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22 September 2014
Neath Antiquarian Lectures

Neath Abbey's Estates

Jeff Griffiths reporting

The Neath Antiquarian Society started its new lecture programme last Monday when Dr Rhianydd Biebrach delivered a splendid talk on Neath Abbey and its estates. It was enlightening to learn just how many Abbey granges (farmsteads) there were over and above those well known like Cwrt Cefn Saeson, Cwrt Herbert, Cwrt Rhydhir (Longford) and Cwrt Sart. The least known of Neath’s granges were those at the Rhyddings (Cadoxton/ Bryncoch), Crynant, Blaendulais, Aberpergwm, and Rheola. Not all were local to Neath. At the time of its suppression in 1539 this Cistercian monastery owned an extensive estate comprising lands throughout Glamorgan, Gower, and in Somerset, and had the income from property in Bristol and several towns in south-east Wales. Their contribution to the local economy included sheep farming, fisheries and coal-mining.
A particularly interesting example of a local grange with a specialist role was Cwrt-y-Clafdy that was located at The Highlands in Skewen. This operated as an infirmary but probably not for the monks, who would have had their own infirmary in the Abbey itself, but for those known 'corrodians', in essence pensioners who were looked after in their old age by the monasteries. They were usually well-to-do elderly lay people who paid for their accommodation and food usually by donating land to an abbey. So, in Cwrt-y-Clafdy one could say we had the medieval equivalent of an old people's nursing home.

Neath Abbey's Monknash grange in the Vale of Glamorgan is said to be the finest remaining example of a former monastic grange in Wales. This extensive, 840 acre site contains the remains of a huge barn and a large dovecote (see photos). Dovecotes played an important role as they contributed eggs and squabs to the monastic diet which was especially valuable in the winter months.

  Dovecote Monkash   image by Jeff Griffiths


  Tithe Barn Gable End, Monknash   image by Jeff Griffiths

Another point of interest that arose from this lecture was that the medieval Church St Teilo's, which once stood at Llandeilo Tal-y-Bont but has now been re-erected at the National Museum of Wales at St Fagan's, was once a church under the control of Neath Abbey.

The new Chairman, Olive Newton OBE, was congratulated in the vote of thanks for having organised four talks of direct relevance to Neath in the Antiquarians' 2014 -2015 lecture programme. At the next meeting on 20th October Jonathan Skidmore will talk on Neath and the Great War.
Jeff Griffiths



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