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Grosmont Castle was built by the Normans as a defence against the Welsh. The town grew up to service the castle and garrison and flourished as a medieval borough complete with market and mayor. Around 1300 150 burgages were reported but only a few of these have been identified. Today the castle is hardly visible as you approach from the south but it would originally have been very conspicuous on a hillside kept clear of trees. Grosmont is on a steep hill with the land falling away sharply down to the River Monnow, which heads southwards to Skenfrith and then to Monmouth
Left: Grosmont castle rebuilt by Hubert de Burgh in the 13th Century.
©2013 Rob and Denise Lythe.
Below: View from the top of the great hall.
©2013 Rob and Denise Lythe
Across the road from the castle is the church of St Nicholas. The extant building is 13th century but the churchyard resembles a circular or oval 'llan' typical of churches built in this area around 600 AD. The late Steven Pickford, who wrote a book on Grosmont, suggested there could have been a pre-Norman stone building, either a chapel or church, on this site, on the basis of various stones he noticed incorporated into some of the older houses. During restoration work in the 1870s several springs were found underneath the church (possibly explaining why it was in a state of nearcollapse). Pickford also commented that the architect reported finding tombs cut out of the solid rock beneath the medieval foundations. Grosmont is plentifully supplied with springs and Pickford speculated that there could have been a pre-Norman settlement here or even an Iron Age camp
Left: The Church of St Nicholas.
Below: The interior of the church.
St Nicholas is unusual in that the nave, largely original, remains clear of pews or chairs. Services are held in the chancel but this is separated from the nave by a glass screen. The nave roof timbers have been dated to the first half of the 13th century, which makes this the oldest dated roof in Wales. Grosmont does not have a village hall so the nave provides a valuable large space for community events.
Stone effigy of Henry of Grosmont.
A few miles away stands the church of St Michael, hidden away down a narrow lane on the edge of the village of Garway. The original wooden church was in the field above the site of the present one. The church and lands of Garway were given to the Knights Templars around 1180, during the reign of Henry II. These gifts were later confirmed by Kings Richard and John - possibly in return for the Templars guarding this section of the border against the Welsh. The foundations of the original round nave of the Templars' church were discovered in 1927 and a small section is visible outside. The separate tower is thought to have been used for refuge (as we have seen on previous SWAG trips to Richards Castle and Bosbury). The interior is painted pink and the 12th century chancel arch survives with its attractive zigzag 'Saracen' and waterleaf decoration. Church Farm, next door to the church, probably stands on the site of the Templars' Commandery.
Above: Garway Church.
Right: The Hand of God - one of several carvings and marks in the stonework.
Report by Wendy Gillespie from SWAG September 2013 newsletter, no.120.
All photographs ©2013 Rob and Denise Lythe.
See also our report of SWAG's visit to Garway church and the nearby dovecote at Church Farm, 2003.