Margam - Gazetteers
"MARGAM, a parish in the hundred of NEWCASTLE, county of GLAMORGAN, SOUTH WALES, bounded on the south by the Bristol channel, and situated on the line of the great western road through the county, 9 miles (S. S. E.) from Neath, containing 2902 inhabitants.
The early history of this place is involved in great obscurity : it was, at a very remote period, erected into a bishoprick, which continued for five successions, and then merged in that of Llandaf. Some writers ascribe this to Morgan, or Morcant, son of the renowned King Arthur, who is said to have occasionally resided here; but the circumstance is doubtful. Its original name was Pen-dar, "The Oak Summit," so called from a noble wood of oak that covers the breast of a mountain, upwards of eight hundred feet in height, forming a striking feature in the landscape, and deservedly admired for its boldness and grandeur, as well as for the beauty and variety of its outline. The present appellation is comparatively modern, being considered a corruption of Morgan, who was the son of Caradoc ab Iestyn, and a great benefactor to the celebrated abbey of Margam, if not its founder. Mr. Humphrey Llwyd, who is followed by several respectable Welsh antiquaries, is of the latter opinion, and states that he had seen "Morgan ap Caradoc's original charter, with nine witnesses, all very antique British names." Dugdale, and the Annales de Margan, printed in the second volume of Gale's Scriptores, both date the foundation in 1147, and attribute it to Robert Earl of Gloucester, who, according to the latter, died in this year, and was buried in the monastery. Bishop Tanner, in comparing these authorities with Speed and some manuscript accounts, which differ a little in their dates, inserts a query whether "Robert might not begin this house only, a little before his death, and William his son and successor finish it some time after ?" the latter is by Camden considered to have been its founder. Notwithstanding the uncertainty of its origin, there can be little doubt that it was endowed by Caradoc ab Iestyn, lord of the adjacent lordship of Avon, with extensive grants of lands, which were confirmed by a deed under the hands of Morgan and his two brothers, Cadwallon and Meriedoc, whose descendants, for several generations, were munificent benefactors to the establishment. This appears from the charter of Thomas de Avene, dated February 10th, 1349 (as found by Dugdale, translated into English in the collection of Mr. Hugh Thomas, without mentioning where the latter obtained it), wherein he states, " after due consideration, I confirm unto the said monks all donations, grants, confirmations, and sales whatsoever, which they enjoy by the bounty of any of my predecessors, viz., whatsoever they may have by the gift of Morgan ab Caradoc ; of Leison and Owen, the sons of the said Morgan ; and all they have by gift of Morgan Cam and his heirs, of Morgan Vaghan and Sir Leison, the sons of the said Morgan Cam ; likewise whatsoever they have by the gift of Sir Thomas de Avene, my father." A large collection of original charters belonging to this abbey is preserved with the Harleian MSS. in the British Museum, the earliest of which is a confirmatory bull of Pope Urban III., dated in 1186. It was a Cistercian abbey, dedicated to St. Mary, and is mentioned by earlier antiquaries as the first house of that kind in these parts : according to Leland it had the privilege of sanctuary. When King John exacted a levy from the Cistercian monasteries, the abbey of Margam was exempted, on account of the hospitality he had received here, on his way to Ireland. At the dissolution, its revenue was estimated at £ 188. 14. The site and possessions, together with the royalty of Avon water, were purchased by Sir Rice Mansel, Knt., who, about the year 1552, built a mansion partly on the site of the abbey, which continued to be the principal seat of the family until the extinction of the male line in 1750.
