A History of St David’s Church, Gwernffrwd(Wernffrwd)

St David’s Church sits in a small churchyard, enclosed by a stone wall, on the edge of Llanrhidian Marsh with views west to Whitford Point and across the Loughor estuary to the Carmarthenshire coast. It was opened on Easter Tuesday 1898 by the Bishop of St David’s , (Gower being part of that diocese until 1923), and licensed as a chapel of ease in the parish of Llanrhidian. ‘The Cambrian’ newspaper described the church as a ‘‘very compact, well-finished little building and will be a great convenience for those living on the spot, who cannot in rough weather go to either the parish church at Llanrhidian (2miles) or the chapel of ease at Penclawdd (3miles) away’’.

By the end of the C19 the opening of mines with good quality coal in the Morlais valley and the arrival of the railway had led to populations increases in Llanmorlais, Crofty and Gwernffrwd and neighbouring hamlets. In many households, incomes were supplemented by the women, ‘going to the sands’ of the Bury estuary, on their donkeys or ponies and flat carts, to gather cockles. These were then sold especially at the entrance to Swansea Market but even more were taken door-to-door on their rounds in the towns and valleys of South Wales. On completion of building the church, a considerable sum of money had already been collected through the generosity of the local community and, with contributions from Miss Emily Talbot and others, St David’s was almost free of debt. By 1924, to meet the needs of the growing numbers locally as well as in nearby Penclawdd, the church joined with St Gwynor’s, Penclawdd to form the new parish of Llanyrnewydd with Gwernffrwd.

Constructed of stone with a slate roof and a small bell tower at the west end, the building is of a simple design with a single central aisle and small porch on the south west corner. There is no screen but a wooden partition, pierced by a simple arch, separates the small chancel from the nave. The pews are wooden bench seats, with reversible backs and are probably the original from when the church was built. A panel of stained glass in the west window depicts St David and the central panel in the east window shows Christ in Majesty. Both are thought to be Victorian. It is believed that the altar table was made by a former vicar in the 1930’s. A tiny boarded-off area in the north west corner is referred to as the vestry where the celebrant has just enough room to change, alongside the safe and other items stored there. The stone font has mouldings on the bowl and base.

To the plain interior of the building have been added through the decades, many beautiful essential church furnishings as well as adornments and works of art. These have all been given, and often were made, by members of the church from past and present local families, in memory of their loved ones. Two memorial tablets on the west wall were removed from nearby Penuel Presbyterian Chapel, on its closure in 1988 and these commemorate the service of men from the Llanmorlais and Gwernffrwd area in the 1914 to 1918 war.

In 2001 major fundraising was successful for essential refurbishment. This was followed by further efforts to build a kitchen/toilet extension – the envy of many other Gower church congregations and important for frequent fund raising events! For generations, the members have been well known for giving their time, talents and money to keep St David’s, often called the ‘little church on the marsh’, such a special place for worship and friendship.

Valerie Beynon
June 2021

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