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St Nicholas's Church, Trellech (Trelleck), Monmouthshire

Denomination: Anglican

Dedication: St Nicholas

Built: early 14th century with 15th, 16th, and 17th century additions.
Photography: Paul Berndt
Date: 24 May 2008
Camera: Nikon D300 compact digital

Photography: John Ball
Date: 6 April 1998
Camera: Agfa ePhoto307 digital

The village of Trellech is situated between Monmouth and Chepstow near the county border between Monmouthshire (Wales) and Gloucestershire (England). Trelech was the birthplace of Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), possibly the greatest British philosopher of the 20th century.

Note 1. St Nicholas's Church is one of the many in the county which appears too large for the community it serves**. The present building dates from the fourteenth century and has an impressive 160 foot (55 metre) spire rising above an embattled tower.
[Source: Shire County Guide 15 – Gwent, by Anna Tucker, Shire Publications, Aylesbury, 1987; ISBN 0-85263-861-2]
** In the 13th century, Trellech was larger than Newport or Chepstow. At that time, the main route between Monmouth and Chepstow ran via Trellech. Trelech was largely destroyed in 1291 during a raid following a dispute over alleged deer poaching. In 1340 and again in 1350, the residents of Trellech were the victims of the Black Death, and early in the 1400s, the ravages of Owain Glyndwr and his men further reduced the prosperity and the importance of the village.
[Source: St Nicholas's Church, Trelech: A Short History, unattributed A4 leaflet obtained inside the church in 1998]

Note 2. In 1986, the artist Ken Haynes wrote: "At the post office, the road is very sharp and narrow, but it is at this point that we glimpse the magnificent church of St Nicholas, which is very large for the size of the village, but undoubtedly one of the nicest in the country. Some say the church dates from the thirteenth century, others from the fifteenth. It has a massive battlemented tower with a tall spire."
[Source: A Gwent Sketch Book, by Ken Haynes, Starling Press, Risca, 1986; ISBN 0-9511908-0-6]

St Nicholas's Church, Trelech
Sketch by Ken Haynes, 1985

Note 3. The present building is well over 600 years old. The date of the Early English Gothic stomework is between 1225 and 1272 and that of the decorated Gothic up to 1350. When the weathercock was removed from the spire for regilding in 1972, it was found to have been made in Ross-on-Wye in 1792, from which it may be assumed that the spire was rebuilt about that time. At some date prior to 1792 the original spire fell, damaging the roof of the nave. A contemporary reference attributes this to lightning and storms..
[Source: St Nicholas's Church, Trellech: A Short History, unattributed A4 leaflet obtained inside the church in 1998]

St Nicholas's Church, Trelech
Photography, Paul Berndt 2008
Above: St Nicholas's Church, viewed from the northeast.

St Nicholas's Church, Trelech
Photography by John Ball, 1998

Note 4. Most of the existing church was erected after the Welsh burnt the village in 1295. There are splendid five-bay arcades with octagonal piers, and clerestory windows above. The aisles embrace the west tower although the latter has an arch towards the nave only. The chancel has been rebuilt but retains a re-set late 13th century north window and a doorway of circa 1200.
[Source: The Old Parish Churches of Gwent, Glamorgan & Gower, by Mike Salter, Folly Publications, Malvern, 1991; ISBN 1-871731-08-9]

Note 5. Inside, the fine Early English nave is lit by trefoil lancets and larger windows dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The church contains some interesting woodwork. The panelled pulpit dated from 1640 was once part of a three-decker pulpit and the oak sanctuary rails are formed of barley-sugar twists. The church also houses the carved arms of Charles II, presented in 1683 because the village supported the Royalist cause during the Commonwealth period.
[Source: Shire County Guide 15 – Gwent, by Anna Tucker, Shire Publications, Aylesbury, 1987; ISBN 0-85263-861-2]

St Nicholas's Church, Trelech
Photography by Paul Berndt, 2008

Right: St Nicholas's Church, viewed from the east.

Below: The Sun-dial.
St Nicholas's Church, Trelech
Sketch by Norman Keene

Note 6.   The Sun-dial
The sun-dial now stands inside the church at the west end of the south aisle. Until it was recently removed to the church, it stood in the garden belonging to the school. It was erected by Magdalen, lady Probert, the widow of Sir George Probert in the year 1689 and commemorates the three chief objects of note in the town—Twyn Terrett, the Three Stones,and the Virtuous Well. The upper block has the hours marked on each face. The lower block has (on the panel shown above) a representation of the three stones, with the words MAJOR SAXIA (greater in regard to the stones) and HIC FUIT VICTOR HARALDUS (here Harold was the conqueror), alluding to a victory king Harold is supposed to have won here, and of which the stones were (erroneously) considered the memorial. The stones are inscribed 8, 10, 14, signifying their height in feet.
[Adapted from A History of Monmouthshire Vol II, Part II 'The Hundred of Trelech', by Joseph Bradney, Mitchell, Hughes and Clarke, London, 1913]

St Nicholas's Church, Trelech
Photography by John Ball, 1998

Left: Lychgate at south entrance to St Nicholas's Churchyard.

Study the Pilgrim's Guide to St Nicholas's Church leaflet, published by Penallt and Trellech Missions Group, 2006.

Note 7.   The Three Stones of Trellech
The name Trellech is thought by some to derive from the Welsh tri=three, and llech=flat stone, referring to the three tall stones set in a twelve metre alignment in a field close to the Chepstow road just south of the village.
In 1944, Monmouthshire historian and artist Fred Hando wrote: "The Three Stones which give the name to Trellech—called Harold's Stones by some writers—were raised long centuries before Harold, last of the Saxon kings, came to Gwent. Ten to fifteen feet high, these monoliths of 'pudding-stone' slope in different directions, and give rise to different explanations. Some claim they formed part of a stone circle, but such a circle would dwarf Avebury. Others describe them as part of an avenue, but it is improbable that three stones only would survive. My view, taken after observations with a compass, is that the stones, like others in our county, gave seasonal information to the wise men in neolithic times, who passed on the information to the tillers of the soil.
A legend told in Abergavenny connects these stones with the famous Jack o' Kent [a legendary giant]. In one of his many contests with the Devil Jack leaped from the Sugar Loaf to the summit of the Skirrid [two mountains near Abergavenny] where his heel-mark may still be seen. The Devil pooh-poohed this feat, whereupon Jack hurled three huge stones over a dozen miles of country 'to a little city which was ever afterwards called The City of the Stones.
Now if Jack chose dawn on Midwinter Day for his exploit the direction of his aim would be in the eye of the rising sun, and that, as every Welshman knows, is a matter of ultimate importance."
[Source: The Pleasant Land of Gwent, by Fred Hando, R. H. Johns Ltd., Newport, 1944]

Below: The Three Stones of Trellech (situated about 400 metres SSW of the church), sketched by Fred Hando
St Nicholas's Church, Trelech
Visit the Stone-Circles (UK) website for further infomation about Harold's Stones.

Below: Interactive Google Map of Trellech, centred on St Nicholas's Church and its burial yard.
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