A familiar sight at the entrance to many old churches is the Lych Gate. But what is a Lych Gate? The Oxford English dictionary defines it as a roofed gateway to a churchyard where a coffin awaits the clergyman’s arrival. Llanelli Parish Church’s Lych Gate, standing at the junction of Church Street, Bridge Street, Hall Street and Vaughan Street is truly set in the heart of Llanelli. Built on a base of red Forest of Dean stone, and Herefordshire Oak with stone seats on either side. However like its neighbour Llanelli House, it has seen better days, old age, the pollution from modern vehicles and sadly some vandalism has taken a heavy toll.
As plans are in hand to refurbish the Lych Gate, it is an appropriate time to take a look at the history of this structure…
While many readers may have noticed the sad condition of the Lych Gate at the Western end of the Churchyard, how many have noticed the angel faces carved under its roof? Or the two carved inscriptions contained within. The one on the west side reads “O teach us to number the days that we may apply our hearts with wisdom” while the one on the East reads “Come unto me all that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” .
There is also a stone commemorating the donor Mr Davies, whose gift was estimated to have cost £400. The Lych Gate was designed by Col Bruce Vaughan, the work was supervised by Mr William Clarke of Llandaff in 1911 and the whole was presented to the Church by Mr Arthur D. Davies, a former Church Warden who was then living in Goring Road. The Lych Gate was dedicated by the Lord Bishop of Swansea on the 28th of February 1912. Many nonconformist ministers and dignitaries were present and all were united in their praise of Mr Davies for his gift. However the dedication was not without some controversy, not over the Lych Gate but over the sermon given by The Lord Bishop entitled “It is more blessed to give than to receive”. The Bishop a stern supporter of Church rights, used the occasion to make a political speech castigating those supporting disestablishmentarianism and likening them to the rioters who in his view had tarnished the image of Llanelli, the previous August. He also likened Mr Davies to General Gordon (of Khartoum) in his unselfish act, in donating the Gate.
The well known plans, drawings and photographs, of the St Elli Parish Church prior to that date show it to be without a Lych Gate. Although they clearly show that from the earliest times there were three gates granting entry into the churchyard. One in the South East, at the side of Falcon House. The second in the South opposite the doorway of Llanelli House. The third, which was to become the Lych Gate being situated in the South West, near the Mansel Hotel (today known as the Verandah). These Gates were supported by stone pilasters, and two sets still survive. Prior to the Second World War iron railings surrounded the Churchyard between the gate pilasters.
However it would appear that the Church did have an earlier Lych Gate, if you look at the evidence offered by a painting of the Parish Church by Mrs Havard, an earlier Lych Gate can clearly be seen just to the left of the Stocks, and with a market being held in front of it. The exact date of the painting is unknown but as Mrs Havard was the wife of Rev Stephen P Harvard who was the Wesleyan minister in Llanelli from 1852-1854 it can be reasonably supposed to have been painted during these years. In Innes’s book ‘Old Llanelli’ there is a drawing made by M. Seymour in December 1902 purporting to show how the Church would have looked in the mid 18th century, this drawing shows the same Lych Gate. When the new gate was opened the “Llanelli Mercury” reported that “the Old Gate had been removed around 1850 along with the stocks”.
The first cortège to pass through the Lych Gate after its dedication was the Funeral of Mrs Wilson of Waterloo Street.
Photograph kindly provided by Glenys Stone.