A History of St George’s Church, Reynoldston

It is thought that the village and church were founded in the early C13 by the Norman lord, Reginald or Reynald de Breos on the fertile south-facing land and spring-line of Cefn Bryn, four miles from the sea. By this time, the Normans had ruled Gower for more than 100 years and almost all the south and west coast of the peninsula had already been settled, some of them English speakers they had brought with them. There is no Welsh name for Reynoldston and the dedication of the church is to St George – very unusual in Wales! St George the Martyr, born in Asia Minor and a Roman soldier, was killed in about 300AD because of his Christian faith. His fame in Western Europe dates from the time of the Crusades when the English King Richard the Lionheart put his army under the protection of the Saint. In 1222, St George’s Day was declared a public holiday and he became the symbolic figure of the Christian soldier, upholder of chivalry and champion of the weak and oppressed. The stone pulpit in the present church has a fine carved figure of St George slaying a dragon and symbolising the triumph of good over evil, the legend associated with the saint in early times.

The old church was a simple stone structure with a few lancet windows and probably a thatch roof. By 1866 the building was ‘in a dreadfully dilapidated’ condition and demolished. The only remaining feature is a built up lancet in the south wall of the chancel. The new church, a fine example of Victorian Gothic architecture, was opened in 1867 on the original foundations but with a longer and wider nave and the addition of a north transept, western bellcote and south porch. Local stone came from the Old Red Sandstone quarries nearby on Cefn Bryn with yellow sandstone dressings, limestone brackets and Welsh slate on the roof. The architect was J P Seddon and the cost was £1500 with contributions from the Talbots of Penrice, the Bensons of Fairy Hill and the Woods at Stouthall.  On the 3rd November 2017 Reynoldston marked the 150th Anniversary of the church’s rebuilding with a special Thanksgiving Service, an exhibition and a lunch.

The oldest feature in the church today, standing near the chancel arch, is a pillar cross, one of the earliest Christian monuments in Gower and showing the influence of the early Irish church. Its original site is unknown but in 1800 it was found in a local field. Formed of grey sandstone, it is roughly rectangular in shape and tapers slightly at the top and bottom. One side bears a simple cross, the other is a curious elaborate design. To protect the surface from weathering, it was presented to the church by the Hughes family of Parklands in 1977. The font is believed to be C13, hewn out of a single stalagmite from Bacon Hole or Culver Hole in the South Gower cliffs. When the church was rebuilt, it was decoded to ‘improve’ the font by chiselling it into its present shape but in the process, destroying the natural texture of the surface.

The church is endowed with impressive stained glass ornament from the C19 and C20. In the chancel the two-light east window show scenes of the Resurrection, A south window shows the Annunciation scene of the Virgin Mary and a north window depicts St George and St David. An east window in the transept shows Jesus as the Lamb of God, with the banner of the resurrection and on the north side a memorial with scenes of the resurrection. On the south side of the nave the central light of the window was stained by Swansea’s Celtic Studios and depicts Dorcas ‘full of good works and acts of charity’. The predominant feature of the nave is the large west window with very fine stained glass designed by Nathaniel Westlake (1833-1921) the well known art historian and designer from London. This was presented in 1905 by Mrs F M Crawshay of Cyfarthfa Castle in memory of her parents, Colonel and Mrs Wood of Stouthall.

The north transept contains numeous C17 and C18 tombstones and memorial plaques from the early church, some of them with remarkable lettering. Many belong to the Lucas family, the principal landowners and farmers in the parish, some of whom were buried in their vault below, which was filled in when the church was rebuilt. Early C20 memorials are of members of the Benson family from Fairy Hill some of whom are also commemorated, with other men from the village, on the WW1 and WW2 memorials in the nave.

The bellcote holds two bells, one bearing the initials W. E. and dated 1733, the other unmarked. In the churchyard is a Commonwealth Grave Commission headstone marking the burial of Lieutenant Colonel R E Benson of Fairy Hill who was killed on 29th September 1914. He was the first senior officer to be killed in the war and in the early months it was possible for the bodies of the fallen to be repatriated home. The Benson grave lies alongside other members of the Benson family.

The Rector of Reynoldston from 1834 to 1873 was the Revd. John Davies, born at Llandeilo Talybont, north of peninsula Gower, a man of many interests with a high reputation for preaching. He enjoyed exploring the Gower coastal caves and it is said that he encouraged Dean Buckland to make the first detailed examination of Paviland cave in1823. This lead to the discovery of the ‘Red Lady of Paviland’, now in the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford and claimed to be the oldest Stone Age relic in the UK. The Rector’s son was the renowned Revd. J D Davies, who made a significant contribution to the C19 church in Gower and is described in the website entries on Llanmadoc and Cheriton Churches where he was Rector for nearly fifty years.

Valerie Beynon
June 2021

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