This edifice, which subsequently underwent considerable alterations and repairs, was built of the stone of the country, with Sutton stone quoins and dressings taken from the ruins of the abbey : it presented a long front without any magnificence in the structure, and was taken down about the year 1782. The chapter-house, which is a portion of the ancient conventual buildings, is an elegant and highly admired edifice, in the form of a regular duodecagon without, but within, an exact circle, forty-nine feet in diameter : its roof was vaulted, and supported in the centre by a single clustered column branching off into twenty-four ribs ; but this beautiful roof fell in the year 1799, in consequence of the outer walls having become defective, and not, as has been asserted by tourists, from the filtration of water through the joints of the stones ; and the side walls, with the spring of the arches only, are now left standing. A noble mansion, in the style of English architecture which prevailed in the reign of Henry VIII., is now in progress of erection, on a scale suited to the rank and fortune of the representative of this ancient family. In the midst of the pleasure grounds is a splendid orangery, an unusual appendage to a gentleman's residence, but there is no record in existence shewing the period of its establishment. According to tradition, this celebrated collection of exotics was intended as a present from a Dutch merchant to Queen Mary, consort of William III. ; but the vessel conveying it having been stranded on the coast here, the choice cargo was claimed as the property of the lord, and a house, one hundred and fifty feet in length, was built for the reception of the plants. The late Mr. Talbot, in the year 1787, built a new greenhouse, three hundred and twenty-seven feet in length, with a handsome Palladian front, and a room at each end, and, in 1800, a conservatory, one hundred and fifty feet long, with flues in the ground. There are about one hundred and ten trees in the green-house, all standards planted in square boxes, and many of them eighteen feet high : those in the conservatory, forty in number, are traced against a trellis framing, where the fruit, which is usually abundant, attains its native size and flavour. The evergreens cultivated in the grounds surrounding the orangery are healthy and luxuriant : among these a bay tree, supposed to be the largest in the world, sprouting from the ground in several branches, is the most remarkable, being upwards of sixty feet in height, and forty-five in diameter: the arbutus, Portugal laurel, and holly, flourish in an extraordinary manner, and present a rich and luxuriant appearance.
The village of Margam occupies a pleasing and retired situation, enveloped in trees, a short distance from the turnpike road, at the lower verge of that noble forest of oak to which, in ancient times, it was indebted for its appellation. A building in the form of a semilunar battery, upon the summit of the mountain, commands a view of the woody concave singularly beautiful and striking ; and from the same point is also obtained a magnificent prospect of the sea and the bay of Swansea, with the distant hills of the counties of Somerset and Devon. Owing to the abundance of coal, several extensive works have been established in the parish the first were the copper-works of the English Copper Company, the oldest association of that kind in the kingdom, who, in the year 1800, erected here the first steam-engine used in the manufacture of copper in the principality : these works usually afford employment to about nine hundred persons, and the quantity of copper annually exported amounts to from twelve to fourteen hundred tons. Extensive ironworks have been erected, at a great expense, on the property of C. R. M. Talbot, Esq., by John Reynolds, Esq., which commenced operations in the early part of 1831, but are at present discontinued : they consist of two blast furnaces, capable of yielding one hundred and fifty tons of metal per week, to which the blast is communicated by the force of a water wheel, forty-five feet in diameter, with ten feet breast, and of ninety horse power, said to be the largest in Wales.
The water is brought to this wheel from the Avon by means of a magnificent stone aqueduct, primarily designed as a viaduct for a railway to convey coal to the works it is four hundred and fifty-six feet in length, and eighty feet high, and comprises four elliptical arches, each of seventy feet span, composed of a strong grey stone raised on the spot, the whole having been erected at an expense of upwards of £7000. This noble structure, from its romantic situation across a narrow precipitous valley among the mountains, forms one of the most striking and interesting features of the county; and well deserves the attention of the tourist. The tinworks of Robert Smith and Co. are situated upon the Avon, not far from the small town of Aberavon, and employ some hundred persons. Tram-roads have been formed from each of these works, as well as from coalpits on the banks of the river, to Tai-bach, where the goods are shipped.
A customary market is held at this place every Saturday, for the convenience of the workmen.
A part of the hamlet of Havod y porth, on the north-western confines of this parish, is now included within the new boundaries of the contributory borough of Aberavon ; and the hamlet of Kenvig Higher, and part of that of Trissient, are comprised within the contributory borough of Kenvig.
