Margam Abbey and the Mansel-Talbots
The Abbey of Margam, dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, dates from the second half of the twelfth century. No documentary evidence relating to Margam exists prior to the arrival of the Normans, but the presence of numerous carved and inscribed monuments, now housed at the Stones Museum, indicates an earlier Christian presence. The abbey is believed to have been built on or near the site of an important Celtic monastic house.
In 1147, Robert, Earl of Gloucester granted St Bernard’s Cistercian abbey of Clairvaux all the lands between the rivers Afan and Kenfig for the purpose of founding a daughter house. The Cistercians earned their livelihood by cultivation of the land and the rearing of sheep for wool, choosing sites remote from human settlement for their abbeys. The building of monasteries such as Margam was on a scale hitherto unseen in Wales. For some forty years, skilled craftsmen toiled from dawn to dusk constructing church, cloister and the usual domestic offices. Shortly after completion of the late Norman buildings and with a desire to keep abreast of contemporary architectural trends the abbey’s entire east end was rebuilt in the Early English style. A great centre of learning, the abbey swiftly rose to a position of importance in the social, cultural and religious life of South Wales. However, there were times when the fortunes of the abbey were at a low ebb due to floods, livestock disease, increased taxation, the Black Death and revolts of the Welsh.
Although once the richest monastic house in Wales, Margam Abbey was closed by the Crown Visitors of Henry VIII in August 1536. The last Abbot, Lewis Thomas and the remaining monks were ejected and possession was taken on behalf of the King by Sir Rice Mansel, courtier and landowner, of Oxwich and Penrice,Gower.