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The Little Church on the Hill

By Charles Jewell


In the year 1260 it was rumoured that in a little known hamlet there had been a Christian community practising their faith. Now these good people, although few in number decided to make contact with the larger community of the church of St. John, and also the Resident Bishop of Llandaff, whereby, together they would build a small country church.

Mr and Mrs Charles and Phyllis Jewell, taken outside St Mary's Church in 1965 on the occasion on their daughter Jean's wedding. By kind permission of Jean Evans.
It would be hard to visualise the great task being undertaken at that time, for the site chosen was in a small field high up on a steep hill, overlooking the distant countryside now known as the "Vale of Glamorgan". The church itself would be of stone, and one should imagine the roof of thatch. "How did these good people tackle the transportation of material required up so steep a hill?" "Where to obtain the many tons of stone, timber and mortar required?" And most important, the skills and labour needed to complete the task. There surely must have been talk of finance - "How much will it cost?" and above all else "Will this project be worth the effort and time?"

The decision was made to build. It would be worth the effort - the problems would be overcome, and when completed this little church would be consecrated to God's glory and called "Saint Mary's Caerau" and the good people though few in number would look on it with pride, and know deep in their hearts that their little church would withstand any future natural elements, and would also provide for the future religious comforts of people throughout the centuries.

If one were to look closely at the stonework and study the stone itself, it would be seen that on some stones are attached limpet shells. "Where did these limpets originate except by the sea?" Such questions in the 20th century will remain unanswered.

This small country church, were it able to record its past history (records lost) would be most interesting to read, study and learn. One can imagine a roving clergyman on horseback travelling long distances to officiate at the services, and to bring the sacraments to the congregation and also to the sick. When one comes to think of the risks taken during these journeys, they must have been many. Did these dedicated men run the risk of being waylaid by thieves, thugs and bullies? They surely must have been, for is it not obvious that even today in the twentieth century such thieves (muggers), thugs and bullies carry on their nefarious business on the very ground which these dedicated men walked on through the centuries.

This little church in the 17th century between the years 1641 to 1647 was the scene of a dastardly bit of business, there being a conflict of divided loyalties between two warring factions - Royalist and Roundheads. Rumour has it that Oliver's men did take possession of this small church and used it not for a virtuous religious cause but for evil intent - not being satisfied with using the tower for a look-out against the Royalist forces, they desecrated the burial places of some nobility interned inside the church to see if these late departed were laying at rest in lead coffins - lead being of some value. Anyhow be that as it may, these fellows evidently spotted the poor "Royalists" somewhere near Saint Fagans - gave them a "licking" and slaughtered many of these unfortunates that it again is rumoured the streams ran "Red with their blood".

The Royalist forces evidently consisted of untrained, undisciplined peasant farmers, who were armed with farming implements and bludgeons, whilst Cromwell's men were well trained and disciplined, having only one weakness, a passion for lead coffins, which again it is rumoured were taken from Saint Mary's church on the hill. Poor old Saint Mary's survived these atrocities as it must have survived other unknown troubles during the previous 400 years of its existence.

Time passes by, the centuries continue to allow by God's Good Grace this small church to bestow its blessings on the community, but it survived and lived. This little church on the hill saw much suffering, joy and progress. The village of Caerau grew in population and people of various racial beliefs and nationalities settled within its precincts. It was then decided, during the 20th century, to build a "church come hall" and name this place of worship St. Timothy's which would administer to the ever growing population. Now, that is where things went wrong for poor old Saint Mary's. After surviving 800 years against the elements, human squabbles, religious and other disagreements, it was decided to close this lovely little church, seal its windows and doors so that it would remain as an ancient monument to medieval Christianity.

The closing of Saint Mary's church brought much sorrow and trouble to Caerau. This little church having withstood the centuries in honour and glory, now, in the 20th century, it was desecrated and suffered the indignity of being violently abused by a minority of individuals of low moral standing.