The living is a perpetual curacy, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Llandaf, endowed with £ 1600 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of C. R. M. Talbot, Esq. The church, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, stands on the site of the nave of the conventual edifice : having become. much dilapidated, it was restored by the munificene of the late Mr. Talbot, about the year 1810 : its western front is considered a fine specimen of the Norman style. In restoring the north aisle to its original width, several ancient and interesting monuments were discovered ; one without date, bearing a Latin inscription to the memory of an abbot, also the mutilated effigy of a crusader, in chain armour, which was placed within the entrance to the chapterhouse. In the side aisle are monuments to several members of the family of Mansel, upon which are recumbent figures, the men in armour, and the ladies in the dress of their own times, with their children, in a kneeling posture, about the sides of the tombs, having the names and marriages inscribed over their heads. On a plate in one of the pillars is an inscription in lively Latin rhyme, to the memory of a favourite huntsman, by Dr. Friend, the eminent classical physician, which has been translated into English verse by the Rev. Bruce Knight, A.M., chancellor of the diocese, and incumbent of this parish. At Tai-bach, at the western extremity of the parish, a chapel of ease was erected in 1827, to accommodate the increasing population : the principal contributors were, C. R. M. Talbot, Esq., the English Copper Company, John Reynolds, Esq., and Robert Smith and Co., assisted by a grant of £400 from the Incorporated Society for building and enlarging churches and chapels. A gallery has since been erected in this chapel, at an expense of £ 100: the whole contains between six and seven hundred sittings, of which upwards of five hundred are free.
There is a spacious school-room at Taibach, built at an expense of £400, by the English Copper Company, who allow one pound per week to a schoolmaster and his wife for instructing an unlimited number of children, of both sexes.
In the wood above the village of Margam stand the roofless walls of an old church or chapel ; and upon the top of the mountain is a Roman monument, inscribed
" BODVOC JACIT HIC FLVS CATOTI SIRNI PRONEPVS ETENAL VE DOMAV;"
and there is another near Eglwys Nunyd (or the Nuns' church, formerly a convent of nuns, now a farm-house, on the road from Margam to Kenvig), with the inscription, also in Roman capitals, "PVMPEIVS CARANTORIVS." Near the chapter-house are two ancient British crosses, standing upright, supposed to be of the fifth and sixth centuries; and there are also vestiges of an ancient intrenchment upon the hill called Pen y Castel.
The poor, including those of the hamlet of Kenvig Higher, are supported by an average annual expenditure amounting to £864."
The present amiable and intelligent Minister, The Rev. JOHN HUNT, LL.D., most kindly adds, " The Name of this Parish has for many Centuries been spelled Margam, a corruption of the ancient British Name Margan, or, Mawrgan, now pronounced Morgan, signifying The Great Head or Chief, in old English Grostest, and according to the oldest British a transposition of the word Can-Mor, a Name given to Malcolm the third King of Scotland. Previous to the Thirteenth Century, this Parish was called Pen Dar, meaning The Oak Summit or Mountain, a Name very expressive of the present Scenery. The Church being dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the Name also of the Parish has been fancifully derived from that circumstance, from Mair Gwm, or, Mary's Valley or Coombe. There are vetiges of a ruined Chapel in the Hamlet of Hafod y Porth: of one, in the Hamlet of Trisaint; and another, in that part of Margam Wood, called Craig y Cappel, on an eminence above the present Church. This is supposed to have been either the Parish Church in the time of the Abbey, to accommodate the Dwellers on the Mountains, or a Private Oratory appertaining to it. The latter appears to be the most probable conjecture. The Abbey of Pen Dar was founded by Robert Earl of Gloucester, A. D. 1147., and assumed the appellation of Margam from Mawrgan the Son of Caradoc, in the year 1200 or thereabout; who, with his Brothers Cadwallon and Meriedoc, confirmed by Charter their Father's Benefactions to the Abbey. A Mile from the Abbey was a Convent of Nuns, called Eglwys Nunyd, or, The Nun's Church, now a Farm House: Of this Foundation no record exists, but stories are still prevalent of subterraneous connections between the Houses. Previous to the Foundation of the Cistercian Abbey by Earl Robert, we can trace no memorials; And as the Earl was dispossessed of his English estates by King Stephen for his adherence to the claim of his half Sister