Ewenny Priory, Vale of Glamorgan


★★

Presbytery
Arched doorway
Gatehouse

Parish church with a partly ruined fortified exterior, occupying the nave of a 12th century abbey; many original Norman features
Management
Entry
Free
Location
Along Abbey Road, northeast of Ewenny on the B4524
Photo Tour (20 images)
Ewenny Priory is a relatively little visited site in Vale of Glamorgan, set in a countryside location beside the Ewenny River, a few miles south of Bridgend. Originally a Benedictine monastery, the place was established in 1141, using a church constructed in 1126, and closed in 1536 following Henry VIII's Suppression of the Monasteries, after which most of the buildings were used for residential or agricultural purposes. Although small compared to some other abbeys of this period, the priory is notable for its fortified defences; the church and all the outbuildings were enclosed by castle-like walls with large towers at intervals, reflecting the unstable conditions that prevailed in this part of south Wales in the 12th century; the land hereabouts was held by the English crown but was subject to frequent raids by Welsh insurgents in the north.

Five towers still stand, together with substantial sections of the walls, though all are privately owned, and the only part which may be viewed is a short stretch adjoining the approach road. The one fully accessible building is the church, which is still in use, and retains many original Norman features, including windows, columns, vaulting and carvings. The most unaltered sections are the presbytery, the choir and the south transept (the north transept is missing), and these are managed by Cadw, while the nave is used as the parish church, and hence is owned by the Diocese of Llandaff. There are several other surviving masonry sections from the priory incorporated into more recent buildings, and also a large, relatively modern manor house. The whole site is regarded as amongst the best preserved fortified religious settlements in Europe.



Approach


The approach to Ewenny Priory is along Abbey Road, forking off the B4524 in the village of Ewenny. This reaches a parking place after 0.6 miles, then ends just after, at the gates to a farm. The Ewenny River flows past to the north, beside a line of trees. On the other side is a tall section of the fortified wall, between a circular tower at the northwest corner and a larger, square tower to the east - this is a gatehouse (the North Gate), mostly intact, now acting as an entrance to the secluded, private garden within, a space available for wedding receptions. On the other side of the gatehouse is a more recent building (a barn, probably 16th century) and then the ruins of another square tower, open to the public. The other walls, and the remaining towers, are on private land so are not publicly viewable, as are the west, south and east sides of the church. Only the north side of this can be inspected, along the short path from the road, which runs alongside the graveyard to the entrance, via a 16th century porch that opens to the nave. To one side are wall remnants from the north transept and two adjoining chapels, all removed in the early 19th century after they became ruined.



The Church


The nave, now serving as the parish church, is lined by a row of thick columns on the north side, separating it from the aisle, while the south side is formed of a continuous wall from floor to roof. The west end of the nave is dimly lit by a single, arched, stained glass window, of recent construction, and dedicated to Ethel Lucie Turbervill (died 1929; wife of one of the recent owners), while the east end has a modern altar in front of a glass pulpitum screen. Beyond this are the crossing, or choir, and the south transept, this latter containing a fine collection of stone carvings, some from the Celtic era, plus medieval floor tiles and three tombs - oldest is that of the founder of the priory, Maurice de Londres (died 1149). The others are for William de Londres, son of Maurice, and Hawise de Londres, a granddaughter. The south transept is illuminated by three arched windows on the south side, a rectangular window to the east, and a row of seven openings to the west, connecting with the nave. The easternmost section of the church, the presbytery, is the least altered part, largely unchanged since its construction in the 12th century. It consists of three vaulted bays, with an ancient altar at far side, beneath three aged windows. Parts of the walls are adorned with faded paintings, also from the 12th century, while in other areas are memorials to the Turbervill family. The presbytery is separated from the choir by a carved wood screen, partly from the 14th century.