History of St James'

St James serves the parish of Pyle and Kenfig, an area of great antiquity. A church of the same name served the medieval borough established by the Normans at Kenfig in the 12th century. Whatever is left of it now lies under a sea of sand that destroyed the town in the mid-fifteenth century. The only visible remains of the town is the ruined, lower section of the castle, originally a small tower keep.

 

The Kenfig burgesses built Mawdlam Church about 1255 as a chapel-of-ease to the first St James and this church is dedicated to St Mary Magdalene (hence Mawdlam). With the disappearance of the old borough, the present St James was built on land called Grammus hill, formerly held by a Norman family called Grammus. Fortunately, it's builders had the good sense to indicate the year of its’ erection - 1471. This year is clearly carved on a small wooden shield seen from within the church on the northern wall-plate. Architectural features of the church are consistent with this date. However, the south nave wall shows evidence of a change of build between narrow coursed stone up to about five feet above ground level and good squared ashlar in upper courses. Differing stonework in the chancel also suggests different building campaigns. It may be that the fifteenth century work simply enlarged a much smaller and earlier building on the site.

Understandably, the burgesses of Kenfig, who fled from their doomed town to live in scattered houses some distance away, wanted the older St Mary Magdalene at Mawdlam constituted as the new parish church but this was not to be. The residents of Pyle petitioned in favour of the new church of St James, a larger and more handsome structure and in 1485, the Bishop of Llandaff convened a consistory court at Margam Abbey and it was decided that St James should be the parish church.

 

St James is a Grade 1 listed, very fine mainly Perpendicular two-cell church, of nave and chancel, with a small south porch and a good western tower. An organ loft under a gabled roof adjoins the north side of the chancel and, perhaps unusually, retains much early fabric.

Stylistically, the church appears to be largely of the late 14th century, although there is evidence in the fabric of earlier construction in the lower parts of the south wall of the nave built in rubble stone in contrast to the ashlar stone above it and in the chancel arch which may be of the early 14th or 13th century.

The tower is of three storeys, square with crenellated parapets and a pitched slate roof. Parapet gutters in the tower are made and weathered with stone tabling. Unusually, the original fifteenth century roof structure survives in the tower.

 

Apart from the two square head two-light windows in the south wall of the nave, one each at the south east and south west corners of the nave, all of the remaining windows and the priest’s door in the south wall of the chancel, appear to be medieval and probably developed Perpendicular, thus early fifteenth century date. The chancel windows have good and slightly unusual square shouldered label stops. The nave retains its’ medieval wagon roof dated 1471, very fine with moulded principal braces and collar purlin and carved escutcheons on the wall-plates. 

Pre 1914 War photo of St James Church

 

The east window displays perpendicular tracery, its’ stained glass being installed as a memorial to parishioners who fell in the 1914-1918 war. Some interesting memorial plaques of the 17th century can be seen in the chancel. The reredos, stalls and organ are modern. Features of the nave are the barrel roof already mentioned, the wall-plates embellished with armorial shields and grotesque heads, the alabaster pulpit, medieval font and part of the pre-Reformation mensa or altar slab, sadly used as a step to the door leading to the belfry. Formerly, the church had a rood loft, supported by existing corbels and access to it was gained from a doorway leading from the chancel until the restoration of 1891.

 

The church is built entirely of local Bridgend calcareous sandstone and Sutton stone, largely in ashlar although the lower courses of the south wall of the nave, below waist level, together with the north wall of the nave are built in coursed rubble stone. In 1993, roofs were covered with natural slate, possible Cornish or Carmarthan slate but have been replaced with modern artificial slate which lacks the character of the original material.

 

The churchyard cross,on four, steps was restored in 1925. Also in the graveyard are several listed chest tombs which are regarded as significant examples of mid 19th century monuments.

 

We acknowledge our deep debt of gratitude to those good Christians who were inspired to plan, build and maintain this beautiful church that has been used throughout the centuries as a centre for Christian worship.

© 2016 Parish of Pyle and Kenfig                                      St James Pyle                                                 St Mary Magdalene

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