the Empress Matilda, I conceive that, at his death at Gloucester on the 31st of Octber 1147, he gave his Sanction and Patronage to the establishment, and endowed it with this extensive Parish and other Property, being then part of vast Domains which he became possessed of by his Marriage with Maud the daughter and heiress of Robert Fitz-Hamon, the Norman Chieftain of the County of Glamorgan. By the same right he became Lord of the Castle and Township of Cynfig, which adjoins Margam, and was bequeathed to the Abbey with it; also of Caerdiff Castle, which he gave to his son William, as it appears that this Earl with his Countess Hawisca were taken prisoners, in the year 1158, by the Welsh in this Fortress. Toward the conclusion of this Century, Caradoc, by a nuncupative wi1l, bequeathed large possessions to the Abbey, which his Sons Mawrgan, Cadwallon, and Meriedoc, confirmed by Charter (sans date) addressed, " Ordini Cistercienci et Fratri Meilero et Fratribus de Pendar." But in a Grant of Lands, bestowed on the Abbey in 1349 by Sir John D'Abene, a Descendant in the Filth Generation from Caradoc, it is therein termed the Abbey of Margam. In the Seèond volume, p 37, of Mr. Stevens's Additions to Sir William Dugdale's Monasticon, he speaks of Pendar as a Cistercian Monastery in Wales, the Site of which no Writer or Monastical History has discovered; but states, that in the Charter of Margam granted by Mawrgan and his Brothers, this Monastery is denominated Pendar, and, therefore, identified it with Margam. I conjecture then, that the Abbey derived its appellation from the Name of the Person who granted the Charter, though Caradoc's Name had the better claim, and that when it was first appropriated to the Abbey, the Church and the Houses clustered round it. I am the more confirmed in this surmise, because the Inhabitants of this Parish, even now, when they speak of Margam, mean to denote what is comprehended in the Abbey Demesne, though it is the general Name of the whole Parish. To perpetuate our Names may be deemed a natural and laudable impulse of the Human mind, and such, perhaps, was Mawrgan's; and such seems to have been that of Hugo le Despenser, though with less success, who confirming to this Abbey the Grant of various Lands, given by his ancestors the de Clares, Earls of Gloucester and Hereford, addresses his Grant in two instances " Monachis de Clareval de foundacione Abbia de Margam." But, though Margam has supplanted the Name of Pendar, Clareval did not supplant Margam. The appellation of Pen Dar, i. e., The Oak Summit, is now totally forgotten, but is certainly very appropriate to the great feature of this large Parish, as the Wood which rises immediately from the Church and a line parallel with it, presents a magnificent object to the Country and a conspicuous Landmark to the Bristol Channel. It covers the breast of a Mountain 800 feet in height, more than a Mile in circumference, and in Grandeur is supposed to stand unrivalled. Upon a rough Valuation lately made of the Oak Timber which it contains, the Estimate was £60,000. This Wood was, in the ancient Grants, denominated Cryke Wood, " Totum illum Boscum vocatum Cryke Wodde," a corruption of Craig. The Farm now cultivated behind its Summit, retains the Name of Craig Wyllt, which means The Ridge of the Rock. At the Dissolution of the Abbey its Property, consisting of this Parish, the Contributary Borough and Township of Cynfig, with a great extent of Lands and Impropriate rights, was rated, 26 Hen. VIII., at £181..7..4 per annum, according to Dugdale, and £188..14..0 according to Speed. But, by Letters Patent under the Great Seal, dated the 5th of August, 35 Hen. VIII., it was valued by the Commissioners at £40..12..11, and sold to Sir Rice Mansel, Knt., for £642..9..8. And, on the 11th of December, 4 and 5 of Philip and Mary, a remaining part was sold to the said Sir Rice Mansel, for £223..15..3; valuation not recorded, perhaps comprehended in the first. Sir Rice Mansel, Knt., possessed a Castellated Mansion on the North West side of Oxwich Bay, in the Hundred of Gower, in this County. His Ancestor Sir Hugh Mansel married the Sister and Heiress of Sir John Penrice, Knt., of Penrice Castle, on the opposite side of the Bay, and by that connection acquired great property contiguous to his own. But the purchase of Margam inducing Sir Rice Mansel to reside there, as a richer Country and more commodious Situation, his Castles in Gower became dilapidated, but even now exhibit proud remains of ancient Grandeur. A modern House, built on an elegant but small scale, at the foot of the Castle of Penrice, by the present possessor of the Margam estate, is now and has been the Residence of the TALBOT Family (the Heirs by the maternal Line of the Mansels) for the last thirty years. The old Mansion at Margam, which was attached to and included part of the