Saturday, 27 September 2014

St David’s Church, Trostrey

Note: in case you think you have read this before, you probably have! I'm including this introduction on several related posts!! This blog is the fourth and last 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 over my next few posts and better still, if you like what you see, visit!

St David's Church Trostrey

I can’t believe I live less than two miles from this small church but had never visited before. Its location on top of a small secluded hillside just off the B4598 Usk to Chainbridge road (near Llancayo) is completely stunning, with far reaching views across the Usk Valley, to Trostrey Court,  the beautiful restored windmill at Llancayo and the hills of Wentwood rising in the far distance as a backdrop to the West. 

When Archdeacon William Coxe visited Trostrey on his tour of Monmouthshire in 1799 he described the church:
" its situation is extremely wild and romantic, it stands on a gentle rise, in the midst of a wood, remote from any habitation and seems rather the solitary chapel of a hermit, than the church of a cultivated district"

Kelly's 1891 Directory of Monmouthshire bears the following entry on the church:
"The church of St. David is a small but ancient building of stone, in the Gothic style, repaired and re-pewed in 1877; it has a chancel, nave, western porch, and a western turret containing 2 bells: there are sittings for 100 persons. The register of Baptisms dates from the year 1723; Marriages and Burials, 1731. The living is a rectory, yearly value £90, in the gift of the Rev. Sir John Henry Fludyer Bart, M.A.rector of Ayston, Rutland, and held since 1883 by the Rev. Adam Rowland; the Rev. Lewis Lewis L.D. of St. David's College, Lampeter, who resides at Lancayo, Gwehellog, Usk, is curate in charge, and also of Bettws-Newydd. Parish Clerk: Charles Hughes. The children of this parish attend the school at Bettws-Newydd, for the the joint parishes of Bettws-Newydd, Trostry & Kemeys-Commander."
The late Geoffrey Mein, a well known local amateur historian and archaeologist in this area in the 1980s,  started the Trostrey Excavation Group to help him in his task of researching the history of Trostrey castle and deserted village. Before that, he excavated with some well-known archaeologists of the time, but his main passion became the excavations he undertook  on land alongside Trostrey Church. Geoff discovered that this little hilltop at Trostrey, overlooking the river Usk had been used as a village site by the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman and medieval to post medieval peoples.

During his excavations at Trostrey, Geoff Mein also researched the foundations of St David's church. He writes,  in an article published in the journal of the Gwent Local Histiory Council:

"The church now standing at the top of the slope above the site of the castle, but no longer in the midst of Coxe's wood, is almost certainly the second place of worship on that site, while the building which we now see has undergone considerable change over the centuries, including a comprehensive rebuilding since Coxe's visit. The first mention of any religious settlement in the vicinity appears in the Charter of the Benedictine Priory of Usk which refers to 'the hermitage of Trostrey', and the wording used can be interpreted as indicating that it was somehow associated with, perhaps under the supervision of, a Brother Elembert of Llangua. This charter was the grant of lands and other rights by Richard "Strongbow" de Clare, then Lord of Chepstow and Usk, which constituted the founding deed of the Benedictine nunnery of Usk. It has been dated by myself to some time between 1154 and 1170 and by David Crouch to the last six years of Strongbow's life from 1170 onwards (Crouch 1994). However this latter suggestion finds less favour with me than one based on the research by Jennifer Ward which suggests that the most likely date for the founding of the Priory and with it of the town of Usk would be the decade before 1165 (Ward 1981). The relevant portions of the charter, as translated and published by me some years ago (Mein 1986., 119), including my interpolations, reads as follows;- "Greetings to all my friends and followers French, English and Welsh. You should know that I have granted to the nuns serving the Church of St Mary the tithes of my own lands in the town of Usk, those of the town and of the entire parish and of the money rents of the said town; every ninth fish from my fisheries in the Usk; and two carucates of land in the said town; and twenty seven acres of land at Trostrey near the hermitage in exchange" (or in substitution?) "for the tithe on the 100 acres of land" (Where? Perhaps also at Trostrey?) "which I gave to Brother Elembert of the monastery ofLIangua; and thirty seven acres of land"

Geoff Mein discovered that the foundations of the church and the surrounding land are truly ancient and have real historical significance in this area. At the time of writing this article planning permission has just been obtained to convert the ruined 17th Century farm buildings on the site of Geoff Mein's excavations adjacent to the church into three holiday cottages.

In contrast to the old church in the photo below in the distance you can see the large hi tec, modern day automated dairy unit at Trostrey Court, which has robotic milking for its herd of British Holstein cows.

Beautiful wildflowers, including cowslips abound in the churchyard at St David's!

There's a perfect spot for a  picnic with a glorious view across to Wentwood over the Usk Valley with Llancayo windmill standing proud, on the open patch of ground near St David's church  -there is even a nice bench to sit on!

There is another lovely seat with a view in the churchyard itself.

The church was locked on the day of our visit but there is a notice in the porch with nos to call to gain entry.
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