History of St Michael’s Church

There is evidence of a place of worship on the site of St Michael’s as early as 1180

From papal bulls (letters) sent in 1180 from the monks of Margam Abbey (est. 1147) to Rome there was a church dedicated to St Michael in Ynysafan. However the first reliable written evidence appears in the Norwich Taxation Rolls of 1254 . It is again mentioned in a Papal Bull of 1260 and in the ”Taxatio Ecclesiastica” in 1291.

The next apparent record of the church comes in 1519 when the Abbot of Margam leased the tithes etc. of Enys Avene to one Jenkin ap William ap Hopcyn of Ynysafan. It was during this period that the present altar was completed but there is no record of when it was actually installed. 

Until the act of Reformation in 1538 this Church would have been linked with Rome and Mass celebrated regularly, in a small stone building, with a Celtic type bell tower of stone, a small nave, chancel, sanctuary and a large porch. The congregation would have not been seated but would have stood on an earthen floor.

In 1563 the area became a parish in its own right and started keeping records for the Parish of Michaelstone Super Afan.

The church is again mentioned in 1636 as a part of the Rectory of Glyncorrwg. 

To call the faithful to worship at the parish church, a new bell was cast, with the inscription Deo Gratia 1641, to replace an earlier bell. The new bell was hung in a small bell tower. 

There is an entry in the Book of Arches at Lambeth Palace which states that a stone tower was added to the west wall circa 1660 to commemorate the accession of Charles II to the throne. At about the same time the nave and chancel were also extensively renovated in locally quarried stone.

The church did not change very much for the next one hundred and fifty years.

In the early nineteenth century a letter from the then incumbent (Rev. William Thomas) to the Chancellor of Llandaff stated that the building was in a sad state of repair, “the church is not paved and hath an earthen floor. The chancel walls are in poor condition and a large hole in the chancel door where dogs and swine may go through”.

In 1828 two casement windows were placed in the chancel and the earthen floor replaced with flagstones.

In 1835 a spire, constructed of locally made bricks, was erected on top of the existing stone tower. However, soon after the work was completed, the spire was struck by lightning, during a violent thunderstorm, and the top seven feet of it destroyed.

In 1851, due in no small part to the dramatic increase in the local population as a result of industrial expansion, the Church Commissioners gave their consent to enlarge and renovate the small whitewashed building which had remained more or less in its original form for over six hundred years into the Victorian structure we know today. 

The old medieval building was demolished with only the original tower remaining. The north wall of the old church was moved some twenty feet northwards and a North aisle created on the north portion of the ancient burial ground.

Entrance to the chancel, which had been effected through a small narrow archway, was improved by enlarging the nave arch. 

The large porch, which had often been used for meetings and classes, was removed and the present smaller porch rebuilt fifteen feet west along the south wall. The old porch doorway was replaced by a large double casement window, along with two new smaller casement windows in the south wall, to improve the flow of natural light.

The old cruck beam roofs were removed together with tile hung stone tiles and replaced with slate on an English style roof. 

The ancient building had corner buttresses and all the walls sloped from roof to ground level. Evidence of this can be seen on the Southern wall where the tower joins the present porch wall. All the walls were rebuilt except that portion, and all buttresses removed. 

The north wall was rebuilt along with a portion of the East wall at the new vestry. Many of the removed ancient gravestones were placed as a fillet at the bases of the new walls, where they remain today. 

Local sandstone was used throughout in the parish church renovations but in order to save money, no walled structure was built within between the two naves. It was the decision of the builders not to place the originally approved stone arches as a central structure between the two aisles, but to replace them with five wooden pillars of Margam wood. This move was, again, not well received and the Commissioners questioned the use of timber pillars to support the new double roof.

A new large stained glass window was placed in the East Sanctuary wall depicting our Lord holding the Bread and Wine, flanked on either side by the two great saints Peter and Paul. 

Choir stalls were placed in the Chancel together with seated accommodation in the main naves. A new pulpit was placed at the northeast wall so that the sermon would be heard by both naves.

The old Norman baptismal font was at this time replaced by the present font.

The renovations were completed by April 1851 and the church reopened on Friday 16th May 1851, ten months after the work started.

In 1862 the present day pulpit was relocated to the south wall to make way for the positioning of a new pipe organ, which was in use until July 1983. 

The ancient church had previously been heated by a large fireplace. This was walled up during the renovations and a ‘modern’ hot water heating system installed. 

New glazed tiles replaced the flagstone floors, and these remained in their positions in the two naves until 1957 when they were removed and replaced. In 2006 they were in turn replaced by glazed tiles.