St Martin’s Church
St. Martin's Church
St. Martin’s Church, recognizable by its octagonal stone steeple, is the oldest church in the town. Its dedication to St. Martin of Tours indicates a foundation early in the twelfth century. It is thought to have existed before 1120 and as the town would at that point have been only ten years old it can be seen that it was practically the first thing to be built.
The tower and spire were added later. It was given to the Priory, as were the other two churches in the town, in the early 13th century.
Like many other ecclesiastical buildings, this church became almost wholly dilapidated by the early 19th century. This was certainly in part due to the overwhelming interest of the population in Non Conformity, (the religious census of 1851 shows that 3,255 seats were filled during one or more of the Sunday services in the combined Non Conformist Chapels in this parish, as against 141 in St Martin’s Church), but the Bishop of St Davids said in 1825 that it was also in part due to the incomplete education and insobriety of the vicars.
Despite this, the wealth and pious attitude of the Victorians meant that this church was renovated totally and re- opened in 1865. It benefited largely from the re-cycling of architectural salvage from other churches in the south of the county that weren’t so lucky, and the windows came from that quarter. The spire was taken down in 1869 and there is actually one photograph in existence of the church without a spire, but it was replaced in 1870.
The burial ground is so much higher than the surrounding ground level as a result of 900 years of burials in the same small piece of ground. It’s not so much the introduction of countless numbers of bodies; it is the constant disturbance of the ground over so many years.