The late Ivor Griffiths recalls Llandeilo Talybont Church - known locally to the people of Bont and Hendy as being 'The Old Church on the Marsh'.
From the time I was old enough to wander beyond the bounds of my village of Hendy, my feet always took me towards the marsh. I was fascinated with the marsh and seldom looked in any other direction.
On the marsh there were strange mounds called Banc-yr-Eithin, Banc-y-Rhyfel and Castell Ddu. The one place that left me in awe was the white washed old church that was known affectionately for years by the people of Bont and Hendy as 'The Old Church on the Marsh'. I found out the correct name of the old church was Llandeilo Talybont when my father took me to attend a service there on a last Sunday in August in the 1920's. This was the one and only occasion that I was inside the church, and I can vaguely remember the almost clinical whiteness of the interior walls in sharp contrast to the dark beams of the roof and high-sided pews.
How had the church been built on a place that the residents of Pontarddulais and Hendy considered to be fairly inaccessible? Well, it has was not always so. During the Roman occupation of Britain there was regular traffic between the Roman fort in Loughor and the Roman settlement in Carmarthen, the journey taking the Roman legions past the place where the River Loughor was crossed, and where it is believed that a pagan temple once stood. From this crossing the journey was continued through Hendy and on to Llannon and Carmarthen. Although this is pure conjecture, it is a known fact that in the Age of the Saints, many Christian churches were raised on the sites of ancient pagan temples, and it is reasonable to assume that this was the case with the church of Llandeilo Talybont, dedicated to St. Teilo, the name Talybont being added because of the river crossing nearby and to distinguish it from the church at Llandeilo Fawr.
The earliest written record of Llandeilo Talybont was during a dispute about boundaries between the Bishopric of Glamorgan and that of St. David's. Urban, Bishop of Glamorgan (1107 - 1134) claimed several parishes far across the Loughor river as being part of his diocese, stating that they had been given to Dyfrig and Teilo by Meuric ap Tewdrig. This claim was strongly contested by Bernard, Bishop of St. David's (1115 - 1148). So Urban took his case to Rome to appeal to Pope Calixtus the Second, and to his successor Honorius the Second. No decision was made, and Gower, including Llandeilo Talybont, remained in the Diocese of St. David's.
Llandeilo Talybont was again mentioned in the 'Valor Ecclesiasicuus', a report made in 1535 for King Henry VIII , giving an account of the financial resources of all religious houses in the kingdom as well as who were their patrons, and who were their priests. Llandeilo Talybont was valued at £3: 14: 6 a year, and the priest was David Jones. The living as considered to be below average.
The wall paintings on the interior walls of the church came to light shortly before the removal of the church to St. Fagans, were probably covered with lime wash by puritans during the Cromwellian period. These ancient murals reappeared when exposure to the weather due to the theft of the roof slates caused the lime to flake away revealing the wall-paintings underneath.
Of all the clerics that served in the ancient church, the longest serving and the most notable was the Rev. Edmund Nash Leigh, who served as curate in the parish of Llanedi, and also ministered at Llandeilo Talybont for over 50 years. Edmund was ordained by the Bishop of St. David's in 1760. He was apparently a remarkable man, 'an example to the world and an ornament to the church'.
In the first half of the 19th century, the need for a church in a more convenient place became obvious, and one August 29th, 1850, Howell Gwynne of Baglan Hall laid the foundation stone of the new St. Teilo. It was consecrated by Connop Thirwall, Bishop of St. David's on October 31st, 1851, and formally opened in January 1852. This was the beginning of the decline of 'The Old Church on the Marsh'.
This article was originally published in the Pontarddulais, Hendy and District Carnival Programme 1997. We wish to thank Leighton Griffiths and his family for allowing us to republish it. Anyone wishing any further information on the late Mr Ivor Griffiths' works can contact Leighton Griffiths on firstname.lastname@example.org