Abbey, was pulled down about the year 1780, but the Monastic remains, which consisted chiefly of Cloisters containing an Angle of a Quadrangle, were preserved. These conduct you to the Grand entrance of a Chapter House, a duodecagon fifty feet in diameter, which has ever been considered a most elegant Gothic structure. On the 17th of January 1799, this interesting Building (from neglect) became a ruin. The Stones which were inarched in the Copartments between the elliptic branching ribs of the Dome, by the percolation of the Rain first fell; two of the ribs soon followed ; this producing an unequal bearing on the Centre column, after some months, forced out the third stone from its base, when the whole Roof instantly collapsed and left the side Walls, presenting only the spring of the Arches and the lamentable reflection of its departed Beauty. Further particulars on this Subject may be known, on a reference to the First Volume, p. 151, of Giraldus Cambrensis, by that elegant Antiquary and Scholar, Sir RICHARD COLT HOARE, who has favoured the World with a Print of this Building, and many interesting circumstances respecting the Abbey. The Parish Church, which is the Western half of what existed in the Monastic times taken off at the Transept, is still a very spacious Edifice; but becoming ruinous, is now restoring in the stile of the Western front, a chaste and beautiful specimen of Norman Architecture. By the pious Munificence of Mr. TALBOT, the repairs will soon be completed. In restoring the North Aisle to its original width, the old Foundation was discovered, and many Gravestones with ornamented Crosses have been brought to light and preserved: but the most curious and perfect is a Stone 6 feet by 1 foot 8 inches in the middle width, inscribed to the Memory of an Abbot, sans date, with two lines of Latin verses, one on each side, in the Monkish jingle of the times: Amen, crossways at the foot, and a Crosier the full length of the stone very clearly engraven in the centre. The Lines are
" Constans et certus jacet hic Ryewallis opertus
Abbas Robertus, cujus Deus esto misertus."
This Abbot must have presided here subsequent to the year 1359, as to that date we have an account of their Names. The word Ryewallis, I conceived at first to be the ancient Welsh Name Rhiwallon latinized for the sake of the metre, Goronw ap Rhiwallon being a Witness to Mawrgan's Charter; but I have since conjectured, that as the Monks here were chiefly Normans, and as the Monastery of Ryevallis, in the County of York, was a branch of Clairvalle in Normandy, that this Robert Ryevallis was translated from that Foundation to the Abbot's Seat at Margam. In the Rerum Anglicarum Script. Vet. Tom. 1. Chronica de Mailros. p. 165-6, vide, Ryevallis. It is sufficiently evident from the Annales de Margam, published by Mr. Gale, commencing in the year 1147 and ending in 1232, that the Welsh, jealous of the intrusion of Foreigners and of their possession of the richest part of their Country, were continually despoiling the property of the Abbey, descending from the back settlements in their Mountains, driving off the Flocks and Herds, and murdering their domestics. This, I think, would not have been the case, if the Natives had been permitted to have become Members and participate in the good things of the Fraternity. These reasons lead me to suppose, that this Robert was a Norman from Ryevallis, and not a Rhiwallon a Native of this Country, for as far as we can trace the Abbots' Names they are not of ancient British origin or spelling. A Figure the size of life, we have also introduced to the World, but mutilated, the Legs being broken, and the Head lost. It represents a Knight in chain armour, curiously wrought, with a Shield attached, but no Device on it discoverable. The Thighs are crossed in rather a forced and unnatural attitude. I apprehend that this denotes the old Warrior to have been a Crusader. A Pillar at the East side of the Church-yard at the head of a Grave, now sunk in the earth so that its capital only appears, seems to afford a subject of curious research; for being opened down, many lines in an ancient but clear Character are to be traced, of which, a few years since, that correct Artist and Antiquary, Mr. JOHN CARTER, F. S. A., took a Fac-simile, but which he has not yet been able to decypher. There are two Roman Monuments in this Parish; one, near Eglwys Nunydd, on the High Road from Margam to Cynfig, inscribed on the edge of a square stone 5 feet high, and 1in diameter, in very legible Characters, Pompeius Carantorius: This Stone is not in its original situation. The other, on Margam Mountain, has the following Inscription, Bodovicus hic jacet, filius Catotis, Irni pronepos, eternali in Domau. - I must now make a transition to Times less ancient, and introduce an extract from a Manuscript in the Library of His Grace The