Tuesday, 8 November 2016

80 All Saints Church, Oystermouth

80 All Saints Church, Oystermouth

With the approach of Christmas, several chapels and churches feature cribs and nativity scenes, though throughout the year there is much of interest inside and outside the buildings, as for example with All Saints Church in Oystermouth.  

Outside the church are several interesting graves - on the north-west side stands the chest grave of Dr Thomas Bowdler, the expurgator of Shakespeare, and on the east side by the car park are the gravestones of two crewmen of the lifeboat “Wolverhampton”.  They were among the four who drowned in January 1883 when going to assist the barque Admiral Prinz Adalbert near the lighthouse rocks: William Jenkins (whose brother also drowned in the tragedy) was aged 35, while his brother-in-law William McNamara was 41.  Around the corner on the south of the church is the gravestone of John Thomas, master mariner, who drowned in 1835, just before a lifeboat was first provided at Mumbles. 

Burials ceased in the churchyard in 1882, with Oystermouth cemetery opening the following year.

On the south side the churchyard contains a Celtic cross of Portland stone, dedicated in 1948 in memory of the 69 men and two women of the Parish killed during the Second World War.  “Displaced persons” (mainly Ukrainians from the camp at Scurlage) carried out much of the labour for this.

The village’s increasing population necessitated the church closing for nine months in 1860 while a north aisle was added.  Yet by the start of the twentieth century even this proved inadequate for the number of worshippers, especially with summer visitors.  So in 1915 the north aisle extension was taken down and replaced with a large nave and chancel, dwarfing the original church, which was retained as a side chapel and south aisle.  The work was partially complete within a year, though the post-war economic depression and the need to erect a new church hall (now the Ostreme Centre) delayed final completion until 1937.  Viewing the church from the direction of Church Park on the north side shows how it looked before the huge extension – with the tower in proportion to the original building.  The clock was started in 1875, though the dials on three sides of the tower (there is no dial on the west side) are not identical, for they were purchased at different times.  The tower used to hold three bells from Santiago, which were returned to Chile in 2010; a memorial to the victims of the fire at Santiago’s Jesuit Cathedral is in the south aisle.

The 1860 restoration and enlargement uncovered fragments of a Roman tessellated pavement on the north side of the churchyard, which suggests there was some Roman settlement in Oystermouth, with the church perhaps being built on the site of a Roman villa.

Inside the church brass plaques are in memory of three lifeboat disasters, with stained- glass windows depicting the tragedies of 1883 and 1947.  The window commemorating the 1947 tragedy was installed in 1977, and shows the wreckage of the Samtampa with the upturned lifeboat Edward, Prince of Wales in the centre, and the eight lifeboat men at the top standing over a roaring sea; at the bottom are rocks, the lifeboat house and a village street with cottages. 

The St. Christopher window beside the main door marks the 175th anniversary of the Mumbles Railway, and shows the three different forms of propulsion over 155 years - horse-power, steam and finally electric - as well as depicting St Christopher, Oystermouth Castle and the Lighthouse.

Separating the nave (where the congregation sits) from the chancel (where the choir sits) is an imposing rood screen carved from Welsh oak, a memorial to the 98 men of the Parish killed during the First World War: their names are inscribed on the base panels.                                         

Although being primarily for the worship of God, All Saints Church contains much of interest both locally and nationally.                         


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