Monday, 25 August 2014

All Saint’s Church, Kemeys Commander

Note: in case you think you have read this before, it's because I'm including this introduction on all of these related posts!! This blog is the third of a series of four, inspired on a warm Easter Bank Holiday Monday this April, when we combined a leisurely riverside picnic at Pant-y-Goitre with a mini churches tour. The tour was ‘mini’ in distance (the churches are all within a radius of 2-3 miles) and number, three, but also ‘mini’ in the size of the tiny country churches visited. I have said it before when writing, I’m not someone who goes to church very regularly, or feels that you have to be inside a designated building to demonstrate your moral values or experience a sense of spirituality. However, I do think there is something very special about the small country churches of Monmouthshire, there are so many of these beautiful, ancient buildings located in stunning scenery. It’s a sad fact that many churches today are kept locked for fear of theft or vandalism, but in most, key holder details are displayed so you can contact them to gain access outside service times. Visiting them at any time of the year is a delight, but in spring with fresh leaves unfurling, blossom, wildflowers and nesting birds, bees and butterflies abounding in their graveyards and surrounding fields and hedgerows, I think they are extra special, peaceful places for quiet contemplation both inside and out, but judge for yourself by reading these posts and better still, if you like what you read and see, visit! It's well worth it!

All Saint's Church, Kemeys Commander



All Saints is the smallest and oldest of the three churches visited on our mini tour, located at the hamlet of Kemys Commander off the B4598 road between Usk and Chainbridge.

The origins of Kemeys Commander's unusual name are fascinating, stemming from the fact that the patronage of the church was once held by the Knights Templar and was a 'commandery' or 'preceptory' as their houses were called. By the 17th century the successors of the Knights Templar, the Knights Hospitaller, drew £2 13s. 4d. per annum from demesne lands in this parish.
In 1799 Archdeacon William Coxe rode through Kemeys Commander during his Historical Tour in Monmouthshire (published 1801) and wrote "We mounted our horses and rode through the thickets, across the fields to Kemeys Commander, a small village which according to the pedigree of the Kemeys family is supposed to derive its name from Edward Kemeys, who was commander of the army under Hamlet, so of Dru, duc de Baladun, at the conquest of Upper Gwent. It is however more probable that it was denominated Kemeys Commander because it was a commandery of the knights templars, to whom, according to Bacon, the patronage of the church belonged. The church is a gothic building of small  dimensions, simple form, with a low belfry."

The name Kemeys is derived from the Welsh 'cemais' meaning 'bend in the river', in this case the River Usk, with the hamlet located near the river at the centre of a large bend.


All Saint's Church is a simple building with some features dating back to the 13th Century. Kelly's Directory of Monmouthshire 1901 describes Kemeys Commander as "a small parish, on the river Usk, 1 mile south-west from Nantyderry station on the Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford section of the Great Western railway, and 3 miles north-west-by-north from Usk, in the Southern division of the county, hundred and union of Pontypool, petty sessional division and county court district of Usk, rural deanery of Raglan, archdeaconry of Monmouth and diocese of Llandaff.

The church of All Saints is an ancient building of stone, in the 14th century style of architecture, consisting of a chancel separated from the nave by a screen, with stone altar, western porch and a western turret containing 2 bells. There are 60 sittings. The register dates from the year 1813 only.

The living is a perpetual curacy, net yearly income. £53, including about 40 acres of glebe, in the gift of Thomas Phillips Price esq. and held since 1898 by the Rev, Herbert Sheppard M.A. of Clare College, Cambridge, who is also rector of Bettwys-Newydd with Trostrey, and resides at Bettwys-Newydd.

Thomas Phillips Price, esq. of Marks Hall, Kelvedon, who is lord of the manor, and A. Williams Esq. of Aberdare, are the principal landowners. The soil is gravelly; subsoil, red gravel. The chief crops are wheat, barley, oats, turnips and mangolds. The area is 493 acres of land and 15 of water, rateable value, £568, & the population in 1891 was 61. Parish Clerk, Richard Poole.

Letters through Usk arrive at 9 a.m. Nearest post office at Bettwys-Newvdd; box cleared at 4.30p.m. Usk is the nearest money order & telegraph office, 3 miles distant.

The children of this parish attend the National school at Bettws-Newydd for the united parishes of Bettws-Newydd, Kemeys-Commander & Trostrey."

The  simple interior of the tiny church
On the day of our visit a huge field of a modern day crop, electric yellow flowered, oil seed rape (the compressed seeds provide a source of oil for cooking and bio-fuel) provided a bright and extremely striking contrast, to the soft, grey hues of the tiny ancient, stone church and the dark green of the yew tree on the border of the church yard.

The dark green of the yew tree framing the acid yellow of the field of rape
Archdeacon Coxe described an unusual yew tree on his visit in 1799 "In the churchyard is a singular phenomenon, within a hollow yew tree fifteen feet in girth, is inclosed an oak,  not less than seven feet in circumference; its branches rise to a considerable height, and overshadow the parent trunk, forming a singular combination of foliage". The yew tree standing in the church yard today has foliage mingled with ivy rather than oak.

Only the steps and base remain of the medieval stone cross



Visiting the church

On the day of our visit the church was open






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