Duke of BEAUFORT, at Badminton; which records a Tour of The Duke of Beaufort through South Wales, in the year 1684, and his reception by Sir Edward Mansel at Margam, on the 16th of August. To passover the usual Welcomes of Welsh Hospitality, it may not be uninteresting to relate that, amidst other entertainments with which His Grace was amused, a Diversion, at that time in request, and very characteristic of the active energy of the Cambrian, was exhibited, of Deer Hunting in the Park by Footmen, who ran down two Bucks, and led them alive to the Antecourt of the House to be viewed by the Keeper and Party, and if judged fit for the Table, to receive the fatal stroke from a Scymitar. A Summer House, built on an intrenched Hill, called Pen y Castell, commands a view of this extensive Park, and was a well selected spot for observing the sport. The Manuscript, from which this extract is taken, is so very particular and circumstantial in its Narrative, that, as it makes no mention of The Orangery since so celebrated, there is great reason to suppose, that so handsome and singular an appendage to a Gentleman's Seat, so far from being omitted, would have claimed peculiar Attention, and if it did exist at that time would have been recorded in these Annals. No note has been made by the Family of its first introduction, but, if we believe oral Tradition respecting it, and we have no other, it originated from a Shipwreck on this Coast. This Vessel was conveying from Portugal to Queen Mary, a present from a Dutch Merchant of Orange and Lemon Trees. Being stranded, the Plants were secured and cultivated in a House 150 feet in length, with stoves, and a handsome Pavilion in the Center. Whether they were not claimed, or by any means compensated for, we do not know, but Sir Thomas Mansell, Bart, who was Comptroller of the Household to Queen Anne, and afterwards, in 1711, raised to the Peerage, made an annual present of Fruit to Her Majesty. Whether this was to be considered a Quit Rent for the grant of former possession, or a grateful Compliment for the Honours conferred upon him, it is impossible to decide. The present Possessor, in the year 1787, built a new Green-house in a most superb style, 327 feet in length, with a handsome Doric front, and a Pavillion at each end, and, in the year 1800, a Conservatory, with Flues in the ground, 150 feet long. The Trees in the Green-house are all standards, planted in square boxes, and are remarkable for their round branching heads. They are in Number about One Hundred and ten, and many of them are 18 feet high. There are about Forty in the Conservatory, planted in the natural earth, and traced against a Trellis framing, where the Fruit abounds, and attains its native size and excellence. The Collection consists of the Seville, China Cedra, Pomegranate, Curled-leaved and Nutmeg Orange, Lemons, Burgamots, Citrons, and Shadocks. The Pleasure Ground, surrounding these Orangeries, is peculiarly favourable to the growth of Evergreens; amongst these a Bay Tree, or rather a Bay Bush, derived from one Root, but sprouting from the ground in various branches, is the most conspicuous, being 56 feet high, and 45 in diameter, and still vigorously growing. The Arbutes are innumerable, and with the Portugal Laurel and Holly, exhibit the most luxuriant Vegetation.-A Copper Mine, on the most extensive Plan of any in the Principality, established here by The English Copper Company, has been working about 35 years: it consumes daily seven Weighs or Seventy Tons of Coal, with which this Parish abounds, and by possessing a commodious Harbour at the influx of the Afon into the Severn, it commands a great Facility of Exportation. These Mines, worked by Level, promise an immense Source of Wealth, and if ever exhausted, the power of the Steam Engine will produce another supply from more valuable Veins in the Moors, which consist of 1000 acres at various times reclaimed from the Sea by the Abbey, and the subsequent Proprietors of their Property. Iron Ore is also in many parts discoverable, and may hereafter tempt an Adventurer. Limestone abounds in the Neighbourhood. The Calculation I have made on the average of Marriages, Christenings, and Burials annually for these last twenty years, is,
The Rateable Valuation of the Parish is £1643..6..8. Two Friendly Societies are established in this Parish; that of the Men consisting of 142, and that of the women of 81 Members. The Return made to Government, in 1804, of the Live and Dead Stock, which, as the Farmers conceived it to be rather a measure of future Finance than Indemnification against the hazards of Invasion, does certainly not exceed the real possession, then valued at £40,000."-According to the Diocesan Report, in 1809, the yearly value of this Benefice, arising from Stipend from the Margam Estate, was £40. "
[Last Updated : 4 Feb 2005 - Gareth Hicks]