The Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological
Trust Historic Environment Record
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ST MARY'S ABBEY, MARGAM (MARGAM ABBEY)
Primary Reference Number (PRN) : 00771w Trust : Glamorgan Gwent Community : Margam Unitary authority : Neath Port Talbot NGR : SS80188626 Site Type (preferred type first) : Medieval Abbey / Medieval Monastery Status : Scheduled Monument
Summary : Conventual priory. A Cistercian Monastery founded by Robert of Gloucester in 1167 and dissolved in 1536. Present day parish church roughly occupies area of nave of original church, mostly ruinous. Restored twelve sided chapter house c 1200.
Description : This is a general number for Margam Abbey. Conventual priory. A Cistercian Monastery founded by Robert of Gloucester in 1167 and dissolved in 1536. Present day parish church roughly occupies area of nave of original church, mostly ruinous. Restored twelve sided chapter house c 1200. Evans 2003: GGAT 73 Early-Medieval Ecclesiastical Sites Project database
The extent of the monastic precinct at Margam Abbey is no longer clear - alterations made for post-medieval house and for the 18th/19th Century Park have largely obscured S and W sides of the monastic complex. Apart from topographical indications nothing remains of the precinct boundary, though there is a reference in 1532 to a 'great gate', SE of the church, a medieval gatehouse (probably the inner gate) survived as part of the post-suppression house, built from 1552, but was destroyed in 1744 (Robinson 2006, 257). The surviving standing remains at Margam include the Nave of the Abbey church (c.1150-80), utilized as a parish church, St Mary's. Partial footings remain of the choir, presbytery and S transept (all 1220-1250), the ruinous remains of the chapter house, its vestibule and adjacent sacristy and the remains of the possible bridge to the monastic latrine block (all 1203-1230). The cloister lies between in the angle of the Nave and the S transept, whilst the Monks day room (dormitory undercroft extended S of the chapter house vestibule as part of the same range. A summary of early archaeological investigation has been summarized elsewhere (see Robinson 1993a; Robinson 2006), the most recent include minor excavations (1974-5) undertaken on the N side of the orangery, which revealed monastic period walls and drains, remains associated with the S claustral ranges (Jones 1981, 59-69), whilst GGAT carried out a trial excavation of the Orangery car park (1979), and found monastic buildings at some distance from the Abbey, GGAT also undertook an evaluation of the Presbytary and east range in 2001. An area of around 0.7ha is currently scheduled (GM5); Robinson indicates this is currently insufficient (Robinson 2006). St Marys Church is Listed Grade A (ref. 14148); the ruins of the chapter house are Grade I, as are the east range ruins, whilst the 18th century Orangery is Listed Grade I (ref. 14152). The Park and garden at Margam, encompassing the Abbey and its precinct, are included on the register of parks and gardens of historic interest in Wales (Grade I).
The general area of the precinct remains unclear from current levels of information, though it is likely to have been extensive, for this reason a core area, including the likely area of the W and S claustral ranges to the W of the SAM area has been defined, while outer areas to the W and E have been defined to cover the grounds in the immediate vicinity of the now demolished post-suppression house (as shown in a sketch of 1684 and in two late 17th early 18th century paintings) to encompass main spread of known archaeological features it is likely the full outer precinct was much larger, possibly equating to the area depicted on Emanuel Bowens map of 1729, with the park to E of the house and the Grove to the W (i.e. the SW corner of the later post-medieval park), although this is unconfirmed (Cadw, ICOMOS UK 2000, 102-113) (Bowden and Roberts 2012).
In April 2001 GGAT conduct an archaeological evaluation at Margarm Abbey. It was found that the undisturbed deposits lay very close to the modern ground surface. With such little depth of cover, the archaeological deposits are potentially vulnerable to a wide range of below-ground impacts, and any removal of the turf would merit an archaeological watching brief. There is however evidence from the surrounding masonry to suggest that the original floor height of the presbytery, notably the threshold of the door on the south wall (39.53m) and the grave slabs (39.49-39.60m). A yard surface thought to be 18th century in date over part of the structure which as been comprehensively robbed in this area too. At the Eastern range (south end) and cloister, a culvert identified was probably at too high a level to have been of monastic origin, and the style of construction and type of mortar would be consistent with an early post-medieval date and the use of the vestible as a brewhouse for the Mansell manor house may suggest a function. Culverts of this type have been found in numerous locations forming a complex system of drainage (Locock 2001).