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Norman Tower and Celtic Graveyard

Llangyfelach Church Norman Tower photoLlangyfelach was once a county parish which encompassed a large swath of the former medieval lands of the Lords of Gower (see Oystermouth Castle Mumbles), though now it is just a small quiet town suburb of Swansea, with the only sign of its former historical importance, the church yard tucked against the M4 motorway and the village traffic circle. The motorway itself lies roughly along the route which had been the main road through the Gower Peninsula since the middle-ages. St David, the patron saint of Wales (see St David’s Bishops Palace) founded a monastery on the site as early as the 6th Century. In the Norman era, the Church of St David and Cyfelach was built on the spot in the 12th Century. The church and its monastery was a pilgrimage stop and had seen visitors from King Edward I on route to building his castles (see Caernarvon Castle) to Oliver Cromwell, who confiscated the lands., but all that remains today is the stone Norman period bell tower in the center of an ancient graveyard. The present parish church is housed in a converted former tithe barn, itself from the Gothic 14th Century. Inside the church can be found the Llangyfelach Cross, a 9th Century Celtic stone pattern cross.

One is likely not to notice the old church tower while buzzing past on the motorway, and to find it in the tangle of village lanes takes a close scale map or GPS. I had only found my way to Llangyfelach on a family ancestry travel adventure. A search on had turned up a record of an ancestor having been married there. A John Reese a coal miner who had married a Mary Davies, converted to Mormonism and departed to America in the 1840s, ultimately settling on a homestead on what is now Reese Creek outside Bozeman, Montana. The most striking thing about the church is not the historic old church tower, one of three freestanding Norman towers in Wales, but the graveyard, with ancient gravestones completely overgrown with grass and cloying vines. The old graveyard is circular in shape indicating its Celtic origin and possibly one of the earliest Christian settlements in Wales. Beautiful in its untended and forgotten state, filled with the graves of the names of Rees (the anglicized Rhys and non-Americanized Reese) and Davies, and Jones, the most common of Welsh families. Surely, I was walking among distant relatives, but some of the stones are so worn, broken or overgrown, it’s difficult to make out dates and details.

Llangyfelach parish Church Gravestone overgrown photoThe mystery of my own ancestor’s connection to the church would not be clarified until a visit to the Family History Centre at the Swansea Civic Centre, the county hall on the revitalized Swansea waterfront (see Family History Centre Swansea). There among the old parish record ledgers of West Glamorgan was the marriage record from 1840. John E. Rees, son of Evan Rees from a village near Llandeilo in Carmathenshire (see Dinefwr Castle and Newton House) married Mary Davies, daughter of Thomas Davies of Morriston, (about a mile from the church). The record was signed by the parish vicar, also a Davies (as apparently is the current one).

Plough & Harrow

Plough and harrow Pub Llangyfelach Swansea Road photoAcross the traffic circle of the old town square on Swansea Road is the popular local pub, the 'Plough and Harrow' in a building which dates back to the 1700s, though it has only been a pub for the last fifty years or so. Next to the churchyard gate is the old Parish Church Sunday School, which dates back to the 1837, still in use as a community center. Whether you have a family connection to this little forgotten corner of Welsh history or just love a fascinating and moody old graveyard, take a turn off the M4 motorway at exit 46, and might as well for a stop for a pint or at the Plough and Harrow. © Bargain Travel Europe

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