History of St Mary Magdalene Church

Very Little documentation of the origin of the church building exists and so much of its story has been deduced from documents related to other events in the locality.

 

Probably built between 1245 and 1266 it has been decided to assume the church’s founding in 1255 and celebrate on the day of its’ Patronal Festival 22nd July.

The story of the church begins in the town of Kenfig. During the 12th century, the Normans progressed along the South Wales coast led by Robert Fitzhamon who split the conquest into knights fees keping Cardiff and parts of Margam and Kenfig for himself, suggesting that they were of some significance.  So Kenfig became a Norman trading town attacked frequently by the Welsh.

 

The Normans had adopted the Roman form of Christianity and an organised church was becoming centred on Canterbury with abbeys at other sites in England.  As the Normans moved west they endowed abbeys at Tewkesbury and Gloucester with lands and authority in South Wales.  Kenfig was endowed to Tewkesbury Abbey.

 

The church in the medieval town of Kenfig was initiated between 1147 and 1154.  Willian, Earl of Gloucester, petitioned the Abbot of Twkesbury to permit Henry Thusard, clerk, to build a church in the town of Kenfig.  Thusard paid an annual pension of two shillings to the abbot so that the rights of Tewkesbury to the tithes were not prejudiced.  Thus the church of St James in Kenfig was a Tewkesbury church.. As time went on, the sand encroached on the town.  A number of events indicate that this gradual process, accelerated by occasional storms, occurred largely during the second half on the 13th and 14th and into the 15th centuries.

St Mary Magdalene Church, Maudlam c.1907

St Mary Magdalene

St Mary Magdalene Church is closely linked with the borough of Kenfig and is officially described in the church records as St Mary Magdalene, Kenfig.  “Mawdlam” or “Maudlam” is a corruption of “Magdalene” and the village name arises from the presence of the church.

 

With the information to hand, one can only speculate what stimulated this addition to the places of worship in the environs of Kenfig.  What justified the effort and cost?

The building was not very far from the original St James Church which is recorded on Ordnance Survey maps as being some 306 yards from the centre of the castle mound in a south westerly direction. Were the authorities already concerned about the encroachment of the sand? Was it some ploy to help defend the town from the marauding Welsh providing a look-out tower perhaps or was there a sufficient need to serve dwellings further south and east from the town itself? Was its’ situation linked to the neighbouring public house, also originally a building of the same age but now extensively modified? Could it be that the Angel was a leper hospital with its’ associated church? Since there are no records found which provide any details of the decision for, and the organisation of the building, this we may never know.

 

The Building

In 1848 Sir Stephen Glynne visited Kenfig and in his notes he described the church of St Mary Magdalene as “a rude church of the South Wales stamp, comprising a nave and chancel with a large coarse western tower to the west of which is attached a very large porch…... the whole church is whitewashed externally, even the roof ….”

In 1878 a petition for faculty described the church as in a dilapidated condition and unfit for services, requiring new flooring, heating apparatus, new pulpit and reading desk, three new windows, a new roof except principals, drainage around the church and the outside walls to be picked, plastered an pointed. So whitewash rendering was removed revealing the stone. Unfortunately, this loss of protective layers of lime-wash eventually permitted water to penetrate the walls. This caused considerable damage to the structure and the interior decoration, especially in the tower.

Included in the changes was moving the carved Norman tub font from the south west corner of the nave to its’ present position to make way for 28 more worshippers. In 1894 the chancel was completely rebuilt with funding from Miss Emily Talbot, increasing its’ size and adding a vestry on the north side which, in the 1930’s was used, in part, to house a small wind organ.

 

The relatively squat tower houses a single bell cast in 1664 and embossed wit the names of Edward Hopkins and Jenkin Howell, Church Wardens. It was re-hung in 1908. The clock was installed in 1955 as a memorial to the fallen of two world wars and was originally powered by a weight system. This has now been replaced by an electronically controlled drive. A tablet in the baptistry below records the names of the fallen. Since 1998 much work has been done to rectify the damage by the ingress of water, including re-pointing the tower with lime based mortar, replacing lead gutters and slates and removing rotten beams by the introduction of flitch plates.

 

There are a number of memorials on the walls of the church dated from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.

 

What happened to the original church in the town of Kenfig?

As we know the church of St James in the town of Kenfig was eventually overwhelmed and a new church was built in Pyle, again dedicated to St. James. John Newman in his recent book “The Buildings of Glamorgan” suggests that stone from the castle was used to build the church but others have suggested that the stone was from the old church of St. James. Close examination of St James church shows larger stones above smaller stones, not normal in building. Was the new church under construction while the old church was being dismantled?

 

Some of the cost of the replacement of the church in Pyle would have been borne by the burgesses of Kenfig who were given to understand that the church in Pyle was now their parish church. However, they did not wish to acknowledge this, preferring to worship at the nearer church of St Mary Magdalene. At a Consistory Court held in Margam in 1485, the townsmen of Pyle were upheld against the burgesses of Kenfig when the court pronounced that all the burgesses should attend church in Pyle as their parish church.

 

Nevertheless, over the years the two parishes became known as “Pyle with Kenfig” but in 1999 it was established that prevoius historical documents claimed the parish to be a “United” not a “Grouped” parish and so the correct title and its’ administration is “Pyle and Kenfig”.

 

References:

Gray T 1909 “The Buried City of Kenfig”

Evans A L 1960 “The Story of Kenfig”

Newman J 1995 “The Buildings of Wales”

Glynne S R 1901 “Notes on Older Churches in the Welsh Dioceses”

Some original documents 

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

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