During the 1939 to 1945 period of hostilities many men, women and children suffered greatly in Europe, Middle East and Far East. This little island of ours withstood many trials and tribulations in order to survive. The people of these British Isles and Northern Island, together with many of the courageous men and women of the south fought against evil forces and eventually emerged "victorious". When hostilities ceased there emerged a group of good people known as "The Do-Gooders". These people had very good moral intentions to make this a "Dream World" - a better place for people to live in harmony, and peace together. Poor misguided "Do-Gooders" unknowingly were really doing more harm than good, and many law abiding citizens suffered as a result. It is not a bit of use trying to educate misfits to learn about human dignity, and honour by condoning their actions against society in moderating punishment. Moderation and indiscipline tend to make a mockery of justice, and encourages misfits to further their evil intents without much fear of retribution. Saint Mary's church suffered as a result and within a short time after closing, was vandalised and brought to ruin. These poor misguided 'Creatures' destroyed in a matter of weeks a little piece of ancient history which for eight centuries survived so much and loved. Now in this "Do Good" age of moderation, and sympathy for misfits Saint Mary's died, and shame to the "Civilised" 20th Century in allowing such wickedness to go unpunished.

When Saint Timothy's church commenced serving the community in place of St. Mary's, the new curate, a young man of many talents built up a good gathering of people of various ages. A Youth Club flourished, Scouts and Guides attended services, and the curate was much admired for his enthusiastic optimism and cheerful disposition. The curate was a man of action, determined to see that St. Mary's church ruin would be re-built and would again function as a place of worship. Can anyone today visualise the impossible task he intended to fulfil? Here is a ruin, desolate, and in some places destroyed right down to its foundation and his only means of transport was a small motor scooter. "Ye Gods he must have been Crazy."

It takes all sorts to make a community, and in that particular community resided a few more "Crazy" types - one being a bus driver. Now this bus driver enjoyed spending his leisure hours in the churchyard reading and sleeping during summer days. Often this man looked in pity and sorrow at the poor old church, and felt even pity for the stupid people who laid this building to waste.

One warm afternoon having completed an early spell of duty, this particular bus man decided to spend the afternoon in the old church cemetery reading and dozing. It so happened unbeknown to each other that the curate also decided to take a look at the little ruin. The curate sights the bus driver, and the bus driver said to himself, "Oh gosh, here comes the sky pilot - Hells Bells." The curate makes himself known to the bus driver who also returned the compliment. Conversation followed, the bus driver learned that the curate had served in the Royal Navy as a Blue Jacket and had been a "Bunting Tosser", and the curate learned that the bus driver had also served in the Royal Navy as a seaman gunner between the years, 1938-1945. Yarns were told, and a mutual understanding and friendship developed till the curate said "Do you think it can be re-built?" (the church). The bus driver replied, "Impossible". The curate said "I think we could", the bus driver again said "Impossible", the curate said "Let's try", the bus driver said "Whereby", the curate said "The Communion Rails can be removed as they are still inside the church," the bus driver said "Let's start" and the curate said "More will come and assist us, and we will succeed in re-building this little church." The bus driver replies "We're both crazy" and work commenced on bringing to life the little church on the hill.

Having removed the Communion Rails for renovation which were transported by the Curate's scooter to his residence, rubble and stone were removed from inside the ruin in preparation for the task that was about to be undertaken. Within a matter of days more and more people out of curiosity, and also with good intent, assisted in the reconstruction. As the old song about "coconuts" states "There were big ones, small ones," etc. So were these people - young, middle-aged, elderly - all working together, determined to complete the reconstruction against all odds and to win. It certainly was not without its problems as in the year 1260 - as a matter of fact the odds against success were greater in the 1950's than in the 1260's. Let's tackle the problems in proper perspective - finance - negative, material - negative, transport - negative, power - negative, equipment - negative, just like "Old Mother Hubbard who went to the cupboard" it was bare, and to make matters even worse were the vandals intent on destroying even more the efforts of the people working so hard. It seems strange that according to the aforesaid "Do Gooders" a vandal is really not doing any harm in causing damage to property, and law breaking - A Vandal, whether male or female is only giving vent to frustration, and a grudge to society, and must be treated with care and kindness so that he, or she, will eventually learn from others. Perhaps one day these "Prophets of Wisdom" will prove themselves to be right in their judgment - but today like "Ships without rudders and sailors without knives" these poor "High spirited individuals" will never reach maturity unless they be secured with a "Round turn and two half hitches" and a jury rudder be utilised to assist them in steering a straight course.

