The Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological
Trust Historic Environment Record
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Primary Reference Number (PRN) : 00585w Trust : Glamorgan Gwent Community : Dyffryn Clydach Unitary authority : Neath Port Talbot NGR : SS73789736 Site Type (preferred type first) : Medieval Abbey Status : Scheduled Monument
Summary : A Cistercian abbey founded in 1129-30 by Sir Richard Granville, for 12 Savigniac monks and an abbot, but in 1147 became Cistercian as a result of the merger between the two orders. Significant monastic remains survive with a later Elizabethan house superimposed over the entire SE corner of the site, incorporating the S half of the monastic dormitory range and the parallel latrine blocks, both of which had been converted to create the Abbots residence c. 1500, and to the N the remains of the abbeys principal gatehouse (12th century and later).
Description : At Neath the abbey church was sited on the highest part of the precinct, the cloister ranges lay to the S on slightly lower ground (Butler 1976a, 13). Significant monastic remains survive with a later Elizabethan house superimposed over the entire SE corner of the site, incorporating the S half of the monastic dormitory range and the parallel latrine blocks, both of which had been converted to create the Abbots residence c. 1500, and to the N the remains of the abbeys principal gatehouse (12th century and later). The visible monastic remains largely date from phases of rebuilding carried out from the early 13th to the mid 14th century; the earliest standing remains comprise the ten-bay cloistral range (the lay brothers quarters) thought to date from the 1170s, whilst all traces of the assumed 12th century church have disappeared. The core site includes a large cruciform church (c.1280-1330) at the N of the cloister, to the W of the cloister, the lay brothers quarters (common room and refectory), whilst on the S and E sides of the cloister are the monastic quarters (largely c.1220-1250); these comprise a long range, which extends S from the S transept and incorporates the sacristy, chapter house and parlour and separated by a passage, the monks day room (dormitory undercroft), adjacent to the W, and S of the cloister, are the warming house, monks refectory and kitchen, whilst to the E is a parallel range, the monks latrine, connected by a bridge to the monks dormitory. The core complex was the subject of exploratory excavations from 1833, with major clearance excavations carried out during 1924 and 1934, which resulted in the removal of considerable debris overburden this material, which includes considerable quantities of moulded fragments, now lies overgrown along the E boundary of the site and remains to be investigated. Further clearance and conservation occurred after the site was placed in the guardianship of the state in 1944. The church and main cloister buildings (c. 1ha in area), along with the abbey gatehouse, are together scheduled as an ancient monument (Gm6). The boundary of the scheduled area represents a small part of the entire medieval precinct (Robinson 261-267). The monastic cemetery has been located on the N side of the church; a watching brief on a pipe trench carried out in 2001 through the area recorded two burials (Milne 2001a and 2001b). The wider area which formerly formed part of the abbey precinct, especially to the N, S and W have been heavily altered by intense industrial development, from the first half of the 18th century, and later urban encroachment, to such an extent that the abbey's gatehouse is now isolated from the core monastic complex. The E boundary of the monastic complex is formed by the River Clydach, which also formed the parish boundary (Bowden and Roberts 2012).
A Cistercian abbey founded in 1129-30 by Sir Richard Granville, for 12 Savigniac monks and an abbot, but in 1147 beacme Cistercian as a result of the merger between the two orders. Always considered an entirely Norman foundation, but in view of presence on an ECM (PRN 805w) built into a wall at the abbey, the proximity to Cwrt Herbert ECM (588w) and Neath Roman fort, may have a pre-Norman origin. About 0.9km from W side of Roman fort and less than 0.5km from find site of ECM - all of these are within the block of land which formed the original grant (bounded by Rivers Neath, Clydach and Tawe and Pwll Cynan brook) Evans 2003: GGAT 73 Early-Medieval Ecclesiastical Sites Project database
The earliest of the surviving conventual buildings are the lay brothers' quarters on the west side of the cloister.
Little remains of the western part of the choir monks' quarters on the south side of the cloister. However, the southern section of the dorter undercroft survives substantially intact, with its vault, as does the vault of the bridge to the reredorter. The walls and piers to the reredorter undercroft also survive. The chapter house, on the east side of the cloister is badly robbed, but it appears to have been relatively small, with two internal pillars.
Nothing now survives of the Norman church, but its replacement was constructed between c1283 and 1330, starting from the east end. The best surviving masonry is in the south transept (with night stair), the outer walls of the aisles and the north and south ends of the west wall of the nave with the narthex to its west. The eastern piers of the crossing are set diagonally and embellish with attcahed shafts; the western piers are triangular in shape, corresponding only to the outer side of the easten pair. This indicates that there was no significant tower at the crossing. Enough survives of the nave to show that it was of two storeys.
In 2001 an archaeological watching brief identified fragments of disarticulated human bone; the inhumations suggested that later graves dug in the Abbey cemetery had disturbed earlier inhumations, indicating reuse of the area over an extended period (Milne 2001).
In 2005, an archaeological watching brief failed to find any medieval remains to the west of the Abbey, prompting the suggestion that the land to the west of the Abbey was periodically flooded, meaning that the Abbey would have been surrounded by water on its east, south and west sides for much of the medieval period. however, no evidence of flooding was found during the watching brief (Petersen 2005).
Bowden, R. and Roberts, R. , 2012 , Monastic Sites in Glamorgan and Gwent
Bulter, L. A. S. , 1976 , Neath Abbey
Evans, E M , 2003 , Early Medieval Ecclesiastical sites in Southeast Wales: Desk based assessment
Milne, H. , 2001 , Neath Abbey , Archaeology in Wales : 41 : 151
Milne, H. , 2001 , Neath Abbey, Glamorgan: archaeological watching brief
Petersen, A , 2005 , Neath Abbey CSO Scheme
Robinson, D. M. , 2006 , The Cistercians in Wales: Architecture and Archaeology 1130-1540
Evans EM, 2003-04, GGAT 73 Early Medieval Ecclesiastical Sites Project
Jones, A.L. 1996 Heraldry in Glamorgan Vol 7: The Medieval heraldic Inlaid Tiles of Neath Abbey
03/Desc Text/Cadw/Revised Entry to the Schedule of Monuments/2007/Copy in further information file.
Events : E001386 : Early medieval ecclesiastical sites in Southeast Wales desk based assessment (year : 2004) E002123 : Field visit to Neath Abbey and Gatehouse (year : 2011) E002119 : Assessment of Monastic Sites in Glamorgan and Gwent (year : 2012) E002436 : Neath Abbey, Glamorgan. WB (year : 2001) E005039 : Neath Abbey combined storm overflow (year : 2005)