A History of St Mary’s Church, Pennard

Since Celtic Christian times Pennard, in one of the best farming areas on the south coast of Gower and long attractive for settlement, is likely to have seen several places of worship on different sites. In the late C13 a church dedicated to St Mary had been built near Pennard Castle but, after several sand inundations, this was finally abandoned in the C16. Its ruins can be seen today on Pennard Burrows. Today’s church, long thought to have been built on the site of a chantry or private chapel, then became the parish church and was dedicated to St Mary. It is thought that parts of the old besanded church were incorporated into the present structure but also that other architectural features from the C13 to C16 suggest an earlier date for part of the present church.

With the arrival in the early C12 of the first Norman Lord of Gower, the Earl of Warwick, the advowson (living) of several Gower churches, including Pennard were granted to the Abbey of St Taurin at Evreux in Normandy. By 1414 all links with Normandy were severed and in 1441 the tithes (revenues) were given as part of the endowments to the newly- built All Souls, Oxford. They remained there until 1838 when Thomas Penrice of Kilvrough exchanged them with his lands in Northampton.

The church consists of chancel, nave, small north transept and embattled west tower. As in several other C13 Gower churches, the window area is small, suggesting an early date for the building. Two lancet windows in the chancel, one of which is decorated with ‘dog-tooth’ moulding on its hood, confirm this. Other signs of a mediaeval church include – a double aumbry and a priest’s door in the chancel as well as a north door and blocked window in the nave. The east window of two lights is a splendid example of C15 craftsmanship. The ‘dog rails’ (altar rails) were introduced by Archbishop Laud in 1644 to protect the altar from ‘defilement’ by dogs which often accompanied their masters to church. Above the chancel arch is a board upon which a set of Royal Arms is placed with the Lord’s Prayer, Creed and Ten Commandments below. This is believed to be late Victorian. The elaborately carved font bowl of polished Purbeck stone is thought by some church historians to have originally been an ancient stoup for holding holy water but now sits on what appears to be a millstone with a Greek cross at the base. Its suspended cover is Jacobean which is also the date of the fine woodwork in the pulpit.

A short north transept, formerly the pew of the Penrice and Lyons family from Kilvrough, has housed the present organ since 1924. The nave has a fine barrel roof and at the west end is a gallery, one of few remaining in Gower churches today. Here the musicians performed, accompanied by a organ, which is now is in the Museum of Wales at St Fagan’s. The front beam of the gallery was originally that which had held the Rood – old English for the life-sized ‘Cross’. This had been moved at the Reformation from its position on the chancel arch, above the screen which separated the priest in the chancel from the parishioners in the nave.

The embattled west tower is small in comparison with the towers of other churches. The upper portion of the tower overlaps the bottom half giving the impression that it was constructed at a later date. The tower houses two bells both by W Evans, Chepstow, dated 1737, one bearing the inscription ‘Pennard Parish’ and the other ‘Roland Daukin’, from a local landowning family. Sadly in 2009 the latter bell, weighing 200lbs (91kg) broke and fell down the tower stairway.

To mark the new Millennium a stained glass design for the south wall window was drawn and painted by local artist John Edwards, associated with the architectural stained glass department at Swansea College of Art and with Celtic Studios. There are two sections. The upper part expresses Gower’s long Christian history; the lower part celebrates God’s creation in Gower with particular reference to Pennard and to well-known local views. On the walls are memorial tablets to those who gave their lives in both world wars as well as one to the celebrated local poet Vernon Watkins. A friend of Dylan Thomas, he died in 1967 and had been a member of the congregation. Local born poet Harri Webb is buried in the church yard.

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