Having mentioned the problems which were numerous one must be fair and weigh up the odds against the problems and strike a balance. Volunteers - fair number; skilled labour - free and good, community spirit - excellent, time and labour - excellent. All services rendered free, and above all else a challenge accepted with a determination to win. So it was actually a foregone conclusion that without any shadow of doubt, this small band of workers - men, women, children, youth club members, boy scouts, girl guides and many other people of various denominations and colour would far outclass the obstacles and opposition.

Whilst work continued on the "Hill" there were the so-called "Back-room boys and girls" working quietly behind the scenes - financial assistance arrived quite regularly when required. This money was obtained by various means - the usual way being jumble sales - scheming - and even bingo - where at the mere mention of that 5 lettered word in those days shamefully raised a few hands in horror. It is a known fact that all "Christians are Sinners" they even admit it by going so far as to call themselves "Miserable Sinners" and ask forgiveness, go to church and then breathe a breath of relief till they next return.

It was obvious that using a scooter for transporting materials up the hill was asking a little too much of its capabilities - and there is a saying that "God works in a mysterious way" but that little scooter somehow or other must have been overlooked, in other words, "God did not let his countenance shine upon it" to enable it to perform miracles, but, strange as it may seem "God's countenance" did shine upon something much more capable - it was an old lorry owned by one called Mervyn (Pass me the hammer). Now Mervyn was a performer of miracles living in a council house on the "New Estate" and would be seen most Sunday mornings performing miracles on his old faithful lorry by knocking into it (not the breath of life) "The hammer of continued performance" in preparation for its next week's work. All these miracles were performed in Joe's yard in Heol Trelai where all future "MOT failures" were kept when not in use for family pleasures. Mervyn was a great man and would bestow his "Blessings" on any motorist who should happen to be sore oppressed with mechanical troubles. All one would have to say is "Mervyn, can you help me, I have trouble with my windscreen wiper motor?" and Mervyn would look in pity on the individual concerned and reply "Pass me the Hammer" - there would then be a bang in the troubled spot, Mervyn would say, "Try it now" and one could rest assured that, that troublesome motor would have a new lease of life (reminding me of his 20th century disciple's - for even though he spent his Sundays in Joe's yard and never went to church he performed many miracles and gave freely his services his old faithfully lorry - and much of his time transporting heavy timer, stone and materials up the hill. He was a good man much admired, and appreciated. The good Lord most certainly let his countenance shine upon Mervyn and his ancient lorry.

