Tuesday, June 16, 2009
The Church of St Mary Magdalene in the Apple Trees at Whitson -Goldcliff Priory Church
Whitson –Church of St Mary Magdalene
In the Autumn of last year, I visited some of the churches which had been given to Goldcliff Priory and paid their tithes there. It is important to note, that obviously as the Norman overlords were French, that they invited the monks from some of their own foundations in France to found the priories in England and Wales (as far as they had made inroads into Wales) We know Gwent had fallen to Harold shortly before the conquest, so presumably they took this land fairly quickly.
Locating Whitson Church
I visited Whitson after visiting the Goldcliff site. Somewhat difficult to find, you need to go down the small road signposted ‘Whitson’ and you will see the Church, also dedicated to St Mary Magdalene- set back behind an orchard to the left. You can only access the site now through this orchard where there is a right of way. Locals told me the orchard was on church land, but since the church was closed and disused and in a shocking sense of repair (I have contacted ‘Friends of Friendless Churches’) the next door neighbour has taken the land for himself. I have no idea, but even walking through the field and taking a few pictures for this blog, he kept up a tirade of abuse, which only our persistence in wanting to take photos pushed us on. In the graveyard were a few people who were tending the grave of their departed and told us to take no notice (although on the way back he even accused my son of stealing and apple. He demanded my son empty his pocket, which he did-and showed him-his camera! Obviously some people have problems.
The Thimble Tower was meant to correct the seaward sway of the Tower
We walked around the church and looked at all the interesting features. The church was constructed of a nave and a chancel arch in very early style. Whitson has been called variously Widson, Wytteston,Wistson and Whitson . Whison formed part of the Manor of Whitson, whose tithes were owed to Goldcliff. It seems as you looked at the building it seemed to be seaward leaning and so the famour ‘thimble tower’ was placed there to rectify the angle and great baulks of red sandstone form the quoins of the tower. There was an interesting scratch dial in the porch . Fred Hando says:’Here again there was further evidence that the builders of Whitson had no passion for symmetry, for the right hand column of the inner archway stands on a stone base, while the left hand column, without a base, is three inches shorter’.
With a great deal of sadness , over the left hand column the beautifully carved consecration cross is carved. Knowing this church was consecrated by holy monks in early years of the middle ages (possibly with a llan here before) it is sad to have seen it, stripped out by Henry VIII and Cromwell and then left to a long slow demise.
A sharply pointed chancel arch separated the nave from the chancel and there is a big bold looking font which is definitely Norman and the corner chalice was dated 1575 when the vicar was the evocatively named Dafydd ap Gwilym.
The bell in the tower was a later addition in 1758 , presumably in Georgian times and the inscription ‘God bless our King and Kingdom and send us peace. W and E 1758’ and the smaller bell was of the same date and says ‘OBEDITE’.
Hando adds a few further particulars of the monuments on the walls put there after the Reformation as memorials to the Squires of Whitson court, who are buried in the tumulus-like vault in the graveyard.
Without being able now to get into the church, my son did take some pictures through the windows of a descending staircase. The relatives in the graveyard were filled with deep sadness at the closure of the church, and in order for it to be taken on by one of the church charities to be kept open, there has to be someone locally who will take charge of the local end and keep the church open for visits and apply for lottery funding and so forth, although I understand the present government is giving all lottery money to the London Olympics for some time.
Mary ‘parcels of land’ owned by Goldcliff were given to Eton College (Henry VIII’s foundations) to whom the tithes would now be paid .It is of interest that Eton gave £2 per year to the village school until the last century (1954) and local children have to travel to nearby schools.
Fred Hando’s accountca 1945 to 1950 (Extract)
Fred Hando was one of the most loved sons of Gwent whose books about Monmouthshire were sent to many of the soldiers serving in the Second World War, in the times when people were still interested in the history of where they lived , its countryside and streams. This is a short account from around the late 1940s to 1950.
It was on an October night that I addressed the Merry Wives of Whitson. I spoke for forty minutes. They told me about Whitson Village. Dewy eyed and with moon kissed innocence , they thrilled me with sagas of spooks in the post office, the pull of the sea on the church tower, of their complete teetotalism(!), of how the absence of inns in the village rendered them proof against legends.
They spoke with affection about their kind vicar who, they assured me, would ring and continue to ring his church bell until a Mrs T appeared.
They denied the waters of the Monk’s Ditch were laced with rum. They had a wondrous story of the Wreck of the Sturgeon.
So I went down to Whitson. I passed places with heavenly names like Somerton, (Summer Town) Spytty (Ysbyty-Hospital) Greenmeadow, Upper Lake, Bryngwyn and Pye Corner(where my Uncle Charles Tritton used to preach)Truelove Farm and Cold Harbour.
Then I drove along Broadstreet Common to New House , where they have a low level and high level reens . (Eda reen (rhyn) :irrigation streams )
I paused to admire this lovely house with its golden chestnut trees shading the two bridges . The High level reen is the Monk’s Ditch, that amazing feat of water engineering which has provided for six centuries a watercourse which runs southwards at an average height of eight feet above the level of the moors. An the embankments are of sand!
The other reens belong to a complicated system of -155 miles of reens and 510 miles of ditches-which aims to place the Netherwent moors among the best pastureland in our islands.
My route now lay on the flat road in the eye of the morning sun. The village consists of a long line of cottages placed prettily a field away from the road.
That field used to be the village common , but now is split into strips, along which the postman has to walk to the little bridges which lead across the reens to the cottages.
I called at the vicarage and spent an absorbing hour working through the church records. ……Since 1832 the Vicars of Whitson have also been vicars of Goldcliff.