Tucked away in a small Vale church is a stunning 16th century family tomb which has recently been restored to its former glory.
With life-size depictions of eleven members of two prominent local families, the Basset Tomb dominates the chancel of Grade II* St Illtyd’s Church in Llantrithyd.
Following a major £110,000 refurbishment which included connecting the 12th century church with water and mains electricity for the first time, the tomb was restored by conservator Jane Foley of Foley Conservation.
Parish priest Canon Derek Belcher (pictured below) said, “Nothing had been done to this tomb since Victorian times – it was very striking but some of the paint was flaking and fading in places and there was other minor damage. The parish is very proud of this exceptionally fine tomb and its historical significance to the church and so decided that restoration was needed to preserve it for future generations.”
The £15,000 project, which was carried out over a six-week period and included restoration of other memorials in the church, was funded by church members and donations.
The work, which was celebrated in a service of thanksgiving, followed the revamp of the whole of the church, which including connecting it to water and mains electricity, installing heating and lighting, repairs to the windows and general redecoration.
Canon Derek said, “Up until three years ago the church was lit by candles and oil lamps and it had no heating. It was very atmospheric but I do remember one wedding when I had to stop briefly because I couldn’t read the service book when a cloud blocked the light from the sun!”
“The parish did an amazing job raising more than £10,000 for the church refurbishment project and received several grants including a substantial one from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
“Following the general refurbishment work the tomb underwent a sensitive restoration by a specialist conservator to ensure and preserve its prominence within St Illtyd’s.”
PCC secretary Mrs Jeanne Bear said, “Visitors to the church are always drawn to the tomb and amazed that such an impressive monument is tucked away in a small country church.”
Conservator Jane Foley said the carving on the 16th century tomb and memorial was of a high standard and would have been carried out by a skilled artisan, with the surfaces decorated by experienced journeymen of the time. Over the years it had been well cared by the parish and overpainted in at least the 19th and 20th century.
“The treatment gave the monuments a new lease of life by preserving and stabilizing their condition and revealing and preserving the treasure of the excellent paint techniques of the 19th century craftsmen under layers of grime on the bodies and faces of the figures, including the angel to the fore on the tomb,” said Jane Foley.
The Grade II* listed church has 12th century origins with the chancel, nave and tower being rebuilt in the 14th century and further embellished by the Basset, Mansel and Aubrey families of the adjoining mansion Llantrithyd Place (now ruined) in the 16th and 17th centuries. The families were prominent local landowners as well being heavily involved in the maintenance and development of the church.
The church is open daily for visitors. More details from Eleanor Williams at Eleanor@sidelock.com
Pictures of the tomb
The Basset Tomb and wall monument
John Basset, who died in 1554, had been Surveyor of Lands to Queen Catherine Parr. His second wife Elizabeth lived on until 1596 and the estate was left to their daughter, also called Elizabeth, who married Antony Mansel of Margam. Their daughter Mary Mansel inherited the estate, having married Sir Thomas Aubrey in 1586, and it remained in the Aubrey family until 1910.
The kneeling figures on the wall monument above the tomb are John and Elizabeth Basset. The figures lying on the coffin tomb are Antony Mansel and his Elizabeth. Seven of their children are the ‘weepers’ along the bottom of the tomb.
The imposing heraldic centrepiece above the tomb has the arms of Basset impaled by the arms of Mansel, and surmounted by the Mansel crest “A gold eagle rising”.