Work progressed - copper coins, cigarette packets (empty), various objects were built into the stonework - a small vestry was added and a volunteer craftsman did the brick building. At times it would be heart breaking to return and find many hours of hard work knocked down - the heavy stones which had taken many hours to erect would, before the mortar had set be knocked down again when the workers retired during the hours of darkness. This attempted destruction was done by vandals, and misguided idiots with so-called "High Spirits". Volunteers remained behind after dark to try and protect the work done from harm, then it was decided to combat the "High Spirited" destroyers with a few real "Spirits". It was noted that one cold evening there was clothed two individuals in garments of medieval origin - one by the name of Dennis and had a duffle-coat and hood which when worn looked like a monk of olden times, the other had a brilliant yellow 'T' shirt which really was quite dazzling. These two chaps decided to "Haunt" the cemetery in the moonlight and hide between the tombstones having the full moon at their rear. During the late hours when all was at peace voices were heard, the gate opened and the "High Spirited Heroes" entered preparing to impede the progress of the evening's labours. Suddenly there appeared in the graveyard a hooded figure and a bright "spectre" of spiritual appearance rising as if from the grave. The spectators of this scene were suddenly sore afraid and, with shouts of alarm retreated far more rapidly than they entered. Evidently they made contact with other intended villains and the "Spectres" in the grave yard heard conversation warning the others not to enter. The conversation heard when something like this. "Don't go in there, its haunted." Someone replied, "Don't be daft". Then again "I tell you we saw them." Evidently there must have been two "Heroes" who had their doubts about ghosts and were quite prepared to face the unknown, so, with much bravado entered the churchyard. At the appropriate moment the "Spectre" said to the "Monk" - "Now" and both ghosts suddenly appeared as if from the grave. This vision must have alarmed the "Heroes" greatly for both beat a hasty retreat forgetting in their hurry to close the gate. After this little incident peace returned to the little church and work continued much more rapidly without any further setbacks.

On the new estate were two cottages sited for many years near Caerau Road. Unfortunately, "Rose Cottages" as they were called impeded the progressive extension of the road works and had to be pulled down. This was a pity for the cottages, but a blessing for Saint Mary's - stone and slates from the cottages helped to put the finishing touches to the church and there was great rejoicing. Much had been achieved, but unfortunately the "Ancient" bell in the tower could not be rung in victory, as thieves had during reconstruction knocked a hole in the tower and removed the bell with the intention of selling it for its metallic value. This removal was just one of the setbacks suffered during re-building. The thieves concerned may have had some financial gain, but one can rest assured that retribution will surely follow sooner or later, and remorse for such actions will be the result.

Church furnishings were installed, a new stone altar was built and dated 1260-1960. The old font was prepared for future "New Entrants". The Bishop was called upon to re-dedicate Saint Mary's for service to the community. The ladies provided tea, buns and cakes, and once again services were resumed as of old.

Babies were baptized, and happy couples married. But alas, all was not well for the old church as will be related with sadness later. In the meantime one must not forget to recall some happy, if not sombre incidents that occurred during rebuilding.

During construction the wives and sweethearts not gainfully employed in arduous duties, every evening provided refreshments for the workers during break, and all manner of goodies were spread on a table (flat tombstone) provided. No objections were raised by the occupants interned below. Now to dine and drink tea necessitated the washing of hands for the removal of grit and mortar. As the good Lord provided the material required, together with the labour, he also provided the clean water for the washing of hands by way of an underground stream protruding through an outlet pipe in an adjoining field. It so happened that on one particular day a recently departed desired a wish to be interned in the cemetery. The grave was opened in preparation, and low and behold running right through the grave yard was an underground stream. Evidently the mourners had no desire to let the "late departed" be laid to rest in such a wet place and forthwith transferred the burial to take place somewhere else. The curate remarked to the bus driver "What do you think? (both were looking in the open grave). The bus driver replied, "It's a little wet down there." The curate remarked that this was rather silly over a drop of water in a grave yard. Both men thought rather deeply and must both have been of one mind. Between 1939 and 1945 many of their shipmates were lying in wet graves, and if they had not been so fortunate enough to survive would have raised no objection in joining them. The underground stream emerged through to the outlet pipe in the adjoining field, the water being used for the washing of hands prior to dining during break, and believe me that was good clean water which gave us good clean hands for which to eat our sandwiches and goodies provided by the dear ladies.

As the time passed the curate had the urge to rejoin the Royal Navy in order to serve the spiritual needs of the serving officers, and a few ratings needing guidance. This made the bus driver feel a little sad on hearing of the curate's intentions, but having himself served in the Royal Navy, realised that the curate's dedication of religious services were far more urgently needed for redeeming the officers to help them see the error of their ways. It is said in the annals of seafaring history that many sinners will be "Lost" and end down below, but those who sail the seas alone see the "Glories of God", and his marvels, and these men are assured of sitting on the "Right Hand", allowances being made for a few officer types, but I doubt if there would be more than a few dozen at the most. Therefore the curate answered the call to rejoin the navy as he himself must have realised the urgency having himself served on the lower deck.

