Thursday, 18 August 2016

Trellech - a lost city and its church

   This is the spelling most commonly adopted from over 20 variants recorded between 1223 and 1677. There is also disagreement over the meaning of the name, some people taking it to mean "3 stones" and some "town of the stones."  It is 800 feet above sea level and there is an old saying: "Trellech is 2 coats colder than Monmouth."
   What is now a small village was once a large town with, by 1288, 388 burgage plots, making it bigger than Chepstow or Cardiff. It was probably planned by the de Clare family, as an intrusively English settlement in a Welsh area and a speculative venture to exploit local supplies of iron ore from the Forest of Dean for armoury. It had borough status in the Middle Ages with its own mayor, charter and town seal the last of which was found by diligent school children.
    It then suffered set-backs from the plagues of 1348 and 1361-2 as well as from Owain Glyndwr's men in the early 15th century. It had been burned in the 13th century in a raid following a dispute over alleged deer poaching. Being upland and some distance from river transport did not help its economy although its sheep rearing was important. I have been told that there was a grange here belonging to Tintern Abbey.
    There are many local customs associated with the town: Easter was the time for preparing the fields symbolically by a ritual known as "walking the wheat" when farmers and their families went up and down fields of young crops, each carrying a small cake and cider. They would eat a bit, bury a bit and throw a bit into the air, repeating a verse as they did so. On Good Friday small loaves were baked to be kept for a year unless needed in ground form for illness. There was also the custom of roping the bride and groom after a wedding ceremony: boys and girls blocked their way out from the church with a rope which was withdrawn only when the newly married man threw coins for them (he would come prepared with a pocketful of pennies, threepenny bits and sixpences!). Other observances took place at St. Anne's Well, the Virtuous Well.

St. Nicholas' Church

    This interesting church is right by the bus stop and has, in the graveyard, this 15th century Preaching Cross, with its chamfered steps, slender octagonal shaft and small cross on top. The way the shaft suddenly tapers suggests that there may have been a middle section, now missing. It is well over 600 years old.
  The church itself is constructed in local Old Red Sandstone and is early 14th century, having been rebuilt after a fire in 1296. (There was probably a wooden church here as early as the 7th or 8th century). The steeple is of squared masonry and the door has a splendid four-light window over it. The octagonal spire rises from behind a battlemented parapet and, inside, the tower arch is impressively high and pointed, the altar rails being 17th century. The nave is Early English. You can also see, below a window, the Royal Coat of Arms of Charles II dated 1683.
   For many visitors, the most intriguing item is the sundial set up in 1689 by Lady Magdalen Probert and moved inside - although a replica stands in a nearby field.

  Latin inscriptions may be made out, celebrating the town's landmarks:
MAGNA MOLE (Great in its Mound - a reference to the Norman motte)
MAIOR SAXIS (Greater in its Stones - Harold's Stones)
MAXIMA FONTE (Greatest in its Well - St. Anne's Well)
   You can also read: "O QUOT HIC SEPULTI" (Oh how many are buried here!) and
"HIC FUIT VICTOR HARALDUS" (Here Harold was victorious) and the attribution to Lady Probert.
   Skeletons were found under the floor of the church, probably hastily buried during the Great Plagues of the 14th century.
   (I have written about these 3 sites in my next blog post along with some information about the on-going archaeological dig).

Your Visit
   You may want to stop off at the 16th century Lion Inn for refreshments before going to see the other ancient places of interest.
 Trellech is on the no 65 bus route between Chepstow with its impressive castle and Monmouth, the birthplace of King Henry V.  Lots more CAKE opportunities in both places.

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