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NEATH ABBEY

Site Details


NPRN 133

Map Reference SS79NW

Grid Reference SS73789736

Unitary (Local) Authority Neath, Port Talbot

Old County Glamorgan

Community Dyffryn Clydach

Type of Site ABBEY

Broad Class RELIGIOUS RITUAL AND FUNERARY

Period Medieval

Site Description Neath Abbey was initially founded in 1130 for a community of Savigniac monks and in 1147 was absorbed into the rapidly expanding Cistercian monastic order. By the end of the twelfth century a stone church and accompanying cloister buildings were completed. From the early 1220s, the monks began to outgrow these early structures and began a process of rebuilding, with a new abbey church being commissioned in the late thirteenth century. The abbey was suppressed in 1539 and the Tudor family began to build a house over the south-east corner of the former monastic complex, which remained in use until it was abandoned and fell into decay in the early eighteenth century. As industry began encroaching upon the site, the buildings became more ruinous, covered in screens of brambles and ivy. The site was first explored and cleared in the first half of the twentieth century and in 1944 the ruins were placed in the care of the state.

Source: Robinson, D.M. 2006. Neath Abbey: CADW

RCAHMW, February 2011

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Neath Abbey was established as a Savignac monastery in 1130, but when the Order was absorbed by the rapidly expanding Cistercian order in 1147, Neath became a Cistercian House. A monastic complex was completed by the end of the twelfth century, and despite attacks during the Welsh uprisings, the site quickly prospered under the patronage of Robert de Clare and rebuilding on a larger scale started in the late thirteenth century. Its wealth came largely from the extensive estates its was granted across Glamorgan, Devon and Somerset, and the expansion of the former brought it into bitter dispute with the neighbouring abbey of Margam.

Although Neath Abbey escaped the first wave of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1535, four years later Abbot Leyshon Thomas was forced to surrender the monastery to the Crown. The site was granted to Richard Williams, though by 1600 was in the hands of Sir John Herbert. A large Tudor mansion was built into the south-east corner of the cloisters during the latter part of the sixteenth century, though after a century of occupation this too fell into disrepair.

With the rise of heavy industry during the eighteenth century, some of the former monastic buildings were repurposed for copper smelting and an ironworks opened its doors nearby. When the exiled Breton aristocrat Armand-Louis-Bon Maudet, Comte de Penhouët visited the site in 1796, he praised the beauty of the ruins, which clearly still showed traces or their former, medieval, glory, but ran in fright from the begging homeless women and children who lived among them. They reminded him just a little too much of the Parisian Women’s March on Versailles that jumpstarted the French Revolution. Taken into state care in 1944, the site is now owned by Cadw, and is a popular site for filming having been extensively used in televisions shows such as Doctor Who and Merlin.

Record updated as part of the AHRC-funded project 'Journey to the Past: Wales in historic travel writing from France and Germany'.
R. Singer (Bangor University) and S. Fielding (RCAHMW), 2017.

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