls of those in his mercy’ but I think it’s more likely that resipit is a mis-spelling for recipit and it’s ’God accepts (or regains) their souls in mercy’ – this has a hint of a concealed prayer for their souls)

But the real excitement was this


found under a cupboard in the tower by my clever French cousin Amy. It doesn’t seem to be recorded anywhere. We had to do some serious furniture removing and it was still very difficult to photograph but it’s another early C14 floriated cross.

And is that a scallop shell at the top?

My friend Sara said ‘Weithie ma angen perspectif ewropeaidd arnom ni i weld be sy dan ein trwyne 😉 ‘

Abergavenny – three more post-Reformation cross slabs

(and a possible fourth … or is it …)

Two years ago, on a student visit to St Mary’s Abergavenny, one of my students, Gareth Kinnear, spotted one of those post-medieval cross slabs that I had missed (see https://welshtombs.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/on-the-benefits-of-a-fresh-pair-of-eyes/ for a photo and some background). This year it was Justin Edmunds’ turn. Just north of the north choir stalls, he spotted two stones. The westerly one


Is particularly interesting. The very plain, only slightly splayed cross pattée is similar to ones I’ve seen just over the border (see https://welshtombs.wordpress.com/2014/03/26/herefordshire-everything-but-the-cross-slab/ for one at Kilpeck) though as far as I can see the Kilpeck one doesn’t have the IHS trigram. But the lettering on the Abergavenny stone is in raised ‘lombardic’ capitals like the lettering on most of the seventeenth-century stones in Brecon. That style is generally as far as I know confined to south Breconshire – the post-Reformation slabs in Monmouthshire and over the border into Herefordshire have incised lettering. Of course, we can’t be sure that what survives is representative of what was there originally. Oddly enough, the lettering on the Brecon stones and on this one from Abergavenny is similar to the lettering on the medieval stones in north Wales that Colin Gresham studied.

It is possible, though, that what we have here is a stone that was worked on by two stonecarvers, one doing the cross and the other doing the lettering, and that they had originally trained in different areas. Unfortunately, not enough of the stone survives for us to work out who it commemorates. It is becoming ever more clear, though, that there was a number of stonemasons’ workshops producing these stones, with a range of designs to suit all tastes if not all pockets.

The second stone which Justin spotted


is even more fragmentary: one finely-incised fleur-de-lys finial and just enough of two more arms to make it clear that this is a cross head. By analogy with others I’ve seen with that incised fleur-de-lys design I think this one is also post-medieval, though it could be very late medieval.

Thanks to another student, Nathan Clements, for photographing the stones for me.

Abergavenny also has a fragment of one of those big crosses with flanking vernacular figures- we spotted this on a Society of Antiquaries’ visit


(photo from the consulting archaeologist at the church, George Nash FSA). This must have been similar to the one at Grosmont (see https://welshtombs.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/more-cross-slabs/ ) .

And finally – on our visit last Tuesday we saw an eighteenth-century ledgerstone with a design of interlacing circles that could have been seen as a cross – no photo of that one, though. I need to go back AGAIN …

More cross slabs

Another epic day at Grosmont with Rosamund Rocyn Jones and Martin Jackson, the church historian who spotted that enigmatic 17th century cross slab and sent me off on a long trail into post-medieval tomb carving. Main aim of the exercise was to look at the other face of the cross slab (the only face now visible, as it has been fixed to the wall). The carving of the cross looks unfinished (this is Martin’s photo)


– the scrolled base is only scratched in. This led me to speculate rather wildly that it could have been abandoned in the aftermath of the Popish Plot, when there was possibly some unease about using something that could have been interpreted as a Jesuit symbol. The final date on the reverse (the side now visible, but totally unphotographable) is 1726 and that would really be too long for a perfectly good piece of stone to lie around the stonemason’s yard. However, the two inscriptions on the reused side are clearly of different dates and the earlier one commemorates a Thomas Springet who was buried in 1689 so that makes reuse more of a possibility.

While we were there we had another look round the church. The Williams/Baker-Gabb memorial in the south transept is a gorgeous piece of seventeenth-century vernacular carving. It was clearly produced by one of the stonemasons responsible for carving cross slabs in north Gwent – the vernacular figures are very characteristic – but this one doesn’t have a cross.

Clearly there were pattern books with a range of designs (very much like choosing a modern tombstone, if you think about it) and you could say ‘Yes, I like those little figures, can I have that style of cross head, ooh, yes, the IHS trigram would be cool’ – or ‘Can you do the figures a bit bigger, and I think I’d rather not go for the cross style, how about some of those angels instead’.

We also looked at the later ledgerstones in the nave. Grosmont is a huge church for what is now a village but was until the 19th century a fully-fledged borough with mayor and market hall. The modern congregation uses the chancel for worship and the nave is a huge Romanesque empty space. Until the 19th century the church was heavily used for burials – so much so that the floor was literally oozing, the stench was unbearable and eventually the whole lot was excavated and reburied. But according to Martin the stones laid in the nave all came from the churchyard and were on chest tombs.

I explained that anything after 1660 is really way past my bedtime and Martin offered to take me up the tower. Narrow, steep steps, start of claustrophobia … then over the door to the ringing chamber this


clearly a medieval cross head, possibly an expanded-arm cross like one of the ones on the window sill below


Meanwhile Steve was rootling around in a heap of stones stacked at the west end of the nave. One was a heavy coffin-shaped slab – was it medieval – absolutely no way of moving it or looking underneath but this very vague photo does show some evidence of carving.


We now hope to get back there when there are some strong lads in attendance plus lifting gear and rollers. All such fun.