One of them was the abandoned cottage beside the church at Llandygwydd, and from here sprang the Landmark Trust which, more than forty years on, has almost 200 buildings in its care across England, Scotland and Wales.
The cottage was built in the late 1850s to house a caretaker and sexton for the imposing St Tygwydd’s Church, designed by R J Withers in 1857 (Withers also designed the two school houses in the village). John Smith’s prescience in stepping in to ensure the cottage’s survival was emphasised in melancholy fashion in 2000, when the church itself was demolished. It was at least the third church on the site and the dedication to the Celtic St Tygwydd suggests that Christianity took root here in the earliest times and before St Augustine’s mission from Rome in AD 597. Historians disagree about St Tygwydd’s exact identity and even whether s/he was male or female. Tygwydd was either the daughter of Tegyd and the wife of St Cunedda Wledyg, (chroniclers tell us that she lived in the early 5th century and was killed in Gwent by the Saxons) – or he was St Tyfrïog’s brother, with nothing else known except that his feast was variously placed on 13th or 18th January. (St Tyfrïog has left traces in both Brittany and Cornwall and may have had Romano-British, pagan origins).
So we may probably imagine a small, barn-like church in Llandygwydd from very early times. Certainly there was a church here in the years before the Reformation, since a mediaeval calling bell has survived until the present day. The font, too, is unusual in being a fine example of 15th-century stonemason’s craft (in Cardiganshire, almost all early fonts are of Norman origin). According to Meyrick, a new church had also been built as recently as 1803 “in a neat, elegant manner for the small sum of three hundred pounds.” This was not considered good enough by the evangelical Ecclesiologists, a group of earnest mid-Victorian Anglicans whose mission was to ‘improve’ both the architecture and seating capacity of the Established Church after a long period of neglect that had seen the rise of Nonconformity in Wales and elsewhere. Their aim was to reintroduce the Gothic architecture of the Middle Ages as the only fit architectural style for ecclesiastical buildings. This Gothic Revival was one of the most important movements in Victorian architecture and religious life, and soon spread to buildings of all kinds, even finding echoes in the little caretaker’s cottage and schoolhouses at Llandygwydd.
From an early illustration, the church built in1803 was a modest chapel and porch, well built of the local stone with a turret to house the calling bell and font. Sixty years later, The Church Builder described it as having been ‘if not waste and desolate, at least mean, neglected and unsightly…All within and without seemed to say it was the least cared for house in the village.’ Money was raised, and Somerset-born Robert Jewell Withers was brought in to design a replacement in the Early English style of the 13th century. Withers was to design many such Gothic churches and municipal buildings. For St Tygwydd’s, he designed a tower with a 130 foot wooden spire covered in lead, which local anecdote says was deliberately built to be of a height to be seen from the seats of the four local landowners who were the main subscribers. A peel of six bells was also installed, but this tower and its spire were to prove the church’s undoing.
By 1913, the spire was so unstable that it had to be taken down, and the tower was given crenellations instead. The stone tower survived until 1981, but its weight so de-stablised the corner of the church that in due course it too had to be taken down. Structural problems continued however, and in 1996 the church, faced with a repairs bill of some £300,000, also had to be closed. It was finally demolished in 2000, its footprint and lonely font the only remains of the ecclesiologists’ ambitious project. The faithful mediaeval calling bell now hangs outside ‘new’ St Tygwydd’s at the bottom of the lane, where the best of the Victorian glass has also been moved. To all this Church Cottage has born silent witness, its own future secure. For all the Victorians’ overweening confidence, it is perhaps ironic that Established worship in Llandygwydd today continues quietly in a building of a scale and form much closer to its earlier churches.
To read more about the history of Church Cottage please click here.