Just off the B4318
Closed for repairs
OS grid reference
SN 109 011
During repair works is possible to visit the churchyard (we don’t own the churchyard) and to see the exterior of the church, but please be aware that there is heavy machinery at the bottom of the one-track lane, and that this is currently a building site. If you are visiting on a weekday, please park at the top of the lane and call the number on the sign to alert workers that you are coming down.
But as we pull this important church back from the brink, it is starting to reveal its secrets …
St Lawrence’s was built next to three holy wells, which would have drawn people to their healing waters for centuries. Each well was purported to contain different water, and offer different cures — spring water for legs, chalybeate-rich water for hands and arms, and sulphurous water for eyes. An early Christian chapel has possibly survived as the current church’s west porch. The present building was constructed in the 12th-14th centuries, with its large Pembrokeshire-style multi-storied tower added in the 15th century.
The church sits in a wooded valley overlooking the river Ritec (Rhydeg). Now a trickle, the river was tidal until the early 19th century, which gave Gumfreston a critical role in Tenby’s prosperous medieval mercantile economy; goods traded with Europe and even Newfoundland could be securely stored here, safe from raids by pirates. The church was probably built, or expanded, by these wealthy merchants.
Train travel brought a new wave of wealth to the area, as Gumfreston became ‘an essential sightseeing trip for all Victorian visitors to Tenby’. In 1869, T G Jackson restored the church, but thankfully kept all of its medieval fabric intact.
Inside, St Lawrence’s is surprisingly cavernous. The building is rich with architectural interest with many enigmatic and curious features, from possible tomb recesses to blocked squints. The belfry houses the pre-Reformation bell, cast in about 1350, and possibly the oldest in the county. And below the ringing chamber, the tower walls house openings for doves.
In the 1980s, a rare 15th-century wall painting was discovered in the nave. This fragile survivor depicts either St Lawrence or Christ of the Trades, both rare images in medieval Welsh wall painting. Excitingly, more paintings have recently emerged from beneath water-damaged paint. This fascinating church, which needs extensive and expensive repairs after years of substantial water ingress, has so much more to reveal.
St Lawrence’s was designated ‘at-risk’ in 2021. After carrying out emergency holding repairs in 2022, funded in part by a grant from Cadw’s maintenance and minor repairs funding scheme, we were delighted to receive a grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund in 2023 that enabled us to take St Lawrence’s into our care. The NHMF grant will cover three-quarters of the very substantial cost of repairs, which have now begun.
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