A History of St David’s Church, Llandewi

Llandewi Church is situated next to a farmyard on the Gower Way, which was opened in 1998 and runs for 35 miles following ancient routeways from the sea at Rhossili in the west to Penlle’r Castell, on the hills to the north of Swansea – the northern limit of the Norman Lordship of Gower. South West Gower parish usually holds its Harvest Festival Service in this small, simple church, situated on a low rise in the centre of good farmland and always decorated for this annual event with the riches of the surrounding fields.

A C12 window suggests some Norman origin but today’s church in the Early English and Decorated style dates from the C14 and is reputed to have been built and dedicated to St David by Henry de Gower who was Bishop of St Davids from 1328 to 1347. Opposite the church at one time stood an episcopal residence where he is said to have stayed when he included Gower in the visitations around his vast diocese, the largest of the four in Wales at that time. Nearby was the original Llandewi Castle and the home of his ancestors, the Mansells, who became important landowners in Gower after the Norman Conquest. This was the same Henry de Gower who built the very impressive Bishop’s Palace, alongside the Cathedral at St Davids in Pembrokeshire.

The church consists of a chancel, nave, south porch and western tower. The chancel arch is pointed with a modern carved wooden surround on two corbels. The chancel is not in line with the nave but inclined to the south. Local tradition says that this is a ‘weeping chancel’, said to symbolise the crucified Christ leaning his head to one side. It is most likely that, as in several other ancient Gower churches, the chancel was built for the priest to worship and the nave, where people gathered in the open air, was added later. The chancel is lit by three windows – a three-light on the east wall, a two- light on the south side and a lancet on the north side. Two round-headed windows and different size lancets, all plain glass in the nave make the interior feel spacious and well-lit, and allow fine views across the peninsula. Some ‘over-thorough’ restoration took place in 1876, initiated by C R M Talbot from Penrice Castle and sadly included the removal of a fine example of C17 church craftsmanship – the famous Henllys seat or Squire’s pew which was 7ft high, 8ft long with five windows!

Further restoration took place in 1905, largely funded by his daughter Miss Emily Talbot. This included substantial structural repair to overcome excessive damp, both inside and outside. Two new windows were placed in the north and south walls and other windows substantially repaired. A gallery was removed, some new flooring added and all woodwork, including the altar, doors and the roof of the porch was stained. The interior was ‘tastefully’ redecorated. The font is tub-shaped, on a cross-shaped plinth. The memorial slabs in the chancel are of particular interest, the oldest being to a former Vicar and dating from 1737.

On the left hand side of the inner doorway is an inscription DH 17 to mark the work of an expert freestone mason David Hughes who in 1717 repaired and dressed the stone jambs of the doorway with two figures, leaving this record of his handiwork.

The tower at the west end has a transverse saddle-back roof within the parapet, the gables running north and south as at Rhossili. It has a corbel table on its east and west faces. A single bell in the tower was made by a bellfounder, William Bilbie from Chewstoke, Somerset in 1781. It is said to be the largest and loudest in a Gower church!

KNELSTON St Taurin Formerly the parish of Knelston was attached to nearby Llandewi. The ruins of an ancient church, called the Church of the Three Mary’s and already abandoned by 1688, can be seen today in a field near Knelston Farm and the local school. In the early C12 the Earl of Warwick had presented the church, with others in newly conquered Gower, to the Abbey of St Taurin in Normandy. It is thought that the church was then called St Taurin.

The parish Rectory of South West Gower is located nearby and since the Covid pandemic began St Taurin is the name of the virtual church where the members and visitors to the six churches in the parish have joined in worship.

Valerie Beynon
June 2021

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