St Thomas’ Church, Neath
This church was closely connected with the nearby Norman castle from the 12th century. It was built conveniently close so that the Norman Lords and retainers, as well as the growing population around the castle, could worship within the wooden walls of the town.
The actual date of the building is uncertain, but as early as 1298 the Church is mentioned at the time of the Reformation as St Thomas the Apostle.
The tower is dated about 1340. It was much lower until 1691. The tower was restored in 1874. The peal of six bells all bear the date 1720.
Near the door to the tower stands the Llantwit Stone, an important relic of the early days of Christianity in the region. It is much older than the church itself and was previously in the churchyard at Llantwit-juxta-Neath.
Inside the church you can see the arms of notable Neath families: Mackworth, Miers and Grant. These monuments reflect the industrial life and growth of the town from the end of the 18th century. Hatchments – coats of arms carved on tablets – were used from the 17th century, following the older custom of displaying arms on actual shields in the church.
The royal standard hanging in the north aisle on the east is a fine example of 18th-century work dated 1731, during the reign of King George II.
In 1870 a bell from Chile was brought to St Thomas’ Church. Bells from the Jesuit Cathedral of La Campania were shipped to Swansea as scrap metal after fire wrecked the building in 1863 and killed 2,500 people. The bell from St Thomas’ Church was returned to Santiago, Chile, in 2012 to form part of a memorial to the fire victims.
Inside the church is a memorial to the local people who died in the First World War. Details are available on this page.
With thanks to Ian Anthony