St Martin's Church

St Martin's Church was known as 'the cathedral' to the surrounding area. It is a typical Norman Cruciform structure assuming the perpendicular French style. Every window has stained glass, and many of them are memorials.

The fine rood screen near the entrance was erected in the late 19th century by the Weinholt family of Island House (formerly of Holland), and the lychgate was commissioned by Ellen Weinholt to commemorate her sister Mary who was born in Holland but grew up in Laugharne. A lychgate was where you sheltered with the coffin before the vicar arrived.

The pulpit is made of a Yew Tree that once stood in the churchyard. A sculptured Celtic cross located in the South Transept dating from the 9th or 10th centuries indicates a church stood here before the current building, which is dedicated to St Martin of Tours and erected by Knight of the Garter, Sir Gui de Brienne (commonly known as Sir Guy de Brian) in the 13th century. This explains why the church is outside the medieval town.

Amendments continued over the centuries, but 1873 saw the last major restoration when the tower, which houses six inscribed bells cast by Abraham Rudhall's bell factory in Gloucester in 1729, was reduced by some 20 feet. They tried to cast bells in Laugharne's Wogan St, but clearly, these failed.

There are many interesting features, not least on the painting on the south wall of an unnamed saint by James Thornhill, father-in-law of Hogarth; and a painting (above) of the prophet Jeremiah by American Benjamin West, who later painted George Washington. The earliest memorial wall tablet dates back to 1679.

Coleridge visited on the 17th Nov 1802 and was moved by the ancient tombstones. The earliest dates from 1705 and there are many gravestones commemorating young men lost at sea, as Laugharne was formerly a major port. The below gravestone commemorates two young brothers who were lost at sea.

And here are a couple more drowned sailors

The Lychgate was built in 1913 and features in the only known moving images of Dylan Thomas, at his funeral. Locals pondered the large turnout and there is poignant footage of his mother - a proud Welsh farm woman among the mourners. Caitlin was buried with him 41 years later.

In 1723 there was an old yew tree that was called Fox Tree after the heads of dead animals, including foxes, badgers and wolves, were hung on it. The heads remained for three church services, after which a reward was paid for getting rid of the vermin. A wolf's head had the same bounty as that of the worst robber. More recently there was great consternation when badgers caused damage to the graveyard. Here are some of the many fine yew trees in the graveyard.

In 1706 a new priest, Thomas Philipps, was appointed and soon invited Griffith Jones to combine being curate and schoolmaster here. Jones was to preach in Welsh three times a month. He was so inspiring that it was said that at times up to 3000 or 4000 people attended his services. Despite its size, they could not all fit into the church, so he would preach from the north porch to the crowds outside.

Jones' school classes may have been held in a room half-way up the tower. Jones stayed here until 1716 when he moved to Llanddowror, which was his base for developing the Circulating Charity Schools that did so much for Welsh literacy. He later moved back to Laugharne to The Great House (which has long gone and not to be confused with Great House which still stands).

The painting below is an early 18th century view of Laugharne Church.

As you face the church porch to its left, embedded in the wall is this gravestone, which reads:

'Here lieth the Body of Sarah Baily, the wife of Zachary Bevan of the Town of Laugharne, Esq., who departed this life 27th January in the year of our Lord God 1705, aged 52 yeares, with 8 of her children. Mors mihi Lucrum.'

Another states:

'Here lieth the Body of Zachary Bevan of the Town of Laugharne, Esq., who Departed This Life the 22d day of February, Anno 1715, aged 59 yeares.'

Zachary (1653-1759) was Sarah's husband. The son of a glove-maker, he became a merchant entrepreneur, trading widely - including with Virginia, America, importing tobacco. Over time he held shares in numerous ships and their cargoes and expanded his warehousing to Carmarthen and Tenby. He also owned several farms. He built up Laugharne's shipping trade, exporting from local farms and manufacturers and importing goods to be sold in Laugharne. He became Portreeve of Laugharne and High Sheriff of Carmarthen.

The family suffered the tragic deaths of 8 of their children, but one, Arthur Bevan, survived and inherited the estate, including The Great House behind the Town Hall. Arthur was buried in the ground in front of the wall gravestone - the slab reads:

'Here lieth the Body of Arthur Bevan, Barrister at Law, who died 6th March 1742, aged 56. Also the body of Z. Bevan, Esq., who departed this life June 10th, 1770, aged 46. A sincere Christian.'

Arthur made a grand marriage - to Bridget Vaughan - who became known as Madam Bevan, a famed philanthropist with a keen interest in education (see The Great House). Arthur Bevan was a Welsh lawyer and a Whig MP who sat in the House of Commons from 1727 to 1741. He died in 1742 aged 55 and Madam Bevan had a wall memorial installed in his honour, inside the church close by the porch.

The church is still open, although the congregation is sadly dwindling. However, it's packed on the Portreeve's breakfast and when funerals and weddings take place.

Bridal parties danced through Laugharne to the church in olden times to the music of a fiddler who led the way. The last known fiddler was a man called Tom the Cabin.

One strange Laugharne custom (and there are many!) was that on All Hallows Eve you might hear the names of those who would die during the year. This belief in funeral lights continued up to the 1890s.

Apparently, Alderman E.V. Williams's organ-playing was taken by Dylan Thomas to create the character of Organ Morgan in Under Milk Wood.

Some Pioneer buses (see Bus Garage) in front of the church in 1970.

Twenty-two years before, the Welsh writer and poet Lynette Roberts' address for a few years was, 'The Caravan, The Graveyard, Laugharne'.

'Downbeat', the final lyric in the Collected Poems of Lynette Roberts, is wonderfully immediate. The scene is Laugharne churchyard, probably in 1949.

'Sitting surrounded by wasps,
My only view in this lovely
And sad caravan
Are the graves and tombs filling
Each window pane
Clustering up the sweet earth.'

Roberts (1909-1995) was born in Buenos Aries to Australians of Welsh descent, and married Welsh poet and publisher, Keidrych Rhys. Dylan Thomas was their best man. They settled across the bay in Llanybri. She left Laugharne for London and in 1956 became schizophrenic, joining the Jehovah's Witnesses when she stopped writing. She died in a Ferryside care home in 1995.

Roberts was read and admired by such contemporaries as Eliot, Thomas, and Robert Graves, but she died in obscurity. Thankfully her work has since been reappraised.

There are hundreds of graves in the churchyard and cemetery, but somehow this headstone seems the saddest of all - Amelia Gareguno. Aged 2 Years. Died May 1898. Amelia Gareguno was the daughter of a travelling Italian organ-grinder who stayed at a lodging house in Wogan Street.

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