St Teilo's Church and people associated with it (The Church in the Marsh)
Nobody knows the age of the original church. If St Teilo had built it, it should originate from the C6th. When the old church was dismantled in order for it to be moved it to St Fagan’s, they found a stone built into the wall with a simple cross on it.
The experts believe the stone to be C7th, which is close to Teilo’s time. This stone is the only “hard” evidence of the date of the church.
From the Llandaff Charters, Professor Wendy Davies identifies the church of Llandeilo Talybont as 7th Century. Its Medieval name as Lan Teiliauo Talypont, built about 655 and mentioned on the first page of the Llandaff Charters (LL 1) 80.
“The church had a double enclosure with an inner and an outer enclosure, shaped to fit within a meander of the River Loughor. The neck of the promontory thus caused is shown on the tithe map as partly cut off by a curvilinear boundary represented by two field boundaries, which run across the track to the church, but have now been almost entirely obliterated by the M4 motorway. 81 he outer enclosure was probably not defensive but defined by a bangor or wattle enclosure, and the inner enclosure was more substantial.
The Normans invaded Wales between 1081 and 1094. They divided the land up into Lordships and divided the Church into geographical dioceses each governed by a Bishop. In the 1100s, there were 2 main dioceses in South Wales, St Davids under Bishop Bernard and Llandaff with Bishop Urban.
The Bishops of Llandaf and St Davids both claimed that all the churches of St Teilo’s should be within their dioceses. St Davids claim was because St Teilo was born within the diocese at Penally Abbey near Tenby and Llandaf because St Teilo was one of the patrons of Llandaf Cathedral. Llandaf instructed all its clergy to record all their land, churches and buildings in a book which became the Llyfr Llandaf or the Book or Llandaff. The book has survived and has provided a lot of information about the church and its holdings in the 12th Centuray.
Before the Normans, the Welsh used the tops of the mountains to divide lands into different areas but the Normans used rivers. There is evidence that before the Normans, the parish of Llandeilo Talybont extended out beyond the River Loughor and was very much larger than it is now. 82
It was common in the 16th Century for an Abbey to lease its lands to private farmers; that way the monks got an income from the land without the hard work of actually farming it. By 1536, the Church and its lands were in the hands of William Morgan ap Rhys Llwyd ap Tomas ap Ieuan Gwyn (born about 1510) William Morgan may have been the grandson of Tomos ap Ieuan ap Gwilym Ddu mentioned in the Llys Nini quit claim of 1507 it is therefore very possible that William Morgan not only held the church lands at Llandeilo Talybont but also Llys Nini.
Morgan had the lease on the church of Llandeilo Talybont and was resident at Lladremoore – now known as Llandremor. In 1538 he continued to have the lease with all the tithes and fruits belonging with tithes of land called Abbot’s land as demised to him. In 1569 he was still at Lladremor in 1571 he negotiated the grant of a close in the parish of Llanelli. 1576 he made his will and wanted to be buried at Llandeilo Talybont. 83 1586 the will was proved in the court in Canterbury. His wife Genet of Swansey is mentioned in his will but as yet it is not known whether she inherited Llys Nini and the estate or if it passes to another member of the family. *
In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Llandeilo Tal Y Bont, presumably referring to the new St Teilo’s and not the church in the marsh.
“LLANDILO-TALYBONT, a parish in Swansea district, Glamorgan; on the river Loughor, at the boundary with Carmarthen, adjacent to the Llanelly and Vale of Towy railway, 6 miles NE of Llanelly. It contains the hamlets of Briskedwin, Glynloughor, Gwenlais, Tyr-yBrentin, and Ynisloughor; and has a fair on the Monday after 15 Nov. Post town, Llanelly, Acres, 7,401; of which 105 are water. Real property, £3,495. Pop. in 1851, 1,408; in 1861, 1,331. Houses, 303. The property is subdivided. Coal abounds. Traces of an ancient camp are near the river. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of St. Davids. Value, £140. * Patron, Howel Gwyn, Esq. The church is good; and there are chapels for Independents and Calvinistic Methodists. The bard Jenan Lawdden was a native of Glynloughor. “ 85
Mair Mosford recalls “When I was a kid 6 or 7 year old, my grandmother used to walk to the church on the marsh, twice a year when the tide was right. If the tide wasn’t right it was flooded. We put the best china in the basket, and walk passed the Wilish farm (Gwenlais Fawr Farm) , Waungron and over the marsh to St Teilo’s ( the church in the marsh, it’s in St Fagan’s now). You had to be very careful to avoid the “ pills” as my Grandmother would call them – the deep trench, that filled with water when tide was in.
She would scrub the pews ready for the service. I remember sitting in the pews with the doors. There was a hole in the roof. I don’t remember the service, vicar or the sermon as the birds would come in through the hole and fly around. A great event
On the way back we would have tea with the Williams sisters. The Miss Williams of the Willish Farm, the 2 maiden ladies, were very upright, they had their hair up, with lace collars and a black band around their necks like a necklace. Every thing on the tea table was all lace and best china. Then we’d go home and I used to think that was wonderful. It must have been very tiring for a 6 or 7 year old. 1”
The strange practice of only having services when the weather and tide allowed fired the imagination of at least one journalist who wrote about “The Submarine Church” in a 1957 issue of the Ripely’s Believe It or Not newspaper article. There was a photo of the old church and the title went on to say – “ST Teilo’s church in Pontarddulais Wales, holds services only 1 day a year because on every other Sunday the structure is under water. The church was built beside a river in the C12th and a coal mine beneath the edifice has caused the soil to sink.”
In 1984, the Church in Wales officially offered St Teilo’s to St Fagan’s (The National Museum of Wales). In 1985 work began on the dismantling process. The Rev John Walters, now the Vicar of Pontarddulais, was very involved in the work and there are pictures of him and the workmen in hard hats dismantling the old building. He said. “They took down the church and took it away cart load by cart load.”
During the process of taking the church down a number of very important medieval wall paintings were discovered.
The Museum started rebuilding St Teilo’s in 1997, and the opening ceremony was held in 2007. The church was restored as it would have been in the 1520s with the brightly coloured wall paintings.
The old churchyard with its whitewashed wall and graves are still in the marsh.
When the tide is right it is still possible to walk across the marsh and visit the site to see the footprint of the old church.
There are a number of interesting graves from the 19th Century, including that of William Hopkin or Gwilym Hopcyn who was a highly respected local man who died in suspicious circumstances.
The headstone has colbren script on it. It is believed that Hopcyn was a friend of Daniel Lewis and took part in the Rebecca Riot which attacked the Bolgoed gate.