I must not forget to mention a big disappointment during rebuilding suffered by the curate and the bus driver. As previously written there were no records about the little church and its past religious history. Visualise two "retired" seamen searching for some trace of an underground cellar - the afternoon was quite hot with the sun streaming down, whilst somewhere beneath their feet covered in rubbish and dust could be a cellar long hidden from human eye! Always in tropical climes the seamen were provided with refreshing drinks made of limes in order to quench their parched throats. Hence throughout the world those who sailed under the "Red Duster" were known as "Limies", whilst those who sailed under the White Ensign received a daily tot of rum commonly called "Nelson's Blood", they were known by other names which I dread to record (especially the officers).

Now about this cellar business and the searching of. It is written "The Lord helps those who help themselves, but the Devil looks after his own." Suppose a cellar is discovered! Then visualise a row of shelves on which are bottles, or barrels of wine kept in reserve for church communion - this would be well matured, and would have to be tested and tasted for purity. It would only be right and proper that such wine be drank by the two persons concerned in its discovery, for it would be dreadful should such wine, be contaminated and a calamity if it were drunk by the innocents. After much probing a sounding was made, a period of expectation, and eager calm prevailed - "A cellar filled with dust?", a rotted wooden surround, Ye gods - a step, keep calm and don't panic - dig, dig, and dig and don't fall down into the dusty entrance. Visions of wine and song (not women). There was about to occur a very new historical page of history to be written in bold print - "Amazing find in Saint Mary's" - two inebriated retired seamen discover wine in a cellar, and one was a curate. The question really is this "Did these two men discover a cellar and not divulge its secret? Another question "Did the same two men sample wine and remain sober?" and maybe the "cellar" was an old "grave" or "tomb". Only two men know of its secret and that secret will never be made known or divulged to any living soul - it will forever remain one of Saint Mary's secrets.

The little church that "Died" was brought back to life and alas "Died" again, and in its final death agony will not stand as an ancient symbol of all that was Christian for eight centuries - it never was meant to, for when it was erected in 1260 it was doomed to perish in 1960.

The bus driver in his retirement, together with that little band of volunteers must often think how futile all that hard work had accomplished. It accomplished nothing, just nothing. It was abandoned again as a church of worship and used for the benefit of the youth and disco - One can hardly credit this decision - especially when one was taught to think and believe that a place of worship was God's House and must be treated with respect and decency. It is no use trying to convince people that making a place 'Holy' by a Bishop's blessing, and consecration is going to solve and make good the problems of this world, when suddenly these good ideas are abandoned either for monetary gain, or dwindling congregations. Saint Mary's church for eight centuries must have been preaching the gospel "Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men." All the churches, chapels, cathedrals and mosques - name the religion and one will have the officiating priest ask the congregation to pray for others, and ask for peace in our time. This has been going on for centuries - every week. Either God is stone deaf, or he is dead! For throughout the centuries this praying for peace has achieved nothing - just nothing. Even at this very moment man's inhumanity to man still makes countless millions moan, and there are countless millions every day praying to God for a better world - Where are you God?

The disco taking place in the little church on the hill did achieve negative results, the idea was good "Keep the youngsters occupied" for Satan always finds mischief for idle minds to develop. Slowly but surely the "Little Church on the Hill" crumbled and again fell into a state of disrepair. Of course, some people are concerned about this problem, but being concerned and expressing regret will not solve it. In the 20th century there never will be any answer except to say "Goodbye little church on the Hill" - you are no longer needed - you have outlived your usefulness, after eight centuries, nobody wants to know you, "1260 to 1960" is too long for this modern society to tolerate, and future generations will never know that in a little field, on top of a steep hill, in a place called Caerau, there stood for eight centuries "THE LITTLE CHURCH ON THE HILL."