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10 August 2023 
For immediate release 

The Friends of Friendless Churches to rescue two landmark Welsh medieval churches, thanks to £769K National Heritage Memorial Fund grant for critical repairs

The National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) has awarded the Friends of Friendless Churches (FoFC) £769,309, enabling the charity to rescue and repair two historic redundant churches in Wales that were at risk of ruin: St Lawrence’s, Gumfreston, Pembrokeshire and St James’s, Llangua, Monmouthshire.

Two medieval churches in Wales will be saved from the brink of dereliction by the Friends of Friendless Churches, who have received a grant of nearly £770k as part of the National Heritage Memorial Fund Covid-19 Response Fund. 

The churches of Llangua in Monmouthshire and Gumfreston in Pembrokeshire have been embedded in the local landscape for at least 900 years, but both became redundant in the past few years. These ancient buildings, which had served their communities for centuries, are rich in architectural, historical and cultural heritage but are in a dire condition; without this lifeline, they faced falling into ruin. 

St Lawrence’s, Gumfreston, Pembrokeshire 

A medieval church built on the ancient site of three holy wells 

Gumfreston church was declared redundant in 2021 and designated 'at-risk' in 2022. It has become engulfed in ivy and has suffered from substantial long-term water ingress, which has seriously damaged the roof, walls and floors, and threatens the vulnerable medieval wall paintings. To save this church, we need to re-roof the entire building, lay new drainage and rainwater goods, stabilise the fragile wall-paintings, undertake masonry repairs throughout, and much more besides.  

  • St Lawrence's was built on an ancient, perhaps pre-Christian site next to three holy wells that were revered for their healing properties. 
  • It is set above the River Ritec, navigable until c.1820, and may have been built to serve the wealthy Flemish mercantile community that was settled in the region by Henry I in 1107.  
  • The large tapering 15th-century tower contains columbaria (housing for doves)  
  • A rare 15th-century wall painting has survived in the nave, with hints that more medieval paintings are yet to be revealed beneath the ivy and peeling emulsion paint. 

St James’s, Llangua, Monmouthshire 

The restoration of this medieval church in 1954 lit the spark of the 20th-century church conservation movement. 

Llangua church has an important and poignant connection with the FoFC: Our founder, Ivor Bulmer-Thomas, restored the church in 1954-5 in memory of this young wife, Dilys, who died after childbirth. Less than three years later, Ivor created the Friends of Friendless Churches. He went on to manage the rebuilding of St Andrew’s by the Wardrobe, London – which had been destroyed in the Blitz. In Ivor's lifetime, he saved and helped hundreds of churches. This incredible legacy of church conservation in the UK began at Llangua. 

St James's closed in 2020, and its charming 15th-century timber ‘wagon’ roofs are in danger of collapse. Working with our architect, engineer, ecologist and the local authority, we are devising a repair strategy which will involve carpentry repairs of the existing timbers and the localised introduction of steelwork to support the stone roofs. 

  • Llangua means ‘the settlement of the church of St Ciwa’; St Ciwa was a legendary 6th-century female saint said to have been raised by wolves. This dedication suggests there was an earlier pre-Conquest foundation. 
  • The earliest parts of this charismatic little church date from the 12th century; surviving features from that period include the tub font and traces of a two-light Norman window.  
  • The church retains two wonderful medieval wagon roofs above the nave and chancel, which have been stylistically dated to the late 15th century. 
  • A characterful 16th-century statue of St James stands in the south wall of the nave. 
  • A 14th-century painted screen, possibly from Devon, depicts figures on four panels. 

Rachel Morley, director of the Friends of Friendless Churches, said “These two beautiful churches at Gumfreston and Llangua are the artistic and spiritual legacies of countless generations. Llangua church also had a profound personal connection to our founder, Ivor Bulmer-Thomas, and has played a pivotal role in Britain’s modern heritage conservation movement. We are thrilled that through this support from the NHMF we can now rescue these two churches and protect them for generations to come.” 

Dr Simon Thurley, Chair of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, said: “I am thrilled that the National Heritage Memorial Fund are able to support the Friends of Friendless Churches with this vital grant to safeguard the future of these two wonderful churches, particularly after the challenges that the global pandemic has thrown at the structures and the people who devote such care to them.  

“We’re tremendously proud to have provided a lifeline for some of Wales’s incredible heritage sites and assets through the Covid-19 Response Fund – from castles and churches to libraries – helping them to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic.” 

Notes to Editors: 

About the Friends of Friendless Churches 

The Friends of Friendless Churches (FoFC) was set up in 1957 to save disused but beautiful old places of worship of architectural and historical interest from demolition, decay, and unsympathetic conversion. Working across England and Wales, this independent, non-denominational charity cares for more than 60 redundant places of worship — keeping them open to visitors and the local community — and takes more into its care each year. Without the FoFC, these buildings would no longer be here, or open to the public. 

Further information 

For further information and images, contact Rachel Morley, Director, Friends of Friendless Churches.  
Email: office@friendsoffriendlesschurches.org.uk 

Website: fofc.org.uk 
X (formerly Twitter): @friendschurches 
Facebook: @friendsoffriendlesschurches 
Instagram: @friendlesschurches 

About the National Heritage Memorial Fund 

The National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) was set up in 1980 to save the most outstanding parts of our national heritage, in memory of those who have given their lives for the UK. NHMF receives annual grant-in-aid of £5million from the UK government to help save some of our most-loved treasures such as paintings, natural heritage, maritime and industrial vessels, and historic houses, from being lost forever. Any funds remaining from NHMF’s annual allocation at the end of the financial year remain available to NHMF to award grants to exceptional heritage treasures such as the Portrait of Mai (Omai), The Artist Rooms, Titian’s Diana and Acteon, the Honresfield Library, Tyntesfield Estate and Wentworth Woodhouse. www.nhmf.org.uk 



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